SPRUCE GROVE — Miguel Irizar is not married, and has no intentions of getting married or having children. So why was he chosen to speak at a conference on strengthening Catholic families?
The seminarian, soon to become a different kind of father, grew up in Mexico where he learned from experiences with his parents and siblings how a family lives out its faith.
"The family should be the first seminary for a young man. Seminary means a place for one to study to become a priest, and providing a place to study is the role of the parents," said Irizar, speaking at the Happy Homes, Holy Hearts conference.
His Nov. 13 talk, at Holy Trinity Parish in Spruce Grove/Stony Plain, was called Family: Seedbed of Vocations.
"Parents are 90 per cent responsible for their kids joining the priesthood or religious life," he stated.
His parents gave him an example of uncompromising and radical generosity. For his parents to have 16 children took radical generosity and immense personal sacrifice.
"This was the mentality of my parents, to have as many kids as God wanted them to," said Irizar.
"If we are generous, God will be generous and provide for us. This meant that my parents put aside their own careers, their own hobbies, their own lives, to provide for us, their children."
With 15 brothers and sisters, he never had his own bedroom, and learned from a young age the need for sharing, cooperation, generosity and other virtues that will assist him in his future role as priest.
It wasn't only parents teaching children, but also siblings learning from siblings. Generosity might have been forced on him, but over time the virtue became part of who he was.
"If I gave of myself without expecting anything in return, it filled me with joy. That experience stayed with me," he said.
He urged parents to teach their children about generosity by showing them poverty. Keep them short of money, do not let them have valuable stuff and teach them to make things last, he said. Take them to soup kitchens and children's hospitals, and they will be more apt to be grateful for what they possess.
"Encourage your children to give of themselves, and be generous. There can't be a vocation if you're not generous," said Irizar.
Another powerful example his parents set was having a personal prayer life. His family was deeply religious, going to Mass weekly, Confession monthly and praying the rosary regularly.
"Each time I prayed the rosary I was thinking of better things, things I'd rather be doing. I prayed with my lips, not with my heart. Faith was empty rituals. When I went to Mass, I was waiting for it to end," he admitted.
Yet over the years he increasingly followed his parents' example, that of dutifulness, religious devotion and reverence for God. By observing his parents' prayer life, he strove to become more like them.
For families trying to attain that same kind of piety at home, he said, "The Eucharist and the sacrament of Penance are necessary."
He encouraged parents to teach their children what is good and what is evil. Ultimately, their children will make their own choices.
While Catholic youth should not necessarily associate only with fellow Catholics, he said they should befriend those who share the same values. Irizar attended McNally High School, a public school in Edmonton's Forest Heights neighbourhood, where most of his friends were Protestants.
"My father always told me that who you will become is influenced by who you hang out with," said Irizar. "It doesn't matter - it's only personal preference - if your kids go to public school, private school, Catholic school or if they're homeschooled. What you teach them at home is what matters."