By Lisa M. Anderson:
Lisa M. Anderson is a wife and mother of two sons. She served for many wars as a career counselor at the university level and leads retreats with career and faith themes. In addition to her family, her loves include singing. Writing, and cooking. She lives in South Bend. IN with her husband Gary.
I my first Catholic priest when I was in eighth grade. My boyfriend suggested we stop and get married at the parish he and his family attended. What fun, I thought! We snuck into the dimly lit church and re-enacted the few parts of the ceremony we knew. We were just getting to the kissing part when, from out of nowhere, a dour looking priest flipped on the lights, lectured us on the inappropriateness of out behavior and kicked us out. I didn’t like a single thing about that priest, and I soon associated him with taking Johnny from me. Johnny broke up with me shortly after out failed marriage attempt. I never did get that kiss.
Forty-two years later. I found myself sitting in the front pew of another Catholic chinch. 2000 miles away from the one I had visited with Johnny. I had been invited this time. My husband and I were there to celebrate with our youngest son, Matthew, and nine other young men making their first vows, the first step towards becoming a Dominican priest. Since my first unpleasant encounter in eighth-grade, I have come to admire, respect, and even love many priests. In fact, in the intervening years, my husband and I became Catholic, bringing our two sons into the church with us. Like many converts, we have embraced our new faith with enthusiasm and have felt blessed on our journey. But as I sat in the front pew of St. Dominic’s in Denver, I wrestled with the feeling that the church might once again be taking someone away from me. This time, it was my own treasured flesh and blood.
The thought of our son becoming a priest did not cross my mind when we became Catholic 18 years ago. At the time, we were delighted he was able to attend a Catholic Choir school for four years. During his college years, his interest in theology grew. There, he initiated a daily prayer group, and organized and led retreats. He occasionally visited religious orders and spoke with his spiritual director about a possible vocation. Somehow I still thought he was headed in different direction. Then one Sunday evening, he returned from a Dominican Come and See weekend, and declared that he had “found his people.”
His people? It felt like a punch to the gut. I thought we were his People! But them was no question. He seemed to have found who and what he was looking for. Reflecting back on that evening, I knew of his decision, even before he spoke. His face radiated a look of love and peacefulness. I should have been overjoyed. Instead I felt conflicted. I love the Catholic Church and admire the faith and selfless commitment of religious men and women. To have a son that loves and wants to serve God and His church in such a fully committed way is a beautiful gift. I just wished it had been somebody else’s son who felt called, not mine. I suspect my reaction would have been different if we had given birth to other children that would marry and provide us with grandchildren. But because of ourother son’s disability, Matthew is our only child able to fulfill this role.
Though I have not taken things into my own hands, as did the mother of Sr. Thomas Aquinas, who locked her son away for two years, I cannot deny my heartfelt dream of seeing this son of ours, happily married, with children. Much stronger, however, is my desire for our son to live the life to which he is called. Despite any pull in my heart, I know that his decision is not my business. It is his to discern, and I trust him in that process.
In the meantime, my husband and I have been learning from our son and from these beautiful Dominicans. Recently I shared with Matthew, (now Brother Isaac), my struggle in praying the rosary. He helped me to understand a different way to focus my prayer. His gentle leading has brought me closer to the Virgin Mary, patron saint of the Dominican Order. In my son and his fellow brothers, there is a tremendous love of God, and a strength and courage that I find rare. They are simply an amazing group of young men.
Yes, I want two very different things. Life tends to be this way. It is not the first time my desires have been in conflict, and I am certain it will not be the last. My heart beats alternating happy and sad beats as I hold my friends newborn grandchild during church or receive photographs of my sister’s granddaughters. Overall, though, I notice my acceptance growing stronger each day. Hearing from other mothers in my situation is helpful. One mother whose son became a priest shared the following:
“If our sons have a true calling, they will know it and eventually so will we. A peace will come over you when you finally accept their decision and see that it was the right one. If they don’t have a true calling, they will find that out also, on their own.”
I do not yet have that sense of peace. But I do have the conviction to support my son in his desire to become a Dominican friar, because this is what he wants. If the Dominicans are to be our son’s new family, I want to get to know them and love them the way I would a daughter-in-law and grandchildren. I believe our son could make a wonderful priest. I also believe he could be a wonderful husband and Father.
Most days, I believe and trust that God will lead him and us. At times when my faith waivers, my husband invites me to pray and gently reminds me that there are many was for us to be fertile in this world, where there are so many in need of God’s love.
From HORIZON, Summer 2012.
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