Religious vocation or family?
Families often support the choice of religious life after getting to know the community and appreciating the happiness of their loved one. Friar Vito Martinez, O.F.M.Cap. shares a smile with his mother, Guadalupe Martinez, at his final vows ceremony. At left, his cousin Bobby Hernandez. (Photo courtesy of Fray Vito Martínez, O.F.M.Cap.)
THOUSANDS OF MEN AND WOMEN throughout the history of Christianity have offered to God their possessions, their dearest and most legitimate loves, their very lives, for the kingdom of heaven, because they found in Jesus the Precious Pearl for which everything is sold.
They are, no doubt, a beautiful testimony for you, who feel God’s calling to consecrated or priestly life and ask yourself, “Do I have to choose between my family and God’s calling?”
In the Latino Hispanic culture, family plays a very important role in our lives and in the decisions we make. The bond with our parents and siblings is so strong that when we are following our vocation, leaving the family becomes one of the most important issues to discern.
Detachment and blessing
I remember when I entered consecrated life. It was the early morning of August 25 when we left my hometown for the convent about eight hours away. Accompanied by my grandparents, my parents, and my three siblings, I was beginning a new adventure following Jesus in the Congregation of the Daughters of the Holy Spirit. There were mixed feelings in my heart: on the one hand, the joy of beginning my first stage of formation in consecrated life and, on the other hand, the pain of separation from my family. At the time I asked myself, “When will I see them again? Who will continue to support them?”
When we arrived at the convent, the sisters welcomed us warmly and explained to my family the stage of formation I was about to begin. Then it was time to say goodbye. I received the blessing of my grandparents and my parents, and with a lump in my throat and an aching heart, I bid them farewell with the certainty that God was asking me to take this step. I can say, without hesitation, that this departure was the biggest and hardest I have ever felt in my consecrated life.
Certain family pressures
In accompanying young people in their vocational discernment, I have discovered three elements related to the family that must be discerned and illuminated from the experience of God who is provident and faithful.
1. RESPONSIBILITY FOR PROVIDING MATERIAL SUPPORT
The responsibility felt by young people whose parents invested time, money, and effort in their education so they could “be somebody” in society is very strong. Giving back to parents what they invested in—giving them the satisfaction of seeing children graduate and have a job—motivates many young people to keep working to improve themselves.
José, who is in his last year of college, feels that Jesus is calling him to consecrated life; he has a great attraction to priesthood. Ever since he was a child, he was encouraged to have great respect and admiration for priests. His parents, who emigrated to the United States 25 years ago, have made tremendous efforts to give him a good education. José knows that when he finishes his studies, he has to look for a good job and return some of the resources they invested in him.
2. LIVING CLOSE TO FAMILY
Hispanics share a number of family traditions. Birthdays, anniversaries, religious celebrations, the death of a family member, academic or work achievements—these moments bring us together and are a reason to celebrate or give comfort to each other.
Laura is discerning her call to consecrated life in an international community; she knows well that if God calls her, she may spend a few years away from her family circle in another country and culture. Leaving her family is her greatest fear, as she knows that she will probably not be there at her brother’s wedding, nor at her grandmother’s 80th birthday party.
The cultural significance of motherhood and fatherhood is highly valued among Hispanics; therefore parents generally expect their children to marry and give them grandchildren in order to have offspring to carry on the family name and traditions.
Elizabeth is 27-years-old and “still not married” (says her family with a certain frustration). She had a boyfriend for two years whom the family knew, treated as one of their own, and expected her to marry. Elizabeth ended that relationship because she is very attracted to consecrated life and wanted to give herself time to discern. The family does not understand “how Elizabeth is going to become a nun and never have children.”
These situations of José, Laura, and Elizabeth have to do with cultural and family concerns that are complicated but are normal components of many young people’s discernment process. Receiving personal guidance, meeting Jesus in prayer and in reality, and listening to the testimonies of consecrated people can encourage and enlighten your decision.
Eyes fixed on Jesus, the Precious Pearl
Jesus, Joseph and Mary's only son, lived with them, growing in wisdom, height and grace with God and mankind (Lk. 2:52).
When he discovered it was time to step into the mission to which God was calling him, moved by the Spirit, Jesus left home to live a more open family project, built on gratitude and universality. Jesus now values his family from the perspective of the Kingdom to which he wants to give his life.
Contemplating Jesus in his relationship with Mary and Joseph, with his people, with God the Father and with the reality of his time, may help you in taking the steps to respond to his calling. Pope Francis himself tells you in Christus Vivit (Christ Lives): "Be certain that, if you recognize God's calling and follow it, this is what will make you fulfilled" (276).
FOR THE PRECIOUS PEARL
It is the same with the kingdom of heaven as with a merchant who is looking for fine pearls, and when he finds one of great value, he goes and sells everything he has and buys it. (Mt.1:45-46)
With the boldness of the Spirit
Selling everything for the Precious Pearl does not happen overnight. The Holy Spirit gives us the courage to take each step, without sparing us the pain. The pope reminds us that our vocation is a gift and that to enjoy it we must take risks. He also tells us that our vocation is “not an obligation imposed from without, but an incentive to let that gift grow and develop, and then become a gift for others” (Christus Vivit 289).
Given all of the above, I do not want to minimize the pain and worry involved in leaving your family, so I will share some ideas that I hope will help you and your family to receive God’s calling with peace and joy.
1. ASK A VOCATION DIRECTOR about organizations that help with student debt and immigration processes (in case your parents need it). The church knows that economic and immigration issues are always complicated, so there are foundations that support families in these two regards. Here are some websites that can help you find information:
2. ASK YOUR PARISH PRIEST to talk to your family about his vocational witness and how his parents reacted when he told them he wanted to become a priest. It might help your parents to hear how important the moral and spiritual support of your priest’s family was for his vocation.
3. INVOLVE YOUR FAMILY in interacting with the congregation you are discerning with. No one loves what they do not know. Take them to meet actual sisters, brothers, or priests; talk to them about the mission; ask members to share their vocational witness. You will see they will feel that they are not losing a daughter or son but that the family will be enriched.
4. TRUST GOD'S FAITHFULNESS AND PROVIDENCE. Pray with these words of the Apostle St. Paul:
All the promises God has made are "yes" in Christ. So, through Christ we answer "amen" to the glory of God. God is the one who holds us and you firm in Christ. He anointed us, sealed us as His property and put His Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee of His promises.
—II Cor. 1:20-22
May the Holy Spirit, sweet host of the soul, guide you to find the Precious Pearl and, upon finding it, may the Spirit grant you the courage to sell everything to possess it, for your happiness is found in that Pearl, Jesus.
The names and examples in this article are a general depiction and do not refer to specific people.
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