Spiritual Mothers of Priests
I know, I have been neglectful about blog posting lately. Woe is me…
Last week we were blessed by the presence of some of the priests from Region V of the National Catholic Diocesan Vocation Directors. It was such a blessing to have their priestly presence among us! Their guest speaker Mr. Sam Alzheimer of Vianney Vocations shared some effective strategies for promoting priestly vocations.
Their time here brought to our minds the urgent need to pray and sacrifices for our priests. Keeping this in mind, and also recalling that yesterday was Mother’s Day, I thought you would be interested in the following meditation by our novice Sr. Cecilia Maria on the aspect of our Spiritual Motherhood and how we support our priests and seminarians through our life of prayer and sacrifice. (Speaking of seminarians – Sr. John Mary received today the invitation for her brother’s transitional diaconate ordination – Blessed be God!)
Passionist Mother of Priests
It is no secret that Passionist Nuns – indeed, all Passionists – honor with particular and fond devotion Mary, the Mother of Jesus and our Sorrowful Mother. For us she is model and exemplar, patroness and queen, teacher and aid; at her station at the foot of the Cross, we discover the fullness of our own vocation. We are to be so united with the Mother of the Crucified that her loving vigil on Calvary is realized in our daily lives. But what is the nature of this vigil, that it may still be kept two thousand years after Christ rose victorious from the grave? The answer lies in the fact that it marked not merely a crucifixion, but a sacrifice, and that as Mary accompanied her Son, she not only comforted a victim but also supported a priest.
The hours of Jesus’ Passion are the climax of His earthly mission of redemption, the consummation of the perfect outpouring of love which He began at the Incarnation. At no other moment in the thirty-three years that He walked among us is His heavenly priesthood so clearly manifested. Even as he hangs helpless on those beams of pain, he presides unchallenged over a most solemn sacrifice. The crimson vestments which He donned even as the scourges fashioned them from His flesh, with terrible beauty show forth the nature of this High Priest. He not only offers sacrifice; He is the victim offered. His hour having come, in power and love He lays down His life for His friends.
Mary’s vocation as the mother of this High Priest also reaches its climax on Calvary, but to understand it fully, we must trace its beginnings. She keeps her vigil on Calvary with the full awareness that by her fiat (“amen” in Hebrew) she prepared this Lamb for the sacrifice. At the angel’s Annunciation, the humble handmaid of the Lord became mother of the Messiah; because of her co-operation, “when He came into the world, He said: Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me” (Heb 10:5). Without Mary’s “yes,” there would have been no Body for the Christ to offer upon the Cross. We can easily understand, too, that this fiat was lived daily in the life of this mother as it is for all mothers. Her loving “yes” at His conception became a loving yes as He took nourishment from her breasts, as He toddled His first shaky steps clinging to her hands, as He learned to speak, to pray, to sing by imitating the sounds from His mother’s mouth. As the Messiah “advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man”(Lk 2:52), the fiat of His mother was a constant, often hidden support, silently aiding and accompanying Him toward His goal.
In his Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson illustrates beautifully how Mary lives out her motherhood of the High Priest during the Passion itself. One line from the movie perfectly encapsulates her role: in the courtyard of the high priest, Mary glimpses the abuse following the condemnation of Jesus, and she murmurs, “So it begins. Amen, Adonai. Amen.” Truly, it will be her participation at Calvary that will sound the Great Amen to this Mass.
By her presence, prayer, and union of mind and will with His own, the mother of the Victim-Priest gives support, strength, and endurance to her Son. She accompanies Him with a compassionate fiat-amen as He suffers the scourgings, as He stumbles under the weight of the Cross, as He is stripped, as He is nailed to the wood. A true mother, she feels keenly in her heart every wound, every blow, every insult which fills her Son’s chalice of suffering; indeed, though she did not hear aloud the familiar offertory words, “Pray that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God the Almighty Father” (Order of Mass), she embodies the perfect response. As surely as her dying Son offers His own life in sacrifice to the Father, He offers hers who stands below in loving sorrow, whose fiat-amen once gave Him life in order that He might lay it down for the sake of all mankind.
The pieta statue in our cemetary on Palm Sunday morning
Perhaps the most striking depiction of Mary’s motherhood of the High Priest is in the Pietá, that scene in which she reverently cradles the crucified Christ in her arms. Even after He has spent all, after His offering is completed, she continues the offering in her soul and body as she with her whole being cries out the eternal Amen which completes His sacrifice. Jesus Christ having offered Himself “once for all,” His mother is the first to extend through time her participation in it. If she can be seen as a monstrance at the beginning of His priestly oblation, when He first became incarnate in her womb, she can just as surely be seen as a monstrance at the end of His oblation, as she lifts up with her own hands and heart what the High Priest can no longer physically lift up Himself.
From the Gospel narrative itself, we know that Mary is not the mother of the High Priest only, but mother of all priests. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” With these words, Jesus gives His mother to the Apostle John. Alone of the Twelve to approach this altar, perhaps John is the first to understand that he has been given a share in his Master’s priesthood, that he and his brothers are to continue through time the sacrifice that Christ has offered once for all eternity. Perhaps as he witnessed Jesus being lifted up between heaven and earth, he began to understand the significance of the Supper they had shared the night before in the upper room. We do not know.
But we do know that John, representing all ordained priests, on Calvary received the High Priest’s mother as his own. For him, for the other apostles, and for every priest of Jesus Christ through the ages, Mary is a mother precisely as she was for her Son. She prepares them for their own shares in the Passion and comforts them as they suffer. She strengthens them as they encounter their own weakness, and is the hidden support of prayer behind their every action. She is eternally the Sorrowful Mother on Calvary, eternally embodying the fiat-amen at the Mass celebrated “once for all” and extended through time at the hands of her priestly sons.
Our dear friend Fr. Brandon Williams and chaplain Fr. Ray Clark
Fr. Brandon gives us his blessing
It is into this fiat-amen of the Mother of Priests that we are called as Passionist Nuns. As we become ever more united with her at the foot of the Cross, we are drawn into her motherhood; we too are given “St. Johns” to nurture, comfort, strengthen, support. Our lives become fruitful, and though we may never meet our children “in the flesh,” by our daily fidelity to our monastic life we raise up priests to God and proclaim the Great Amen to their Mass.
Former Owensboro diocesan seminarian and now Dominican soon-to-be-priest, Rev. Br. Austin Litke
I give thanks and praise for the privilege of being called to such a vocation, and I pray that the Lord will continue to raise up priestly souls – sons and mothers! – who will extend His Sacrifice of Love throughout the world.
The Sisters with Deacon Matthew Hardesty and our dear discerning friend – both residing in the Louisville archdiocese. Deacon Matt made many retreats here during his seminary days.
Our dear Passionist Fr. Fred Sucher