Seminarian Family Day
Yesterday I had the pleasure of spending the day with some very special and important people. It was our annual archdiocesan Seminarian Family Day at Saint Patrick’s Church in Rockville, Maryland. This time of prayer, gratitude and fellowship with the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers of our seminarians is one I always look forward to.
The foundation of society is the family. From the very beginning, family has been at the center of God’s plan for humanity. God made us social by nature, and this choice was for a supernatural purpose. Family is essential to who we are and what we aspire to become. In a particular way, “by begetting in love and for love a new person who has within himself or herself the vocation to growth and development, parents by that very fact take on the task of helping that person effectively to live a fully human life,” observes Saint John Paul II (Familiaris Consortio, 36).
If you ask any priest or seminarian how they came to discern a vocation to the priesthood, invariably one answer is heard again and again – family. While the call itself comes from God, it is in the family that we are prepared to receive the call and the calling is then nurtured.
Family members, especially parents, have many roles in the discernment process. If they are not the first persons to suggest a vocation to the priesthood, certainly they lay the foundation with their own witness of Christ’s love. By their own expression of faith, parents inspire faith in their children and they can awaken awareness of God’s whisper in the heart. “Indeed,” said Saint John Paul, “the family that is open to transcendent values, that serves its brothers and sisters with joy, that fulfills its duties with generous fidelity, and is aware of its daily sharing in the mystery of the glorious Cross of Christ, becomes the primary and most excellent seed-bed of vocations to a life of consecration to the Kingdom of God” (Familiaris Consortio, 53).
Whenever we speak of vocations, we must of course look to Mary, who is the quintessential example of being open to God’s call. She who called herself “the handmaid of the Lord” must have looked to her own parents for solidarity and prayer. Similarly, for seminarians to have an enduring response to their call to the priesthood, they too need the prayerful support of their loving family. For this reason, Seminarian Family Day has traditionally been held on or near the feast of Saints Anne and Joachim, mother and father of the Blessed Virgin.
Saint John Paul recounted how the life and example of his own parents helped prepare him for the priesthood. After his mother died, he said, his father’s example of constant prayer “was in a way my first seminary, a kind of domestic seminary” (Gift and Mystery, 20). In their own way, the parents of today can think of their homes as “domestic seminaries,” as houses of formation where they teach their children to love God and love their faith, and to be open to God’s call.
One reason I am so grateful for Seminarian Family Day, and for any time I meet with our seminarians, is because in these men we see the future of our Church – a solid faith-filled, self-giving, Christ-centered future. These are the men who will be heralds of the New Evangelization, agents of the Holy Spirit who will renew the Church in our country. Their parents have reason to look upon them with pride. Meanwhile, we can look to these mothers and fathers and express our gratitude for their own living witness, which has produced wonderful fruit for our entire spiritual family.