A religious vocation given to a son or daughter can be perceived as a great blessing to a family. It can also be perceived as a threat. If you think God is calling you to be a Dominican friar, and your parents are opposed, here are some things to keep in mind.
Have you listened to your parents’ reasons? Before you try to explain the mystery of a vocation to them, allow them to tell you what their concerns are. These reasons could range wildly. They may think that you don’t really listen to them or honor them. They may want you to have a “normal” life that would include marriage and their expected grandchildren. They may think that you have abandoned them and won’t see them. They may think that you need to have several years of experience after college before you can make a decision. They may think that a religious community is full of misfits, or that religion is a scam. They may think that you will be happier and be more productive in doing just about anything else than becoming a religious.
Remind your parents of your unconditional love for them. Allow them to know that you will always be their son. Give them the honor and gratitude that they deserve. St. Thomas says, “It is not possible to make to one’s parents an equal return of what one owes to them” (STh II-II, q. 80, a. 1; cf. STh II-II q. 101). In the virtue of piety, you are forever in your parents’ debt. Let them know that. Let them also know that your love and prayer for them can actually increase in religious life.
Are objections to a religious vocation conflated with other natural concerns? At times, parents may be reluctant to have their son grow up. Maturation takes much longer in western society now than a century ago. This may be due to various reasons, such as an unhealthy dependency of the son on his parents, or the parents on their son. A young man seriously thinking about a Dominican vocation should not be living with his parents and be dependent on them. If you were to join the military and go overseas, would your parents also be concerned? Do they realize that even in entering a marriage “a man leaves his father and mother” (Gen 2:24)?
Ask them if they trust and respect you and your decisions. You must demonstrate prudence in order to enter the novitiate. Also, let your parents know that there are several safeguards to prevent you from making a hasty decision about your entire life in a religious vocation. The Church and the Order have lots of safeguards, including considerable time, so as to see if your entrance into the novitiate is a genuine vocation from God. A man could not profess solemn vows, the commitment until death, until at least four years have lapsed after entering the novitiate. Entering the novitiate does not mean that everything has been settled. The Church and the Order do not allow that.
Let them know that you place the Lord above all else. Perhaps you even learned that basic truth through their faith. It’s certainly tops in terms of the Decalogue and in the preaching of Jesus Christ. The Lord says, “Everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life” (Matt 19:29).
Let them experience something of your joy and excitement in a religious vocation. Show them that your answer to God’s call is precisely for the reason of happiness. You know that God wants you to be happy, perfectly happy. St. Thomas says, “To those indeed who take this sweet yoke upon themselves God promises the refreshment of divine enjoyment, and everlasting rest for their souls” (STh II-II, q. 189, a. 10, ad 3). Allow them to see how men, who could have had marriage, family, and normal jobs in the world, can thrive in a life that is a special gift from God, who has a plan much bigger and much more wonderful than ours. If you enter formation in the Province of St. Joseph, you will typically be able to go to your family at times of quies, or rest, usually twice a year after the novitiate. Your family will also be welcome at different times to visit you. Parents often feel bonded with the brothers in their son’s formation, and they come to realize that their son has many, many brothers. The brothers themselves look with affection on the parents of one of their own. In a sense, parents don’t lose a son so much as gain many, many sons!
Fr. Andrew Hofer OP is the Student Master for the Province of St. Joseph at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington DC.