Mary and Spiritual Motherhood

January 1 was the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God, a sort of liturgical Mother’s Day, as we highlighted one of Mary’s many titles: Mother. It’s seems quite appropriate to celebrate Mary’s motherhood as eight days ago we commemorated Christ’s birth, his entrance into the world of men; Mary, the virgin from Nazareth, who bore the Son of God into the world of men must now parent this child to the best of her abilities. She who might never have thought she would hold a child of her own holds Divinity Incarnate, her own flesh and blood, and must now attempt the next to impossible task of bringing him up to be who he was meant to be.

In this solemnity, the Church recognizes and celebrates not only Mary’s maternity, but also the intuitive maternity present deep within the heart of every woman. Granted not every woman has children, but every woman is called to be mother. We see it everywhere, from the three-year-old “nursing” and caring for her dollies and teddy bears, to the ninety-year-old who prays for hours every day for the holy souls in purgatory, for her family, and for the world. At the heart of every woman is this radical desire to pour oneself out for others, to care for and protect the weak and defenceless, and to raise up strong and healthy souls using whatever means necessary. In celebrating Mary’s maternity, the Church entreats all women of all walks of life to put this exceptional gift contained within them to good use.

In 2007, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy came out with a document called Adoration, Reparation and Spiritual Motherhood for Priests. It’s a veritably unknown forty page document filled with stories about women of all ages and states in life who offered weekly prayers and sacrifices specifically for priests and who changed the course of many lives through their maternal offerings. There is a story of one particular mothers’ group in a small town in Italy that maintained three devotions for many years. First, they prayed weekly before the Blessed Sacrament asking for vocations (especially from their own families). Second, they offered their communion on the first Sunday of every month for vocations and third, they said this simple prayer after communion:

O God, grant that one of my sons may become a priest!
I myself want to live as a good Christian and want to guide my children always to do what is right,
so that I may receive the grace, O God, to be allowed to give you a holy priest!  Amen.

Would you believe that out of that small town of only a few thousand inhabitants, three hundred and twenty-three vocations sprang up over the course of the following years? One hundred and fifty-two priests (both diocesan and religious) and one hundred and seventy-one nuns from as many as forty-one different congregations! There was even a beatified saint among them, Blessed Philip Rinaldi, who had eventually become Superior General of the Salesians, the third successor to St. John Bosco.

The vocation to be a spiritual mother for priests is […] unknown, barely understood and consequently, rarely lived […] although fundamental and vitally important. It is a vocation that is often hidden, not apparent to the human eye, but intended to transmit spiritual life. Pope John Paul II, convinced of this, founded a cloistered convent in the Vatican where nuns would pray for his intentions as Supreme Pontiff (Page 10).

This isn’t a difficult, mind-bending spiritual practice here. It is merely consciously praying and sacrificing not only for the priests and religious who have already stepped into their religious state, but also for those who have not yet answered God’s call. And these days, both are in need of a serious amount of prayer.

So here are a few suggestions to start you off if you feel so inclined. I found this homily very helpful in tweaking the prayers for myself since I have no children and decided to pray specifically for a dear priest friend of ours. First I say a Memorare for conformity to Our Lady; second, a Litany of the Sacred Heart for his vocation and for more vocations to the priesthood and all religious callings; third, I offer my communion on the first Sunday of every month for the same intentions. I haven’t been saying the above prayer of the Italian mother’s group because I often forget the words, but you would be welcome to say it (changing the words a bit if you do not have children). If the first two can be done in front of the Blessed Sacrament, all the better.

This document speaks volumes about how motherhood is fundamentally important within the Church, and how every woman’s heart is greatly needed in the spiritual battles being fought these days—especially in the realm of religious and priestly vocations. Bishop Fulton J. Sheen once said, “Woman’s universal motherhood is the basis of her spiritual motherhood, even when she has no child of her own. Spiritual motherhood is a gift of nature, and its exercise is natural…A woman becomes a spiritual mother when she holds out her hand to the weak and the abandoned.” This isn’t to say that those called to the priesthood and religious life are always weak or abandoned, but the Lord’s call to an individual is sometimes  small and precious—it must be cherished and cultivated by much prayer and sacrifice. In committing to that prayer and sacrifice, we women are changed and molded into the women we are meant to be merely by exercising our natural gifts, and we become more and more like Our Lady. We love and cherish Christ, as she did, by offering who and what we are not only for the individuals called by God, but also for the continual building up of the Universal Church, the Body of Christ himself.

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