By Virginia G. Guzman-Manzo, MD
n a meeting with Catholic priests and deacons in Freising, Germany in 14 September 2006, Pope Benedict XVI re-echoed the call of Jesus, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few so pray that the Lord of harvest send out laborers” (Matthew 9:37-38). There is work for everybody in the Lord’s vineyard. God needs laborers to work in His vineyard, especially Catholic priests.
This is one of the main reasons why Pope Benedict XVI declared the Year of the Priest from 19 June 2009 to 19 June 2010 to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the feast of Saint Jean Marie Vianney, the patron saint of Catholic priests. The Pope says that calling laborers to God’s vineyard also means that
we cannot simply ‘produce’ vocations; they must come from God. Unlike other professions, we cannot simply recruit people by using the right kind of publicity or the correct type of strategy.
The Pope reminds us that
the call which comes from the heart of God must always find its way into the heart of man. To reach into the heart of man, our response and cooperation are needed.
It is a fact that there is an urgent need for more and holy Catholic priests. The shortage of priests is being experienced all over the world especially in remote and rural areas where there are many Christians who could not receive the necessary spiritual nourishment that they sorely need because there are hardly any priests. Even in urban areas, there is a need for more "men in the cloth". While there is a growing increase in population, the number of priests is dwindling.
What would the Church and the laity be without priests? Who would provide them with the sacraments, spiritual direction and doctrine? Without priests, there would be no baptisms, no masses, no Holy Communions, no confessions, no marriages, no anointing of the sick and the dying—no sacraments which could save man from eternal damnation. We need Catholic priests and they need our prayers, respect and support. Such is the importance and dignity of priesthood that St. Josemaría Escrivá, the founder of Opus Dei declared:
A priest—whoever he may be—is always another Christ. The Holy Spirit has said, “Nolite tangere Christus meos”—Do not touch my priests. To love God and not to revere the priest… this is not possible. (The Way, 66, 67, 74).
The reasons for the acute lack of priestly vocations are mostly due to the present-day emphasis on materialism and consumerism, incorrect perception of the priestly vocation and lack of proper guidance especially by parents.
What a person becomes as a grown-up is attributed to his or her parents. Parents are either blamed or praised for the outcome of their children’s social, educational, cultural and spiritual upbringing. By nature, mothers play a predominant role and have a remarkable influence in the rearing of her children. With her instinctive maternal love, mystifying intuition and innate piety, a mother brings up her child in the best way she can. There is no mother in her right mind that would not do anything for the good and happiness of her children.
A very good example of a mother’s role and influence as instrumental in the conversion of her wayward son who later became a saint is the story of St. Monica and her son, St. Augustine.
Rare is a mother who brings about the sanctity of her son and in the process becomes a saint herself. This rarity of such a mother is exemplified in the person of St. Monica. Rare also are the likes of St. Augustine, a person most unlikely to be raised to the altars of sainthood but after his conversion became a most influential theologian and avid defender of the Catholic Church.
Monica was consumed with one ambition in life—the conversion of her pagan husband and her licentious and heretic son. She was able to attain this ambition but only after many years of deep piety, persevering prayer and great sacrifice. Monica’s husband, Patricius, a pagan of loose morals and violent temper, became a Christian and was baptized before he died.
For Augustine, it took almost 20 years of his mother’s unbreakable spirit, relentless prayers and a river of tears, before he finally gave up his profligate life. Augustine turned away from his involvement with a heretic sect called Manichaeism, returned to the Catholic faith, was baptized, went on to become a priest, then a bishop and finally a saint. Aside from being a birth mother, Monica was also the spiritual mother to her son.
Largely unknown and scarcely understood is a vocation of women as spiritual mothers for priests. This is of great importance because it is meant to transmit spiritual life. However, this is rarely lived because few women are acquainted with it. Pope John Paul II established a cloistered convent in the Vatican for nuns whose main mission is to pray for the Church, for the intentions of the pope and as spiritual mothers of priests.
What is meant by spiritual motherhood for priests? It is a vocation for any woman whether she be married, single, widow, rich or poor, educated or not, healthy or sick as long as she commits herself to pray every day for Catholic priests. She could be a spiritual mother to a particular priest, a group of Catholic priests or for all Catholic priests over the world.
A pious and dedicated woman may commit herself to the vocation of spiritual motherhood for priests. She need not be a birth mother of a priest; she could be any woman who wishes to dedicate her spiritual life praying for Catholic priests. Many of these women who are presently spiritual mothers for Catholic priests are nuns or religious sisters and missionaries but there are also many women living in the middle of the world who have dedicated their spiritual life for the sanctification of others.
Women are called to bring to the family, to society and to the Church their gentle warmth and untiring generosity, their love for detail, their quick-wittedness and intuition, their simple and deep piety, their constancy… Each woman in her own sphere of life, if she is faithful to her divine and human vocation can and, in fact, does achieve the fullness of her feminine personality (Conversations with Msgr. Josemaria Escriva, 87)
Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter Mulieris dignitatem says, “From the beginning of Christ’s mission, women show to him and to his mystery a special sensitivity which is characteristic of their femininity.”
God purposely imbued these characteristics on all women because He created them not only for that exalted and blessed role to be birth mothers but also for that dignified and godly mission of being spiritual mothers for others such as the Church and priests.
It has been proven in the lives of many priests that spiritual motherhood is very effective not only in enlightening young men to the vocation of priesthood but in helping Catholic priests persevere in their vocation, in becoming “other Christs,” and in leading them to the path of sanctity. A spiritual mother may or may not be acquainted or even know the identity of the priest or Catholic priests who are the recipients of her spiritual motherhood. God may indicate to these women that He wants them to be spiritual mothers to certain Catholic priests and to commit themselves through their continuing prayers, Eucharistic adoration and sacrifices.
Examples of these spiritual mothers are St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Blessed Maria Deluil Martiny, Venerable Louise Margaret Claret de la Touche, Blessed Alexandra Da Costa, Servant of God Consolata Bertone, Venerable Conchita of Mexico, Berthe Petit, Anna Stang and many others who are unknown and unrecorded. Needless to say, St. Monica is an epitome of spiritual motherhood.
Many of them are simple mothers; some are unassuming but pious single women. One on record was a poor servant working as a barn girl who was constantly praying for a priest who became a bishop whom she does not know nor was she known to the priest. She just knew in her heart that God wanted her to pray constantly for a certain priest which she faithfully did.
Eliza Vaughn of England, a rich lady who belonged to the founding family of the Rolls-Royce Company, was another spiritual mother of priests. She bore 13 children; six of her eight boys became Catholic priests (two in religious orders, one a diocesan priest, a bishop, an archbishop and a cardinal). Of her five daughters, four became nuns. Eliza was so profound in her love for God and zealous in her faith and piety that she proposed to her husband to offer all of their children back to God. Her children learned from her the love for God and neighbor and inherited her piety and her virtues, especially generosity, humility and self-giving.
Most of the above information regarding spiritual mothers is taken from a booklet entitled Eucharistic Adoration for the Sanctification of priests and Spiritual Maternity issued by the Congregation of the Clergy. Here the role of spiritual maternity is clearly understood. Interesting accounts of spiritual motherhood are related in this booklet.
In a letter sent by the Congregatio Pro Clerics (Congregation of the Clergy) to Pope Benedict XVI, the congregation is proposing the promotion of Eucharistic adoration for the sanctification of Catholic priests and spiritual motherhood:
It is our intention to bring about a connection between perpetual Eucharistic adoration for the sanctification of Catholic priests and the initiation of a commitment on the part of consecrated feminine souls… who might wish to spiritually adopt Catholic priests in order to help them with their self-offering, prayer, and penance.
This is a call therefore for all women who have generous hearts, a self-giving disposition and a spirit of penance to spiritually “adopt” Catholic priests and become their spiritual mothers. In one’s own heart, a woman could commit herself silently to God for this divine endeavor. In this way, spiritual motherhood will benefit a lot of Catholic priests spiritually and bodily in the sincere and loyal performance of their mission and lead them on the path to heaven. It will also bring about generous and dedicated young men to answer the call of God for “laborers to work in His vineyard,”a call that needs urgent response and cooperation.
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