When our friends’ son entered seminary right out of high school, I considered that they had some recipe for raising such a faithful young man. And when their daughter gave serious consideration to joining a religious order, I was convinced that our friends had stellar parenting skills and a formula for holiness.
Those friends had a secret, I was sure, and I wanted to know what it was.
Whenever I had the opportunity, I watched them. Intently, I studied their pious mannerisms when we joined them for adoration and I kept a mental account of everything they did when we ran into them at social gatherings.
Comparing their family to mine, I noted how soft-spoken and gentle they all were. From modest, tidy clothes to neat hair styles, their five children always appeared well groomed and respectful.
Whereas (in my estimation), my brood of eight offspring are more often bold and boisterous. Donning stained t-shirts with silly sayings and last night’s bedhead, my kiddos are master debaters who can think up a comeback to any command.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my clan, but held up to the ideal of our friends’ family I decided we weren’t making the cut and I wasn’t sure we ever could without uncovering that secret.
Sure my eldest daughter began proclaiming a call to religious life around the time that she received her First Holy Communion, but I suppose I figured she might outgrow the idea once puberty hit (not that I wanted her to).
Today, however, at fourteen years old, she still maintains the same plans. And then a few months ago my second son, who’d just been graduated from high school, announced his desire to enter the seminary.
In a Strangely Awkward Place
So now I’m finding myself in a strangely awkward place with one son away at seminary discerning a priestly vocation and a daughter persistently pursuing her calling.
My in-box has suddenly been sprinkled with congratulatory notes wherein friends are using words like inspirational and example to describe my family making me realize that there never really was a secret to growing saints.
Our family is not especially holy and we certainly haven’t gotten it all right in our marriage or our parenting. My husband and I are two broken, sinful people who simply try hard to love one another and forgive the countless times we betray that goal.
We’re just a couple trying to raise our children as best we are able, knowing that we often fall short in that task. Together we’re an ordinary family who hopes our love for God will somehow override our faults and selfishness.
Rethinking My Assessment
Forced to rethink my erroneous assessment that holiness springs from a precise blueprint, I’m beginning to think the key is in the trying, the continual trying.
We know that on our own we are lacking, so we beg for Divine Intercession and try to model the examples of Christ and the saints. When we fail, we seek out reconciliation and try anew (again and again.)
Tips for Forming Children
Knowing that I certainly do not have any private revelations on how to raise saints, if I had to offer a few practical tips for forming children in the faith, I would say:
- Take them all to church. Worship should include the babe in arms as well as the wriggly toddler. Holy Mass should always be your first priority as a family.
- Make your home a domestic church. Decorate your walls and counters with images and items that inspire thoughts of God during the course of your every day work.
- Become committed adorers of the Blessed Sacrament. Take your children with you so that they can learn to listen in the silence.
- Love your spouse and work tirelessly to uphold your sacramental bond. Fruitful, married love is the rich soil from which all vocations sprout.
- Develop a prayer life as a family and as individuals. The world is constantly abuzz with noise, take the time to stop and connect with Jesus a few times a day.
- A Catholic education is essential. If your children must attend a secular school, be sure to give them a thorough religious education when they are home. Take pride in your role as the primary teacher of faith.
- Love the Sacraments. Partake of them as often a possible, especially the sacrament of confession. Go as a family every month.
- If you are raising sons, encourage them to serve on the altar. Promote altar service (to boys) as a continued ministry, not one that is only meant for elementary students. Encourage girls to serve in other ways (choir, maintaining the altar linens, helping care for younger children) so that they realize their dignity and place within the Church as well.
Indeed I’ve come to conclude that vocations aren’t born in perfect families (because I’m pretty sure there was only ever one of those) and there isn’t one method for inspiring vocations or forming saints.
God’s still, small voice can echo in any ear that’s open to receive It. Our job as parents is simply to aid our children in having ears to hear and a heart willing to answer, “Yes.”