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The CFC Family: Seedbed for Vocations
Wednesday, July 8, 2015

MY PARENTS became members of Couples for Christ in the early 1990’s, and I followed suit in Youth for Christ 1994. I am most honored to be here to share my thoughts on the topic. I realized that I am in a situation where I am able to share my vocation story, as well as to influence families, on how we can make our families truly a seedbed for vocations.


In whatever vocation we are called, we are always called to holiness. And we owe 90% of whatever decision or path we take to our parents. We are always told that the family is the first school, the family is the first Church, the family is the first society that we are born into. 


Our first impression of this school, this Church, this society influences us greatly. What our parents model to us becomes a pattern of our lives as well. For the parents here, your actions, manners, words become your children’s actions, manners and words.


I once saw a video of a cute little boy sitting on his mother’s lap. The boy was in his early stages of forming words and making sense out of these words. Somewhere in the middle of the video, the boy used the “F” word, and his mom just laughed at him. Surely, the boy didn’t know what that word meant, but I am sure too, that he heard it from either of his parents.


And that is how powerful the influence of families is. As I share my family experience, I must say my family is not perfect. Please do not think that because there is a priest in the family, that my family is holy. We still argue, minsan nagkakaninisan. I also realize that what I am about to share is not something new to many of you, and some of you may already possess these values. But hopefully my experiences will help everyone understand how we can adopt these values in our families.

 

Preparing the Soil

How do we make our families a seedbed of vocations, more specifically a seedbed for the priestly and religious life? First is to foster a life of common prayer. When my parents joined CFC in the early 90’s, I was about 8 or 9 years old. My family is not religious. We go to Mass every Sunday, but that was it. We didn’t belong to any community in the Church. We just went there to fulfill our obligation.


One funny story is that when we go to Church and arrive at any part of the Mass, we just finish that Mass and like in a movie house, we wait for the next Mass and leave at the exact part we came in. That was the kind of understanding of the Eucharist we had as a family.


But when my parents joined CFC, we began to have a common prayer time. This was something I truly appreciated. First, we would pray the Rosary in front of our little altar. And since we were not really religious, the first few months were just really funny and awkward. Of course, we would encourage our father to lead, but he didn’t know the mysteries by heart.


My father worked as a banker then, and sometimes he would be so tired that he would jumble the responses while we prayed. This would bring us to fits of laughter, that the 15 minutes for praying the Rosary sometimes became 30. Sometimes we would laugh so hard that we would be made to take a break to go to our respective bedrooms and asked to come back composed. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to finish praying.


But that common prayer time became very important to me, especially when I became a member of Youth for Christ. It was important because when I signed my Covenant Card, the first thing I took to heart was the promise to pray for at least 15 minutes daily.


That common prayer time developed in me a personal prayer time. As a priest, you cannot not have a prayer life! Our homilies will sound like canned homilies, containing things that you learn from the School of Theology, which perhaps only one person in congregation would be able to understand.


It would be difficult for me to guide people, to know God, to understand God and His will if I had no prayer life. That common prayer time in the family nurtured my prayer life just as your common prayer time will nurture your children’s prayer life.


Opening Communication Lines

The second point would be communication, the ability to talk to one another. Today, in the age of technology and connectivity, it seems it is easier to communicate. People anywhere in the world can be a friend. But this is where the irony lies. The technology that is supposed to bring us closer together is the technology that separates us. Given the chance, people would rather look down at their gadgets than look up to talk to people around them.


And so the challenge for families today is to communicate, to be genuinely interested in the life of their children. When a child goes into his room and closes the door, the challenge is for parents to reach out to them, because truth is, they also want to reach out to you. But even if they do not manifest that gesture of reaching out, at least let them know that you are there.


At first it was difficult for me to tell my parents, when I was 23 years old, that I wanted to continue my discernment at the Novitiate of the Society of Jesus, as that meant I had to leave Cagayan de Oro to go to Novaliches. They were reluctant to let me go at first, but because we were open to one another, it became easy for me to lay down my options.


I told them that I believed this was where the Lord was calling me. I even kidded, “Actually, this was your fault. You always brought me to mission trips, and always encouraged me to serve.”


Getting Your Hands Dirty

Show your children the value of hidden service. In any CFC gathering, my family and I always found ourselves in the service team. Whether it was cooking meals for thousands, serving sandwiches, or any way we can serve, we would always find ourselves in that scenario. And I’ve always observed my parents, how joyful they always were in doing whatever task they were doing. I never heard them complain, even if I knew they would rather listen to the talks than be in the service team. They taught me that serving the Lord doesn’t always have to put one in the limelight.


And that is what I came to realize now that I am a priest, and a retreat master. As a new priest, I recognize that yes, we are at the forefront most of the time, but most of what I do is hidden from the public eye. I think my parents took to heart what the Lord said in the Gospel of Matthew, “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret. And your father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”


Immersing your children in the service of the local Church and the observance of the sacraments—this is the fourth point. Even if my parents were members of Couples for Christ, we never forgot that we were also members of the local Church, thus we were active in the life of the parish. Even when I became a leader in YFC, I was still an altar server, a sacristan. And there, my love for the Eucharist started.


To be up close as the mystery was unfolding at the altar always made me excited and filled with awe. We were also part of the choir, the steering committees, involved with decorating the Church, etc. The religious experience one derives from all these have deepened my faith, and my understanding of the sacraments brought me to an appreciation of them.


Serving in Church also gave me an opportunity to know a priest up close. I also saw the priest not only as presider of the Eucharist, but also as counselor, listener, pastor—someone who is truly concerned for his flock.


I was blessed to know such a priest, whom I met early in my life. I saw him again a few months after my ordination, and somehow he was reluctant in accepting my thanks. Had I not met this priest, and had he not made an impression on me, had I not been active in Church, I would not have entertained the vocation of priesthood.


My college degree is nowhere near Philosophy. My background is on Management of Information Systems. I was already teaching for three years in a local high school when I started discerning. But the seed of that discernment had been planted in me early on in my life, as I became immersed in the life of my parish.


Through Thick and Thin

The fifth and last point is commitment. My parents weren’t married in Church until I was 12 years old. They were already in their second year in CFC, and their household heads thought that they had to do something about their lack of Church recognition. And so we organized our parents’ wedding. The wedding was 12 years overdue, so my siblings and I were fortunate to have had front row seats as they took their vows.


When life became difficult and uncomfortable, they stuck it out. Although both threatened to leave the other, nobody left. It was not an option. 


Life as a priest is also a lifetime commitment. Leaving is not an option. My parents have shown me how it is to be truly committed to something they believe in, even if the future looked bleak. As a 13-month-old priest, this is my experience—a daily ‘Yes’ to the Lord.


Taking it from Pope Francis

Discernment does not start when we are invited to try out the religious life. Discernment starts at home. It is not induced, nor forced. But you can pray over it. You can dream about it. As Pope Francis addressed families last January, “To dream how will your daughter or son be, it is not possible to have a family without such dreams. When you lose this capacity to dream, then you lose the capacity to love, and this energy to love is lost. I recommend that at night, when you examine your consciences, ask yourselves, ‘Today, did I dream about my sons and daughters? It is so important to dream, and to dream in the family, please don’t lose this ability to dream in this way.”


When we dream for our families, we also begin to fashion our homes into seedbeds of vocations.


(Fr. Neo Saicon, SJ is the Assistant Director of the Jesuit Retreat House, Malaybalay, Bukidnon)




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