“Every vocation to the priesthood comes from the heart of God, but it passes through the heart of a mother.” –St. Pius X
An interview with Legionary Father Michael Brisson on the lessons he’s learned from his earthly mother and the Blessed Mother.
Describe the role your mother played in your spiritual life growing up.
My mother taught me the faith by living it. For her it was simply part of her identity. Our heritage is French-Canadian and both my parents grew up in strong Catholic neighborhoods in Manchester, New Hampshire. Being a Catholic, being a mother, being a woman, being an American, it was all the same – simply part of who she was. She brought that understanding into the family, and by living her faith day by day, she showed me what it meant to be Catholic. Of course there were the practical lessons too: One day my mother came into my room—I must have been 7 or 8 years old—and I was trying to pray the Rosary. But I was praying the Our Father on the little beads and the Hail Mary on the big beads; it was taking so long. What a relief when she told me it was the other way around! When I broke my arm, also around 9 or 10 years old, she comforted me by praying Hail Marys as my father drove us to the emergency room. One weekend there was a snowstorm that dropped a foot or two of snow, enough that we couldn’t drive our car. What did we do? We walked a mile or so to Mass trudging through the snow. Later we found out that the Archbishop gave a dispensation for that Sunday. Oh well…
What was your mother's reaction to your decision to become a priest?
So, I decided to tell my mother first, and then tell my dad. I thought it would be easier that way. She was sitting in the family room reading a magazine. I was 18 at the time. She knew I had been considering it since my faith life had grown in high school and I had been on a couple of discernment retreats in Cheshire, Connecticut, about 45 minutes from where we were living. I said, “Mom, I think I’m going to join the Legionaries of Christ.” She said, “Oh … I thought if you were going to be a priest you would be a diocesan priest because that way you could go skiing.” Strange reply, I thought. My passion was downhill skiing, and it was true that if I joined the Legion I could end up in some tropical place with no mountains and no snow to be had. But later I figured out what she really meant by that: “I thought you would become a diocesan priest so that you wouldn’t be so far away from home!” Nevertheless, both she and my father supported my vocation 100%. Even when my religious congregation went through its difficulties, she always supported me because she knew I was happy and, like most of us, I had nothing to do with the difficulties.
What is one of the most valuable or memorable pieces of advice your mother has given you?
My mother used to always say, “Do your best, and let God do the rest.” I suppose it can sound kind of cliché, but there’s a reason why clichés stick. And I’ve found that this maxim has a lot of wisdom. We often put so much pressure on ourselves. We think it all depends on us, when actually, it’s a matter of seeking God’s will and responding to what we hear him saying in each moment, even if imperfectly. We do our best—really, the best we can—and then we let God fill in the gaps of our imperfections. This is a particularly important lesson for conscientious parents. They feel it’s their responsibility to make sure their kids turn out perfectly. God helps parents parent and fills in the gaps of their inadequacies, if they parent with faith and trust.
Tell me your favorite trait about your mom.
Hmm … It’s tough to pick just one. So, how about two? My mother’s willingness to sacrifice for her children and her constant desire to have the family be united, are my two favorite traits. She always puts herself in second place when it comes to her children. And she is always unsettled when there is disunity in the family. She is patient and doesn’t force anyone to do anything, but she prays a lot for the family to be united. And God answers her prayers!
What is your relationship like with the Blessed Mother? How does she impact your vocation as a priest?
I knew Mary before I knew Jesus … I know it sounds strange, but since I was a child I had a relationship with the Blessed Mother. I didn’t get to know Jesus until I joined the seminary. This relationship with the Blessed Mother was instilled in me by my older sister and my mother. My sister’s faith life was transformed during a visit to Medjugorje in 1984, when she was 20, and I was 7. So, I grew up praying the Rosary. And even when I strayed morally in high school, I kept praying the Rosary. Actually, I have EWTN to thank for that too. After school, when I was flipping through the channels, chomping on a bag of potato chips, I would inevitably run across EWTN’s daily broadcast of the Rosary and my conscience would kick in, and I’d pray! She also accompanied me during my seminary formation. Early on, when times would get tough and maybe I’d miss home (I did my first two years of seminary in Mexico), I would go to the Blessed Mother to cry. She was always there to comfort me. As a priest, she is an extremely important part of my ministry. I entrust to her all the “difficult cases,” and she is always helping to resolve them. This is particularly true in cases where the devil seems to be personally involved. She is a tremendous protector.
What is one of the most important lessons you've learned from your Heavenly Mother?
The most important lesson I learned from the Blessed Mother is to accept my present circumstances with faith and hope. Sometimes we may think that Mary had it easy because she was sinless and God’s will was so clear to her … She had an angel appear to her after all. But that isn’t true. The angel spoke a very cryptic message to her, and it even seemed to contradict what God had asked of her previously, that is to remain a virgin. Then she had to travel to Bethlehem in her 9th month of pregnancy, she was exiled in Egypt, and she watched her only son be tortured and killed. But she kept all those things in her heart, and she waited with patient faith, hope and love. And everything turned out gloriously, despite the pain and suffering. If only I can accept my everyday trials like she did hers.
Can you offer your brief thoughts on the importance of motherhood?
Motherhood is probably the most important vocation of all. What a tremendous grace and responsibility. They say the father is the spiritual head of the household, but the mother is the heart and soul. I have seen that when a mother’s faith is not strong, the rest of the family falters too. On the other hand, if it is strong, the impact on the family is tremendous. Even if some children may wander, they have their internal compasses calibrated and eventually make their way back. I have a friend. His mother’s faith was very strong. His father was an atheist. On his 50th birthday, his father told him he was converting to the faith. It was the influence of many years of his mother’s prayers that brought him back.
Father Michael Brisson is Territorial Secretary of the North American Territory of the Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ.