One of the more amazing moments of my life occurred last year when I witnessed my younger brother celebrate his first public Mass as a priest for the Archdiocese of Washington at our home parish of Sacred Heart in Bowie, MD. What made this moment even more incredible was also seeing my dad assist at the Mass as a permanent deacon alongside him.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl ordained my dad, Robert Seith, a permanent deacon for the Archdiocese of Washington in June 2013. A few months later in October, my family flew to Rome to witness my brother, Chris Seith, be ordained a transitional deacon for the Archdiocese, just a short distance above the bones of St. Peter in the Chapel of the Chair at St. Peter’s Basilica. Then, in June 2014, Cardinal Wuerl ordained Chris a priest at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.
It’s really almost too much for one family to experience, and I feel incredibly blessed to be a part of it. Reflecting on my childhood, I realized there were a few things my parents did to encourage openness to all vocations among my three brothers and me.
1. Priests and Sisters were a part of our family life early and often.
While growing up, my parents would regularly invite our parish priests over for dinner. It became such a normal part of our life that I never considered it could be deemed unusual by other families. We became close to a few priests in particular and even went to see Lord of the Rings: Return of the King at midnight with one.
Regarding those in religious life, a former babysitter became a sister with the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara, so we became accustomed to visiting her and her order. Chris and I went to World Youth Day in Toronto with the order, where we were surrounded by the sisters and priests for two weeks. The trip was filled with singing, dancing, praying and worshiping.
These experiences as children helped instill the belief that priests and those in religious life are normal people serving God. We saw priests in Mass consecrate bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, but we also saw them in shorts and a T-shirt playing with us in the backyard. The vocational option of becoming a priest or a consecrated religious or lay person became just as normal as the married vocation.
2. We were taught to pray and were encouraged to build a relationship with Christ.
For all vocations, we can’t know what God is calling us to if we’re not in regular contact with Him. When we were younger, we learned our basic prayers and prayed every night as a family before going to bed. We kids laugh now at the fact that, when we were very young, we’d choose to recite the Angel of God and Glory Be prayers because they were the shortest.
My mom started a Rosary Group at a local parish that prays every mystery of the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet every week. The kids were always encouraged to accompany the group, and we formed bonds with the members who continue the practice today. My dad attended Daily Mass every day before work, which introduced us to the beautiful habit of incorporating worship into our daily life, not just one day a week.
As we got older, we started going to the Easter Triduum services and took advantage of our closeness to beautiful religious sites by going to the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and the Franciscan Monastery in Washington, D.C., on Good Friday to do the Stations of the Cross; this has become a wonderful tradition throughout the years.
Faith and prayer were a part of our daily life, which set a good foundation to form a real relationship with God as I continued to grow and mature in my faith.
3. We witnessed daily sacrifices.
My mom considers sacrifice and praying through her body as her second vocation. Among other disorders, my mom has Ehlers-Danlos, which means she is in chronic pain. That means pain all the time. Some days are better than others, of course, but there hasn’t been a day that’s gone by in more than 20 years that my mom hasn’t experienced some degree of pain.
To cope with this condition, my mom “offers it up” as prayers for her family and others and encourages us to do the same in our daily trials. All of us in the family have felt the power of her prayers, and we continually go to her for intercession. What amazes me most is how grateful my mom is for everything in her life especially for the blessings of her family.
Because of my mom’s condition, my dad was forced to do things around the house that he otherwise would not have had to do. After working a long week at work, my dad spent the weekends doing all of our laundry and other chores around the house. Now having a family and house of my own, I am beginning to appreciate how much sacrifice was required of him as well, but we never saw him complain.
Through both my mom’s witness in her bodily sufferings and my dad’s abundant sacrifices for the family, we learned that sacrifice was part of life and was a necessary part of all vocations. We were made to give ourselves to other people, and if we could do it joyfully and turn it into prayer, that was even better.
We all have our own stories of how we discerned our vocation, and God calls us in so many varied ways. I just know these were some of the ways my parents encouraged my brothers and me to grow closer to Christ and to discern our vocation, and I hope to pass along these habits to my own kids.