Maybe you’re considering a vocation to the priesthood or religious life and you feel peaceful about following God’s call and taking the next step. But what about your family and friends? What if they don’t understand? What if they reject your choice, or—even worse—you?
It’s true that breaking the news can sometimes be difficult. In a recent survey, almost half of newly ordained priests and 60% of finally professed religious reported some opposition from friends or family when they first voiced an interest in their vocations.
But the good news is that by the time a man or woman completes formation, family and friends almost always “come around” to the decision—mostly because they perceive that they are happy and peaceful. Throughout their lives, most priests and religious receive tremendous support from their families, even if mom and dad were initially skeptical about the idea of entering seminary.
Here are some pointers to consider when it comes time to approach your family and friends:
Emphasize God’s call, not your decision. When you talk to people about entering seminary or a religious community, emphasize that you think this is what God is calling you to do; it’s not just an ordinary career decision. “No one takes this honor upon himself, but only when called by God.” (Heb 5:4)
Be realistic about people’s reactions. When you announce your intentions, give family and friends plenty of time to process what may seem like difficult news. Assure them you are not abandoning them, but pursuing your vocation. Realize that some people will not accept this news right away, but that over time, most will.
Don’t talk in absolutes. Don’t say, “I’ve decided to become a priest.” The truth is that you are years away from possible ordination or final profession. Only 60% of men who begin formation are actually ordained, and the final profession rate for those who begin religious formation is lower. Let people know that what you are doing is taking the next step in discernment, and if it turns out not to be God's will, you are free to leave.
Tell people when you are ready. It’s okay to speak freely about your desire to become a religious or priest, but most discerners feel hesitant about broadcasting their intentions. You may want to wait until you’ve talked to the vocation director and he indicates that you should apply to join. An exception is talking to a trusted person—perhaps your parish priest—who can help with spiritual direction during your discernment.
Don’t be fearful about what others may think. Speculation about what people might think can be a major source of stress, and can possibly prevent true discernment of God’s will for you. Remember that God never speaks through fear!
Don’t give in to pressure. Some people may try to dissuade you from pursuing your vocation, thinking they are helping you. A particularly common reaction is for people to say, “Wait until you are older and have more life experience.” In some cases this may be true, but not all - there are plenty of 18 year old men and women who become happy religious and priests! Bottom line: be careful that you prayerfully consider what God wants you to do. While you are bound to honor your father and mother, when you become an adult, you must make your own decisions (CCC # 2217) and follow your conscience.
Be prepared to accept whatever reactions you will encounter. Part of the sacrifice of any vocation is accepting the rejections that may occur when you do something out of love for God. Remember that Our Lord suffered rejection while following the Father’s will (and from His own disciples!). But also remember that our Lord promised that we would receive one hundred times whatever we leave behind—plus eternal life!
The two most important things to remember when talking to your friends and family about your vocational discernment are charity and patience. Parents or friends may be distraught because of misunderstanding, and may just need a little time. In the end, whatever your vocation, the people who love you are likely to accept a life decision that leads to your holiness and happiness.
Fr. J.D. Jaffe
Director of the Office of Vocations
This article is from a previous issue of our Discernment Insights e-newsletter. I encourage you to subscribe as well as access the archive for past newsletters on topics like abandonment to God's will, why have a spiritual director, celibacy, and more.