A Priest Thanks His Spiritual Mother
A look at the influence and importance of spiritual mothers in the lives of priests
In Matthew 9:38 Our Lord himself directs us to “Pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers.” In view of this, in 2007 the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy issued a booklet Eucharistic Adoration for the sanctification of Priests and Spiritual Maternity. It recounts the spiritual influence given by 15 women praying for priests.
Included is a rural Italian town where, inspired by their pastor in 1881, the mothers gathered every Tuesday before the Blessed Sacrament to pray for vocations from their families. Years later their tally was 346 priests and sisters, including the Blessed Philip Rinaldi.
Listed in the Vatican booklet are nuns who had extraordinary graces of visions and locutions, such as the Servant of God Benigna Consolata, whose focus was on those priests who strayed or abandoned their vocations andMother Louise Margaret Claret de la Touche, who founded a monastery of nuns dedicated to the sanctification of priests. There is a fascinating story of a German bishop who enjoyed an extremely blessed ministry. It was revealed to him that it was a sister who offered up her humble daily work in the monastery stable who merited the graces for his outstanding mission.
Among the laity there is the wife, mother and mystic Venerable Conchita Cabrera de Armida, who was consumed by her interior martyrdom for priests. Bl. Alexandrina, paralyzed from her teens, was told by Jesus exactly for which priests she was to intercede. Then there are those not noted for such extraordinary gifts, such as St. Thérèse of Lisieux.
Not all spiritual mothers had extraordinary graces. There is the socially prominent Eliza Vaughan, an English convert, who made a holy hour faithfully each day that the grace of a vocation would be given to some of her 13 children. Four daughters becamereligious sisters and six sons were ordained priests, one became bishop, another an archbishop and the third a Cardinal.
Then, of course, there is St. Monica, the mother of the brilliant St. Augustine, who said of her: “I have my mother to thank for what I have become and the way that I got there.”
Two Spiritual Mothers
The Vatican document emphasizes that “The vocation to be a spiritual mother for priests is largely unknown, scarcely understood, and consequently, rarely lived, not withstanding its fundamental importance. It is a vocation that is frequently hidden, invisible to the naked eye, but meant to transmit spiritual life.”
I am fortunate in that I had two spiritual mothers. The first, Josie, gave me not only physical life but created an atmosphere of faith in our home. I recall her placing a Miraculous Medal on me as a toddler; and as a youngster, her insistence that I say my night prayers loud enough so that she could hear me wherever she was in the house. She took me to Sunday Vespers and modeled how I should behave before the Blessed Sacrament. And how often she made it known that “We are not a pagan family!” The Lord took her when I was 16 but unexpectedly gave another spiritual mother who guided me to the priesthood.
We met when a high school classmate and I replaced the church sacristan while he was on summer vacation. She was an artist who worked for the shrine at the Dominican Church of St. Mary in New Haven, Connecticut, where the Knights of Columbus was founded. After about a month of frequent conversations, we were informed of her extraordinary spiritual life. Very few knew about it because she was a very private person. When I heard it, my first reaction was “But she is so normal!” We knew her son at school, she had a dog, and laughed a lot — not at all solemn as saints were usually portrayed.
Her encouragement helped me through a difficult time in my discernment. I continued my studies for the priesthood and am happily celebrating my 50th anniversary of ordination this year. Therefore, it occurred to me to show my gratitude, hoping that her example would attract generous hearts to spiritual maternity and paternity.
In 2010 I decided to put something in writing about the profound graces that formed her unique Marian Eucharistic spirituality because it pertained to the theological confusion on the Mass. A booklet entitled Dorothy O’Neill Weimar – A Star in the School of Mary, Woman of the Eucharist, originally printed and distributed privately, is now published by New Hope Publications (NewHope-Ky.org).
The responses from bishops, priests, religious sisters and the laity were impressive. A wife and mother replied, “When reading about Dorothy, I felt like I was reading the life of a saint. She certainly gives Catholics much to think about regarding the importance of the Holy Rosary and the significance of the Mass.”
An assistant, answering for Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington D.C., indicated that “The love for Christ in the Eucharist exhibited by Dorothy O’Neill Weimar serves as a reminder that all members of the body of Christ need be joined to him in this way if the Church is to bear witness to his presence in the world.” Bishop Robert Guglielmone of Charleston, South Carolina, when granting the imprimatur, stated that this study “certainly presents a deeply intense and reflective analysis of Dorothy’s Marian Eucharistic spirituality according to the teachings of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.”
Spiritual Mother’s Understanding
Dorothy’s vocation was to show that extraordinary love of Jesus should be ordinary. She experienced, as a laywoman in the pew, what St. Padre Pio experienced at the altar. The uniqueness of her experience was that she had a mystical union with the priest celebrating the Mass, demonstrating the union of the congregation with Christ in the Holy Sacrifice. Our Lord told her that she would sing the Mass with her heart.
It was a constant occurrence until her death in 1974 and she recorded the experience several times. Its structure was based on
(1) a vision of the world enveloped in sin,
(2) a revolting experience of the ugliness of sin,
(3) the way of salvation: the passion and death of Jesus,
(4) at the consecration, the acceptance of this filial sacrifice of supreme love by God the Father,
(5) the universal effects of this divine sacrifice: “…and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32),
(6) the sacramental fulfillment of 1 Peter 2:24, “By His wounds you have been healed,” and an absorbing union with the Paschal Savior in communion.
Hers was a special appreciation of the ministerial priesthood. As she described it: “During the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass every soul is within the priest’s heart, which, in turn, is within the Heart of Jesus. Of course, more graces are given to those who assist at Mass. But Jesus’ Heart burns with love for every soul on earth and in purgatory, as well as those in heaven.” For her, Mass became more beautiful every day.
The Rosary was prominent in her spiritual life. Our Lord told her: “Meditate on me in the Rosary and praise me in the Mass.” Our Lady explained the Rosary to her in terms of the Mass: “To all who come to me I will tell the story of my Rosary — the story of the Mass — the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.” She was given the mystical name of Star of Mary.
Spiritual Fathers Too
Of course, men should be spiritual fathers promoting servants of the Lord in the priesthood and religious life by example and prayer. A clear example of this is St. Louis Martin, whose five daughters became nuns, including St. Thérèse of Lisieux. St. Therese said that looking at him, she knew how saints prayed.
After his mother’s death when he was 9 years old, St. John Paul II was taken by his devout father frequently to the Marian Shrine of Kalwaria. The sainted Pope said his home was his first seminary.
And so, as the Vatican document speaks of Our Lady’s universal spiritual maternity, so we can look to St. Joseph for guidance in spiritual paternity. St. Luke tells us in 2:52 that Jesus “grew in wisdom, stature and grace before God and men” in preparation for his saving vocation and mission. That developed with the assistance of his holy virginal parents, Mary and Joseph — the perfect models of and intercessors for our spiritual parenthood.
What joy must be reserved for spiritual mothers and fathers as they see the eternal effects for their trustful prayers and sacrifices in their spiritual sons and daughters totally dedicated to the glory of God the Father.
Fr. Stanley Smolenski, SPMA, is rector of the Shrine of Our Lady of South Carolina, Mother of Joyful Hope, in Kingstree, South Carolina.