The formation of every human person begins in a family, whatever its condition may be–healthy, religious, irreligious, broken, or divorced. Held in the tender loving care of our God, the family prepares, according to its state and condition, every child to know, love and serve God. Every family provides children with the place for natural maturation – physically, psychologically, spiritually – to receive and respond to a call from God to a vocation to the priesthood or consecrated life.
Allow me to share with you ways that my family became the “seedbed” for my vocation as a religious sister:
Marital love becomes familial and filial love. The love my father and mother had for each other, and for God, told me volumes about God’s love. It is faith in God that brought my parents through marital difficulties, deaths in the family, and other trials and joys of life. Through prayer, their relationship with God nourished qualities of healthy, holy relationships: courage in speaking the truth in love, patience in weaknesses, forgiveness after hurtful words and pardon sought. Our familial relationship with God was nourished (communally and individually) through the sacraments. The family is where I learned the love of God “made flesh” in our family, and this love nourished my own love for God and the love I have for the sisters in my religious community. In fact, as a religious sister, my love for God is expressed as being like that of spousal love, eventually sealed in my consecration to Him as a religious sister and profession of the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
Family Prayer. Hindsight is 20/20! Although I did not always understand the importance of prayer in our family, I sensed it. Kneeling after supper around the dinner table to pray the Rosary during Lent, going to the Stations of the Cross and the Sacrament of Penance, and Sunday Mass – despite my young “groans” at the discipline to do so – opened my heart to my own personal relationship with the Lord. As a young adult in college, I realized the importance of prayer and began to take responsibility for my own relationship with God through prayer.
A Sacred Meal. Eating our meals together as a family taught me the importance of being together, sharing the day’s blessings and challenges. I remember the struggle we shared when the telephone began ringing more frequently during supper. It interrupted our conversation and often seemed necessary to answer. We realized that many phone calls were not necessary to answer immediately. Valuing our time together, we decided to turn off the ringer during supper. I grew in respect for my parents’ wisdom and their vigilance over our family time together. Today, my religious community’s highest value is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and we, too, must be vigilant in protecting it from interruption. The Mass is the “source and summit” of our life together and in service to others.
Respect for elders. Every Sunday after Mass, our family would visit my widowed paternal grandmother. Visiting her taught me the value of respect for authority, and this became the ground out of which I learned love for the Superiors of our religious community. I understood more readily from this example of benevolence towards the sick and dying the representation of God’s love that authority ideally holds. Knowing the responsibility they bear, I was more quick to pray for them. When persons in authority have no regard, respect or love for God, their authority becomes exercising power for the sake of controlling others to achieve their own ends. True authority is service for others.
Love of neighbor. The compassion that our family showed to the poor, sick, and suffering in our community taught me how to love my neighbor with generosity and tenderness. Children seem to have an innate ability to give, and help those in need. When nurtured, this desire becomes a fruitful form of self-gift to God. The joy of helping those in need is recalled at moments when the self-gift requires a deeper sacrifice. This is critical to understand and develop to maturity for any vocation. In fact, even after we have responded to a particular vocation of marriage, priesthood or consecrated life, maturation in self-donation to God, and others for the sake of the Kingdom, continues! Daily, in my work and prayer, God gives me opportunities to deepen my love for Him and for my neighbor.
These are just a few simple ways I recognize how my parents and family contributed to my religious vocation, and I could not be more grateful for their patience and love. May the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, guide all families and parents to respond to God’s will with generous and willing hearts for love of Him!