Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
During his long pontificate, Pope St. John Paul II was in the habit of addressing a letter each year to the priests of the Church throughout the world on Holy Thursday. This first day of the Paschal Triduum represents both the day of the institution of the Eucharist and the institution of the priesthood. St. John Paul’s annual letter encouraged priests in their ministry, exhorted them to holiness, and made Christ present in the Eucharist the focal point of a priest’s spirituality. Included in each letter, the pope also made a request for prayers for vocations to the priesthood. Today, the Church observes World Day of Prayer for Vocations. On the national calendar, we celebrate Mother’s Day today. At St. Pius, we are in the midst of First Communion season. And personally, I will mark my fourteenth anniversary of priestly ordination this month. With all of this in mind, I began reading through some of St. John Paul II’s letters to priests. His letter in 1995 stood out. The great saint writes:
“The first and most basic relationship which any human being establishes with a woman is precisely the relationship of the child to its mother. Each of us can express his love for his earthly mother just as the Son of God did and still does for his. Our mother is the woman to whom we owe our life. She conceived us in her womb and brought us into the world amid the pains which are part of the experience of every woman who gives birth. Through childbirth a special and almost sacred bond is established between a human being and his mother.
Having brought us into the world, our parents then enabled us to become in Christ, through the Sacrament of Baptism, adopted children of God. All this further deepened the bond between us and our parents, and in particular between us and our mothers. The prototype here is Christ himself, Christ the Priest, who addresses his Eternal Father in these words: “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me. In burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, `Lo, I have come to do your will, O God'” (Heb 10:5-7). These words in some way also involve his Mother, since the Eternal Father formed Christ’s body by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, thanks also to her consent: “Let it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).
How many of us also owe to our mothers our very vocation to the priesthood! Experience shows that very often it is the mother who for years nurtures in her own heart a desire for a priestly vocation for her son, and obtains it by praying with persevering trust and deep humility. Thus, without imposing her own will, she favours with the effectiveness typical of faith the blossoming of an aspiration to the priesthood in the soul of her son, an aspiration which will bear fruit in due season….
…For us, as priests, the Last Supper is an especially holy moment. Christ, who says to the Apostles: “Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor 11:24), institutes the Sacrament of Holy Orders. With respect to our lives as priests, this is an eminently Christocentric moment: for we receive the priesthood from Christ the Priest, the one Priest of the New Covenant. But as we think of the sacrifice of the Body and Blood, which we offer in persona Christi, we find it difficult not to recognize therein the presence of the Mother. Mary gave life to the Son of God so that he might offer himself, even as our mothers gave us life, that we too, through the priestly ministry, might offer ourselves in sacrifice together with him. Behind this mission there is the vocation received from God, but there is also hidden the great love of our mothers, just as behind the sacrifice of Christ in the Upper Room there was hidden the ineffable love of his Mother. O how truly and yet how discreetly is motherhood and thus womanhood present in the Sacrament of Holy Orders which we celebrate anew each year on Holy Thursday!”
St. John Paul then echoes a common theme of his pontificate: the family. It is in the family that we have our first experience of the Church, and in the Church that our family is meant to be fostered and cared for. In our sacramental participation, most especially the Eucharist, we are nourished in much the same way that we are nurtured by our families at home. He continues:
“Here we encounter the original plan of the Creator, who in the beginning created man “male and female” (cf. Gen 1:27). This divine creative act continues from generation to generation. The Book of Genesis speaks of it in the context of the vocation to marriage: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife” (Gen 2:24). The vocation to marriage obviously assumes and requires that the environment in which one lives is made up of both men and women.
In this setting however there arise not only vocations to marriage but also vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life. These do not develop in isolation. Every candidate for the priesthood, when he crosses the threshold of the seminary, has behind him the experience of his own family…”
Just so, on this Mother’s Day, on this World Day of Prayer for Vocations, and in the midst of our First Communion season, we can remember that our individual vocations complement one another, our families support us – and in the parish, our families support one another – and the sacraments we celebrate nourish us in the divine life which God gives. It is in our families that our faith takes root, in our parish families that our faith grows and develops, and it is through our families that we will find God’s particular vocation for each of us, whether to marriage, to consecrated religious life, or to ordained priestly ministry.
Today, let us pray for vocations to the priesthood. Let us pray in thanksgiving for our mothers. Let us pray for our children who are receiving the Eucharist for the first time. And let us recognize in one another the complementary gifts that allow our families and our faith to flourish in our hearts.