How few parents realize the immense power they possess for moulding the character and shaping the future career of their children. The tiny babe just born to them comes from God’s hand with vast possibilities for good and evil; like the young forest tree, its soul may be trained to grow straight and beautiful, or bent and twisted, made horrible and deformed.
Many a priest can look back to his early years and say with gratitude that it was to the watchful care of his parents, to their prayers, their example and holy lives, he owed the happiness of his sacred calling. God held the place of honour in his home; the image of His priestly Heart was ever before his childish eyes, the names of Jesus and Mary were the first he learned to lisp. The stories of God’s friends, the Saints, were told him as he lay in his little cot, and mother’s hand held his while he said his baby prayers. A few years later, in all the glory of a spotless surplice and soutane, he knelt at the altar to serve his first Mass; was it while he moved among the unseen angels that the great God chose him as His priest?
Thus, step, by step, was he guided by counsel and advice through the perils of youth, till at last his consecrated hands rested on the bowed heads of those who had led him to the Altar of God, giving back to the Creator the child they had received from Him.
Unfortunately, some parents look upon a vocation in the family as a sort of social catastrophe. They may not, perhaps, go so far as directly to crush out the desire for a higher life, which God has planted in their child’s heart, but they give it no encouragement. They speak of the advantages of the various professions, the fame to be won as a lawyer or doctor, the glory of a military career, the triumphs of the Diplomatic Service, forgetting the saying of St. Vincent de Paul, “There is no grander work on earth than to form a priest,” no calling nobler or more honourable than to labour for the salvation of souls as the Ambassador of Christ.
No wonder the hearts of so few young men are fired by this noblest form of ambition, the longing to serve the King of kings, or aspire to the unspeakable dignity of the priesthood.
The great French Cardinal Mermillod, once wrote: “Christian women! your mother hearts do not burn enough with Divine love that their exhalations should bring forth the heart of a priest. Oh! ask of God that your families may give sons to the Church, ask Him that you, in your turn, may have the courage of sacrifice, and that from you may be born an apostle: to speak to men about God, to enlighten the world, to serve Him at the altar, is not this, after all, a grand and magnificent destiny?”
Even those parents who have not been blessed with a son, can do much towards helping to find recruits for God’s grand army. It is an admitted fact that the multitude of vocations in France in recent years has been largely due to the wide diffusion of books treating of vocations, and such papers as The Annals of the Faith, and Catholic Missions. A simple pamphlet put in the hands of a boy may be the means of planting the seed of a vocation in his heart, by making him think what he might one day become.
A wealthy Catholic lady has devoted her life to the noble work of educating poor lads for the priesthood.
In a single year she has assisted three hundred and five ecclesiastical students, and in thirty years spent her large fortune in the training of hundreds of priests, many of whom would never have celebrated the Sacred Mysteries but for her generosity and self-sacrifice. In this world, even, she has reaped her reward: “My young Chinese priest, in the first year of his ministry, baptized 1,500 pagan children. Most of them, on account of the previous neglect of their parents, died soon after baptism, and went to Heaven. Yet these 1500 children, snatched from Satan, are only a part of the fruits of his year’s labour as a priest.”
To give one’s child to God and His work may be a sacrifice for a father or mother, but no joy on earth can equal that of parents as they see standing at the altar, the God of Holiness in his hands, the boy who owes his life, his all, to them.
Only a parent can understand the depth of feeling in the following letter, written by a mother on the morning of her son’s first Mass.
“Bless God with me, I am now the mother of a priest. When, twenty-four years ago, a son was given me, you remember how I was almost overcome with the intensity of my joy. I beheld him living beside me, stretching forth my hand to the cradle to assure myself that my dream, realized in the flesh, indeed nestled there. How different, how much higher the joy that today fills my soul with emotions never before experienced’s labour as a priest.”