April 4, 2016 Monday: Feast of Annunciation
Spiritual Mothers for Priests.
Have you ever wondered why Mary, who is the most perfect of all creatures, the most beloved by Jesus, and the most intimately united with him was not chosen to be a priest at the altar? I mean, she’s the one who was standing right there at the altar of the Cross! If anything, this tells us that Jesus’ choice to reserve the ordained priesthood to men alone is not based on a superiority of men over women. If it were based on superiority, then Mary clearly would have been the first priest. But she was not. Why not? Because Jesus had another gift for her and for many women: the gift of spiritual motherhood, a vocation in the Church that, unfortunately, is not widely known. Yet it’s a vocation that’s just as important as the ordained priesthood, at least in the sense that it’s not only a privileged source of priestly vocations, but it also sustains them and makes them bear fruit. Actually, there’s a sense in which the vocation of being a spiritual mother for priests may be even more important than a priestly vocation. I say this because one spiritual mother can “give birth” to and sustain not just one priestly vocation but many.
I said that the priesthood, in a sense, comes from spiritual mothers. Why? Well, let’s start with Mary. Without her “yes” to God at the Annunciation, we would not have Jesus Christ, our High Priest. So, without her “yes” to motherhood, there would be no priesthood. Similarly, without the yes of so many hidden spiritual mothers for priests, there would be few (if any) priests. Let me explain.
As I write, I’m well aware that any good or fruitfulness of this writing flows in large part from the prayers and sacrifices of my spiritual mothers. I don’t just think this. I know it. I myself have clearly experienced the power of their prayers in my own priestly life and throughout my time in the seminary. It’s a given. In a sense, I owe everything to their prayers.
So who are these spiritual mothers? They’re consecrated women, married women with families of their own, and single women devoted to the Lord. They come from all walks of life, and again, I know it’s their prayers that keep me going as a priest. I also know it’s the prayers of such spiritual mothers that keep many other priests going and make their ministries fruitful. Finally, I’m sure that Mary, the first and preeminent spiritual mother, helped keep Jesus going in his priestly mission and assisted in making it fruitful. Let’s go more deeply into this point.
I have no doubt that while Jesus was pouring himself out in the toil and labor of preaching the kingdom, healing the sick, raising the dead, and casting out demons, Mary was united with him in prayer and sacrifice. Surely, her motherly heart went out to her
Son and to all the people his words and actions would reach. Moreover, I’m convinced that it was the power of her prayers that inspired faith in so many of the people that Jesus healed. The grace for this didn’t seem to come directly from Jesus, for he himself was astonished at their faith (see Lk 7:9). So, where did the grace of faith in these Jewish and pagan people come from if not from the Spirit-filled prayers of the perfect disciple whose faith is unsurpassed? For instance, where did the blind man, Bartimaeus, get the courage to repeatedly cry out to Jesus, “Son of David, have pity on me” despite rebukes from crowd? (see Mk 10:46-48). Where did the bleeding woman get the faith that made her reach out to touch Jesus’ garment? (Mt
9:20-22). Where did the Syrophoenician woman get the boldness to persevere in faith after being rebuked by Jesus himself? (see Mk 7:25-30). I suggest that these graces came from Mary’s prayers, which give birth to faith in faithless men and women.
Similarly, we can ask the questions, “From where does the grace come for a young man to renounce marriage and the world and to embrace a life of toil and service as a priest? From where does the grace come that helps him persevere through the testing and training of the seminary?” And once he becomes a priest, “From where does the grace come that gives power to his words, insights to his mind, and warmth to his heart as he serves God’s people?” Of course, the question of where specific graces come is a mystery, and we surely know that the grace of ordination gives a priest everything he needs to fulfill his vocation, but how many extraordinary graces come from spiritual mothers? I’m convinced that many such graces come from them and that their prayers often make the difference between mediocrity in the priesthood and saintly priests.
How much the Church today needs spiritual mothers for priests! In a time when so many convents are empty, Jesus calls out to women from all walks of life to be spiritual mothers for priests. He doesn’t just rely on religious sisters and nuns. He calls out to any woman who will beg the harvest master to send out laborers into the vineyard. He calls out to those who feel a desire to help his priests be what he calls them to be. He calls out to those who love the Church and know that the priests have a special calling to and responsibility for the mission of communion. For Jesus knows that without the priests, there is no Mass. He knows that without the priests, there is no Sacrament of Penance, Anointing of the Sick, or Confirmation. He knows that the renewal of the Church comes through a renewal of the priesthood. Furthermore, he knows that the renewal of the priesthood comes from generous women who give themselves as spiritual mothers and exercise their common priesthood by offering themselves through Christ, with Christ, and in Christ for those in the ministerial priesthood.
This offering of oneself for priests does not have to be something scary. For, while it’s true that there are many “victim souls” among the spiritual mothers of priests (heroic souls who lovingly offer all kinds of agonies such as cancer and other illnesses), there are also many women who live the vocation simply by offering up their little sufferings. But again, this means so much because, remember, even little sufferings lovingly united to the offering of the Mass take on infinite value. In fact, some of the best spiritual mothers, I believe, are those who offer up things that they might never have realized could bring great holiness to priests. For instance, they can offer their broken motherly hearts if they can’t conceive a child or if their children leave the Church and go the way of the world. They can offer their broken spousal hearts if they’ve been abandoned by husbands who couldn’t say no to the culture of death. They can offer their lonely hearts if their husbands are aloof or deceased or if they’ve never been able to marry. Such women, who may be tempted to think of themselves as motherly failures, can find deep meaning in a vocation of offering up their broken hearts for the sanctification of spiritual fathers.
To all those being called to be spiritual mothers for priests, I say this: We priests need you! Priests who are lonely, depressed, discouraged, overworked, overwhelmed, tempted, persecuted, tepid, and brokenhearted need to feel the motherly love of your prayers. The Church needs you! It needs you to beg the Master of the harvest for holy priests, men who will say no to the culture of death and embrace a life of self-giving service to God’s people. God’s people need you! They need the holy priests that your prayers will inspire. They need to be fed by priests who have the Heart of the Good Shepherd and the fire of his love.
Just as life begins in mothers, so the life of the Church begins in all you spiritual mothers out there.
Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC
One Thing is Three