“Your family is so blessed.” I am often told that when people find out that we have three priests in our family—my son (that's him, Father Ben Bradshaw, at right), my brother, and my cousin. And they are right, we are blessed. Greatly blessed by the daily faithfulness of these men to their vocations. In this Year of the Priest, I want to share a few thoughts about fostering vocations in a family:
- True humility has to be the foundation for every vocation, especially the priesthood. The priesthood, worthily lived, is a gift from God. While I know that surveys have shown that many Catholic families discourage priestly vocations, I've been in the uncomfortable position more than once of having a Catholic mother point to her son and say, "He was supposed to be our priest." My heart ached for the uncomfortable young man in question. Its not up to parents or families to make the decision for or against the priesthood. It's up to the Holy Spirit and the candidate.
- Supporting a priestly vocation doesn’t mean worshipping the priest. Again, speaking from experience, often family members have a tendency to place Father on a pedestal once he’s ordained. The opposite can also happen. I.e., priests can be vilified by persons in their own families who denigrate their vocation.
- Supporting your pastor doesn’t mean manipulating your relationship with him. Sometimes good Catholic parishioners tend to develop a special relationship with their pastors and, from that, develop expectations regarding the type of 'payback' they can expect in terms of hospital visitations, dinner invites etc.
- Supporting our priests during this Year of the Priest would certainly entail some of these key elements:
- Prayer and penance. These are two sides of the same coin. One enhances the other. Send your priest a note with a Spiritual Bouquet enclosed.
- Refusing to take part in the parish/diocesan naysaying against the priest or bishop in question. Just walk away from it. Even if what is being discussed is true, it's usually harmful to the Body of Christ.
- Thank a priest. One worthwhile development of the last few years has been the public instruction to thank a military person for his or her service to their country if you see them in the airport or some other public place. The same gratitude should be shown to our priests.
- Give priests the benefit of the doubt. In order to keep a family intact and functioning and healthy, we have to assume the goodwill of the other unless proven otherwise. The same courtesy should be extended to our priests.