SHOULD MY SON BE A FATHER?
QUESTION: Should a father try to dissuade his son from pursuing the priesthood?
“Last week my son asked me if I had ever thought of him becoming a priest.
“I’m the first to offer money to the vocations collection; just ask our pastor. We never miss a Mass or a collection! I agree we need priests! But, my boy? A priest? Come on; not him. He’s got such a bright future ahead of him!
“I just don’t think being a priest would be a good use of his talents, that’s all I’m saying. . . . It’d be a waste of his true potential. He’s top of his class—a natural leader. We need our best men in charge of businesses, raising families, and leading governments! Not running the little parish. . .
“It just seems like too many priests have some combination of being overweight, not taking care of themselves, being consumed with petty administrative work, regretting the promises they’ve made, or living in their own little world detached from reality. Becoming a priest seems like a road that dead-ends at mediocrity. I want the best for him. My boy’s gotta raise a family, work a real job, and make something for himself.
“If it comes up again, I’ll try to show him it’s in his best interest to forget about being a priest.”
ON THE CONTRARY, Christ called James and John, while in the presence of their father, and “immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him” (Matt. 4:22). If Christ calls a man to follow him as a priest, then a father, tasked with the good of his son, ought not advise against God’s plan.
I commend parents for wishing more than mediocrity for their son. Everyone hates mediocrity. We want to be and do something great.
To acknowledge that a number of priests have lived mediocre lives or have even lived duplicitous and scandalous lives does not negate or undermine the vocation to which the priest has been called. That would be like saying, “Some marriages are unhappy and mediocre and even end in divorce; therefore, I would never counsel anyone to get married!”
Such a response is logically flawed, yes; but more importantly, it denies that nestled in the human heart there is a desire to love and a desire to give oneself away to the one we love. Love hates mediocrity more than we do.
While a man may be attracted and called toward marriage by a woman’s beauty, her virtue, her wisdom—and this is good and natural—a man can only be attracted and called towards the priesthood by God. The calling to be a priest is fundamentally supernatural (i.e. above and beyond our human nature). Though God may speak through men, as many have indeed experienced, no man can claim to have spoken in the silent depths of another’s heart—only God can whisper into the secret inner dwelling of a man’s heart.
Ask any father and he will say in different words that he just wants his children to be happy. We can confidently add that a child’s happiness is found in the plan of God—our heavenly Father also wants his children to be happy. It is in following God’s plan that a man becomes more fully himself. He thrives. He flourishes. He becomes happy in an affective way, sure, but even more critically, happy in a way that is deeper than a fleeting emotion. (St. Thomas calls it beatitude.)
A father may want good things for his son: a career, a wife, a family, to be successful, etc. But if God wants supernaturally good things for his son, then a father must encourage his son to wonder why Christ taught that a man would sell all that he had to buy a field, and why a merchant would offer all his possessions in exchange for a single pearl (cf. Matt 13:44-46). There is an immense, yet hidden, value in following Christ’s call to the priesthood.
If—and the critical term is “if”—a man is called to be a priest, the gravity of such a supernatural call and the gravity of the One who calls is so immense and so noble that a father cannot but encourage his son toward the priesthood. By counseling against the priesthood, a father would prove himself to view his son with the eyes of the world and not the eyes of our heavenly Father.
A father should counsel his son: “Fall in love with the One who is calling you. A man who is in love cannot be mediocre. To truly love is to be truly great. Love is the enemy of mediocrity.”