Laudetur Iesus Christus!
Nunc et in æternum! Amen.
When I finished The Imitation of Christ a few weeks ago, I needed another book to move onto for my period of spiritual reading I “do” after I pray Office of Readings and Lauds before morning Mass.
BTW, if you haven’t read The Imitation of Christ, you should, it’s a spiritual classic and I regret that I didn’t read it sooner. It seemed like every time I read it, even if it was just a couple sections, it was like the text was written for me. Every single time, something touched my heart.
I looked through my books to see which one caught my eye. That’s really how I picked out Imitation, besides the fact that some had recommended it in the past. I literally scan the bindings of the books on my shelves and see which one piques my interest.
The one that caught my attention was this one …
I have had it on my bookshelf for a few years. I got it for Christmas when I was still in college (my grandparents usually pick stuff off my Amazon list and this was on it) because I had heard a friend talking about it or I saw it on her bookshelf and found it intriguing (not enough to actually read it then apparently).
Before I started reading, being the research nut that I am (I love writing papers … yeah, I am that kind of person), I googled the book to see what others thought of it.
One of the sites to which I was referred was from a blog that I follow, Spiritual Motherhood for Priests. It specifically directed me to this post. As I was reading this post, it became clear to me that I had picked the right book for my morning spiritual reading.
As I started reading it, my feelings were confirmed. This is a truly beautiful read.
(Update: I finished it Thursday night at an impromptu trip to Adoration at my parish … YAY!)
Reading this makes me realize that my selecting Saint Thérèse for my Confirmation patroness was not: a.) a fluke (I have learned that there is no such thing as a “fluke”), b.) just because it was the name (French form) of my aunt whom I never met because she died when she was 16, and c.) because when we were picking out patrons for Confirmation, we were not allowed to pick names of saints of the opposite sex (a practice that has thankfully ended since my time).
I also must confess that while I did have an awareness of the life of Saint Thérèse then, I am only starting to appreciate her now.
The book is a collection of letters between Saint Thérèse and a young seminarian/later priest Maurice Belliere who was struggling with formation, past sins, and worldly attachments. It was complied by Bishop Patrick Ahern, who provides commentary and background after each letter. Bishop Ahern, who passed away in 2011, has been considered one of the foremost experts on the spirituality of Saint Thérèse.
(Update: The letters between Maurice and Thérèse go until her death but then there is also included a couple letters from Maurice written to others describing his life in the mission and his struggles. Their inclusion is meant to demonstrate how much he had changed from his first letter to Thérèse and how he trusted that though she was gone, that she was even closer to him and praying for him.)
Maurice wrote to the Lisieux Carmel asking the Mother Superior to assign to him a sister who would pray for him and his perseverance in his vocation (he also aspired to be a missionary in Africa). The Mother Superior at the time was Saint Thérèse’s own sister, Pauline whose religious name was Agnes. She gave the task of spiritually supporting Maurice to Thérèse, who was on her death bed suffering from the end stages of tuberculosis.
In her consoling letters to Maurice, Thérèse, who was well-aware of the fact that her time on Earth was limited and who was going through a period of spiritual aridity, is what can only be described as a mother to Maurice though they call each other “dear little brother” and “dear sister.”
She gently teaches him her “Little Way” of living a holy life by taking every little occurrence in one’s life as an opportunity to show God one’s love for Him. She also consoles him with constant reminders that while the seriousness of sins is not to be de-emphasized, the mercy and love of God overcomes the power of sin when it is sought by the soul. Love is a powerful force in the face of sin and death.
Reading this book is teaching me what it is to be a spiritual mother. In my years of discernment, one of the “things” I know rather certainly as a part of my vocation is my call to spiritual motherhood, of priests in particular. Therefore, I have incorporated it into my spiritual life in a unique way.
Priests are our spiritual fathers, their whole lives are dedicated to being “other Christs” for us. When they offer Mass or celebrate the sacraments, they do so in persona Christi, in the person of Christ. When we see the priest at the altar, we may see the priest but it’s really Christ using the priest as an instrument (we are all instruments in the hands of God) to make Himself present to His Church. When we are making our confessions to a priest, we are really making our confession and receiving absolution from Christ in the person of the priest.
As a side note, the priest being an alter Christus is one of the reasons why I think ad orientem worship is so great. When the priest offers Mass versus populum, even if he does not mean to in anyway, the priest can kinda become the center of the action rather than the actions of the priest being the center of attention. We can become focused the priest rather than what the priest is doing. I think it may have to do with the face-to-face nature of versus populum worship.
When the priest is facing the same direction as the people (“backs turned on the people” … ha ha ha ha ha!) … facing God, that is … the personality and person of the priest is taken up in his role as an alter Christus. I have heard some call the “problem” that arises when Mass is offered versus populum a matter of the priest becoming a “Master of Ceremonies” of sorts. Like he is the host of the gathering, meal, whatever non-sacrificial term they use nowadays (Yes, the Mass is a meal but the Sacrifice aspect trumps that by a smidge or so …;) ).
Priests are pretty amazing. They pray for everyone pretty much every day. They have given their whole lives and beings as victims for us. Yeah, pretty amazing.
They have sacrificed the possibility of getting married and having a family so that they can be full-time fathers for our souls. And, please, don’t give me the “Priests ought to be able to marry” schtick. Don’t go there with me. Yes, I know it’s a discipline of Holy Church, not a doctrine but I am a proponent of the saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
They pray and make sacrifices for us. They are spiritual fathers to us. But who does the like for them? Do we pray and make sacrifices for them (mindful that no penance is too small to effect some grace)? Are we supportive of them? Do we encourage them? Do we love them?
The Good Lord has given me the gift of knowing a great many priests. Some I have known for many years, others I have only known for a few years. I am blessed to have a priest in my family: my great-uncle on my mother’s side (my grandfather’s brother) is an Augustinian priest. He baptized me (in the old-school bapistery at SJA … foreshadowing my traddy-ness?) and he gave me my First Holy Communion (received Him before everyone else so I got to go up at weekly class Mass … lol). My dear spiritual director is a priest. All have been and are spiritual fathers to me.
When I hear people talking trash about priests, it cuts me to the quick. Now, by “talking trash” I mean talking negatively undeservedly and uncharitably. I try not to have an idealized view of priests since they, like everyone else, are human and prone to flaws. Of course, that does not mean that we should not call them (or anyone else) on their faults (when done properly, it is an act of charity).
If a priest is preaching heresy or if he is being a milquetoast when it comes to the Truth, don’t publicly decry him or correct him, that does no good. Pray for him. Talk to him privately (and make sure you have objective evidence, not “you’re a meanie with your mean-ness!”).
I think my knowing so many priests has helped me to have a more human view of them. Some people are scandalized when you are comfortable talking about non-Church-y things with priests. Ha! I love it. Some of my priests are geeks so we talk technie things. Others love Red Wings hockey, so we talk about the last game.
Becoming a priest doesn’t make him less human. Remember, he was “Mr. So-and-so” before he became “Father So-and-so.” Odds are, they will still have the same interests they had before ordination. They will probably still have the same personality and sense of humor they had before ordination. Just because the bishop laid hands on them does not mean that they became “Stepford Priests.” Then the priesthood would be boring and altogether interactive (this is a woman talking about the “attractiveness” the priesthood … lolz).
In her letters to Maurice, Thérèse loves and supports him but she also helps him correct his erring ways and thoughts. He dwells on his past sins, she reminds him of the Mercy of God. He fears his own inadequacy because of his fallen-ness, she reminds him that the Lord will provide all that he needs to accomplish His will.
That is what I want to do. That is what I feel called to do. Thérèse promised Maurice that she would remember him always in her prayers and in her thoughts. It was obvious from the beginning of their correspondence that Maurice had a very special place in her heart.
While I am still in the process of discernment of where precisely God wants me (kinda hoping Archbishop Vigneron approves of that formation program for consecrated virgins in the AOD), I know with relative certainty that spiritual motherhood for priests is part of my vocation, no matter where it may lead me.
Furthermore, I, like Thérèse, feel called to “adopt” a couple specific priests to be spiritual sons/brothers of mine for whom I will offer special prayers and penances The more I have prayed about this, the more it “feels” right. I just need the Lord to show me who I am to take as such. He will do so as and when he sees fit.
Even if I do not end up being a biological mother, I can always be a spiritual mother and I think that being a spiritual mother of priests can yield much grace for them.
We always have to remember that after Our Lord and Our Lady, the Devil hates priests the most. Why? Because they are Christ’s special representatives on Earth. When a man is ordained a priest, He is united in a singular way to the High Priesthood of Christ and are thus given the ability to confect the sacraments especially the Eucharist where He becomes substantially present and in the sacrament of Penance where Christ cleanses the soul of the penitent from the stain of sins (take our sins of scarlet and make them white as snow).
The Devil hates that. He wants us to be in Hell with him. The priest is on the front line leading us to Christ as we fight the world, the flesh, and the Devil. The priest stands for everything the Devil hates: God’s Love, His Mercy, and His Truth so of course, he is going to do anything and everything in his power to undermine the resolve of the priest. And the Devil has quite the arsenal against the priest: he will play on the weaknesses of the priest (who remains a human being after ordination, btw) be it his personal proclivities (you know, those ugly rearings of the head of concupiscence), loneliness, doubt, spiritual aridity and darkness, etc.. Heck, he’s attacked priests physically. I think there are stories of the Devil attacking Saint Jean Marie Vianney (universal patron of parish priests) and Saint Padre Pio.
The Devil will do anything to make a priest fall because then that would mean one less soldier of Christ fighting against Him and it leaves a portion of the flock more vulnerable. Priests are the leaders and the healers as “other Christs.” They lead us to Christ and they help us to become more like Christ by encouraging us and by being instruments of God’s Mercy. If the Devil can cut off even one of those channels of grace, to him, he is gaining an upper-hand.
Of course, we all know how it ends: the Devil will be overcome by Christ. Those who were faithful to Christ through thick and thin and followed His teachings as best they were able will be given their just reward. Those who rejected Christ and His love will be given their just consequence for their choices (God sends no one to Hell, He permits us to go there by how we choose to live our lives).
We must love our priests. We must pray for our priests. We must support our priests. We must encourage them. We must thank them. We must encourage other young men to follow after the Great High Priest and discern the call to the Holy Priesthood.
Remember, without the priest, there is no Eucharist. No Eucharist, no Church. We can show our love for the Eucharist by loving and supporting those chosen men who bring the Lord down to us at the words of consecration.
Have you ever considered how beyond amazing it is that God, omnipotent being that He is, deigned to give His priests, in themselves fallen human beings, the ability to call down His Spirit upon simple bread and wine and be the instrument through which He becomes present in a substantial way?!
And people say that miracles don’t happen every day.
Yes, they do. There is a miracle at every Holy Mass. God becomes SUBSTANTIALLY present to mankind in the words of the priest.
Pretty amazing, isn’t it?
Well, this post has gotten long enough. Can’t believe it’s going to be Holy Week! Lent went by pretty quickly. Do try to assist at as many of the Holy Week/Triduum liturgies as you can, they are the most beautiful liturgies of the Church year.