By Fr. Hau Vu
When I was ordained a priest for the Diocese of San Bernardino five years ago, I was filled with jubilation. I realized in that moment that I now belonged to a presbyterate, a group of priests, numbering over two hundred, who I now call my brothers.
But I was also filled with apprehension, because many of my brother priests are over 50 years old, and a good number of them are close to retiring. And, although we have a little over 200 priests in the Diocese, more than 50 percent of them are either coming from a religious order or they are “extern” priests (priests ordained in another diocese who were sent here to assist us for a period of time).
Of course, we are truly blessed to have the presence and assistance of our religious and extern priests, because without them, many of our parishes would not have a shepherd to lead and guide them. However, one of the most common questions that parishioners have asked me is, “Why don’t we have more priests who are native to the Diocese of San Bernardino?”
I believe one essential reason for that is because family members, especially parents, are not talking with their children about the vocations to the priesthood and religious life. I believe that there is a common thought amongst Catholic parents similar to this: “Jesus, we need more people to be priests and religious, but it is not going to be my sons and daughters.”
I also believe there is a tendency for many people to talk only about the vocation of marriage, to selectively forget about the priesthood and religious life, and to scratch their heads in confusion about the chaste single life. We as Catholics have a call as Christ’s disciples to promote the Gospel of Jesus, and within that Gospel is the beauty and example of all three vocations.
Jesus wasn’t just the bridegroom, he was also the eternal priest and the chaste lover. Therefore, our call as Catholic parents is to present all three vocations to our children, so that they can openly and freely discern their vocation in life.
An important way that parents can expose their children to the beauty of married life is by faithfully living out their marriage and building their relationship with God. It is often said that the best teaching tool a parent can ever give to their children is to lead by example.
However, within every leader there is also a strong follower; meaning that before we are a leader, we must be a follower. The model for any married couple to follow is the relationship of Jesus as the bridegroom, and the Church as His bride.
In that divine relationship you will find all that you will ever need in order to live your marriage, centered in Christ and with tremendous joy. There is a video on formed.com and other media outlets called “Beloved: Finding Happiness in Marriage” that displays the beauty of marriage.
One way parents can lead their children to the beauty of priesthood and religious life is by allowing their children to engage with priests and religious. There are many ways to foster this interest:
– Involve your children in various church ministries ... be the example!
– Enroll your children in religious education
– Invite priests and religious into your homes for a meal and a visit
– Read stories to your children of priests and religious who are now saints
These are just a few ideas, and useful tools to allow your children to experience firsthand the beauty and joy in leading a non-secular life.
As for us priests and religious, we can assist children in their discernment by living out our vocation with great joy.
The last vocation, and possibly the vocation that is understood the least among all three vocations, is the chaste single life. God does not “call us” to be single as such, however, due to the reality of not living in a perfect world, some of us may remain single.
Though we may be single for many reasons, while we are single, we are called to give ourselves to God totally, and to live our life by dedicating ourselves to living celibately for the sake of the Kingdom. Parents can help children understand more about this vocation by teaching them what it means to live as a chaste and celibate Catholic.
As you can see, all three vocations come from Jesus. The Church believes that the family is the “seed ground” for holy vocation: the first school of faith in which children learn to recognize and respond to the call of the Lord. So, the next time you are speaking about the beauty of marriage, don’t forget to mention priesthood, religious life and chaste single life as well.
Fr. Hau Vu is Associate Director of Vocations in the Diocese of San Bernardino.