Claire Howell, 8/5/2018

My sister, Gemma, is eleven years younger than me. As I’m that bit older than her I have enjoyed the privileged position of being able to watch her grow.


The day after Gemma was born my Papa asked my brother what he thought of his new little sister, to which he quickly replied, “She’s awful wee!”. Laurence was seven at the time, but even to a child the fragility and vulnerability of an infant was obvious. I remember when she would be asleep in her pram I’d watch her tummy going up and down as she breathed to make sure she was okay. This little one, however wee, had burst into my world and filled me with such a profound and protective love for her.


That protective love has not changed over these last eighteen years and the age-gap has meant that sometimes my concerns for her are arguably more maternal in nature than sisterly. I can be the one to text her when she’s out late asking her where she is, who is she with, when she will be coming home and how she is going to get home. I’m sure that’s not annoying at all for her and she sees that these moments are just expressions of a protective love and not intrusions into her fun. Ha!


Gemma starts university in September. I say that with great pride as I know how hard she worked to achieve a place, and that she’ll be attending the same university as I did. There is much excitement over the beginning of the next chapter of her life. I will also admit, that there is an edge of anxiety on my part about Gemma going to university. Will she find her way around? Will she enjoy her course? Will her studies lead to a job? Most importantly, will she be happy?


These worries are of course shared by our parents, for parents (along with big brothers, sisters and the wider family) only want what is best for their child. Parents can hold expectations and hopes about their child’s future; careers, marriage, grandchildren. Gemma has chosen to pursue her passion for science, and we’re all delighted for her. Sometimes, however, the wishes of the child and the wishes of the parents are different, and this can lead to friction.


The priesthood and religious life are counter-cultural; they are not the norm in today’s society. The world tells us that we should aim for a life filled with wealth and material possessions – the priesthood or religious life is not going to deliver that lifestyle. Telling your family that you want to pursue a vocation in the Church can be a big deal because you are going against society’s expectations for you, and perhaps you are uncertain of and anxious about the reaction you’ll receive from your family.


You might be from a Catholic family where the value in priesthood and religious life is understood and celebrated, and when you express a desire to follow that path your family are fully supportive. However, it could be the case that you are met with some negativity from your family. You could be from a family where priesthood and religious life are held in high esteem, but because it is you your family is anxious to the point of reluctance, or you could also be from a family where priesthood and religious life are alien concepts and their lack of understanding leads to a lack of support or even hostility. 


Your family will have held in their hearts from your infancy their hopes and dreams for you and a vocation to the priesthood or religious life might never have featured in their plans. By expressing an interest in the priesthood or religious life you are perhaps throwing them a curveball and they will need space to adjust and to get used to this new future for you. Ultimately, your family will want you to be happy, they will just need time and support to see that it is in a life of service to God that you will find that happiness.


There are some things that you can do to help them grow in their understanding:

  • Pray for them; pray for their understanding, acceptance and happiness in your vocation.
  • Be open with your vocations director about your family’s reaction; they will help you and guide you and your family.
  • Respectfully listen to their concerns. They may worry that celibacy or chastity won’t bring you happiness, or that you’re leaving them for good and will no longer be part of their lives. Assure them that it is in serving the Lord that you will find your happiness and that you love them unconditionally and are not abandoning them.
  • If you’re looking towards a life in the priesthood, then encourage them meet with a priest who will talk with them about his life. He can explain the process of applying, seminary, ordination etc. He will be honest in sharing what the highs and lows are and hopefully put your family’s minds at rest.
  • If you’re looking to enter religious life, then encourage your family to meet with the community you’re hoping to join. Let them see what your congregation is all about; what they do, what is important to them and how they live. In religious life, there is such a love for the family and they are constantly asked after and prayed for. There is a joy in meeting the family members of your religious brothers or sisters and they often become an extension of your own family. For your family, hopefully familiarity will lead to understanding and ultimately acceptance.


In the Church we are always encouraged to pray for vocations, that includes the vocation of a parent’s own child, for a vocation is a God-given gift and that it should be treasured as such. Parents, family members and friends only want the very best for you. They desire for you the very best life, filled with every joy, blessing and happiness. God’s will for you will be made known to them and they will come to understand the path you’re taking.


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