Spiritual Mothers: The Second Group
Last evening in Tulsa's Cathedral of the Holy Family, on the feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Sorrows, His Excellency, Bishop Edward J. Slattery, received the oblation of ten new Spiritual Mothers of Priests, and conferred upon them the distinctive medal that represents this oblation. His Excellency invited me to preach the homily. Here is my text:
At the Crossroads of Three Mysteries
"O the depth of the riches
and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways!
'For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been His counselor?'" (Rom 11:33-34).
"None of the rulers of this age understood this;
for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory" (1 Cor 2:8).
We find ourselves this evening, my dear sisters,
at the crossroads of three mysteries,
or rather, at the heart of the One Mystery,
indivisible, and yet too rich to be taken in all at once.
I. The Immaculate Conception
When His Excellency, Bishop Slattery,
first asked me to present the vocation of spiritual motherhood of priests
to women of the Diocese of Tulsa,
we chose to do it here, in this our cathedral,
on December 7th, 2008:
the vigil of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
And so, the spiritual motherhood of priests in the Diocese of Tulsa
received, at its inception, at its conception, if you will,
the imprint of that mystery of dazzling purity and fullness of grace
that is the Immaculate Conception.
Immaculate in the Mind of God
Mary was conceived immaculate in the mind of God
before she was conceived immaculate
in the womb of her mother, Saint Anne.
Spotless, all-lovely, and full of grace from the first instant of her life:
thus was Mary envisioned by God from all eternity,
for only a woman spotless, all-lovely, and full of grace
could be a fit mother for the Son of God,
once come the fullness of time. (Gal 4:4)
A Vocation Originates in Eternity
If a vocation -- any vocation -- is a call from God,
that vocation originates in eternity:
in that moment, outside of every moment,
wherein God takes counsel with Himself,
wills what He has conceived in wisdom and in love,
and decrees what He has willed.
Your vocation to the spiritual motherhood of priests
is not, then, an initiative of yours with its origin in time;
it is a divine initiative, with its origin in eternity.
There was never a moment when God did not see you here,
in this Cathedral of the Holy Family,
at this hour,
ready to offer your hearts, your lives, your very selves
for the sanctification of His priests.
In this, your vocation to the spiritual motherhood of priests
bears a mysterious likeness to the vocation of the Immaculate One,
destined, from before the dawn of time,
to become the all-holy Mother of an Eternal High Priest
and the spotless Mother of a spotless Victim.
II. The Annunciation
When, after a time of gestation and preparation,
the first group of women knew that the hour had come
for their "Yes" to pass from their hearts to their lips
-- and this in the presence of our Bishop,
and before the altar that is first among all the altars of this Diocese--
we chose to do it on March 25th,
the Annunciation of the Lord.
And so, the spiritual motherhood of priests in the Diocese of Tulsa,
received, when first it became a public, ecclesial reality blessed by our Bishop,
the imprint of that mystery of ineffable joy
that is the Annunciation of the Lord,
and His Incarnation as Priest and Victim
in the sanctuary of her virginal womb.
Mary's "Yes" to the message of the Archangel
was an act of utter and unconditional surrender
to the Mystery of her Son's Victimal Priesthood,
to the Mystery in its cruciform "breadth and length
and height and depth" (cf. Eph 3:18),
and in "the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge" (Eph 3:19).
Fruit of Her Womb, Fruit of the Tree
This is the crucifying and glorious knowledge
of "the unsearchable riches of Christ" (Eph 3:8)
by which one is "filled with all the fullness of God" (Eph 3:19).
This is the awareness that, like a sword, pierced the heart of the Virgin Mother,
"standing by the cross of Jesus" (Jn 19:25).
Even she watched Him in the painful spasms of death,
she remembered His first stirrings in her womb,
and somehow sensed obscurely,
"as in a mirror dimly" (1 Cor 13:12),
that He would stir again beneath the shroud.
But first, she she had to see the fruit of her womb
become the fruit of the Tree.
Thirty-three years had passed;
it seemed to her like yesterday.
"Sent by God" (Lk 1:26), that bright, majestic, creature had come to her,
--exquisitely courteous he was, and awful and lovely all at once --
and his greeting still astonished her:
"Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee:
blessed art thou among women" (Lk 1:28).
She remembered the shock of it,
and how she had "considered in her mind
what sort of greeting this might be" (Lk 1:29).
Now his voice came to her again, and how she needed to hear it,
to lean on it, to steady herself against it, to cling to it
even as Abraham, "in hope believing against hope" (Rom 4:18),
had clung to the wild promises made by God to him:
"Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God" (Lk 1:30).
Her Sword-Pierced Soul
To see what she was seeing --
her Child stretched naked on the wood,
His hands and feet pierced,
His whole body bloodied,
His sweet face beneath a cruel crown of thorns --
to see this and yet believe in the word of the Angel
was to feel the two-edged sword's sharp blade
"piercing to the division of soul and spirit,
of joints and marrow" (Heb 4:12).
Could this be what Simeon meant:
"And your own soul a sword shall pierce" (Lk 2:35)?
The Name of Jesus
The Angel had said more:
"And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb,
and shalt bring forth a son;
and thou shalt call His name Jesus" (Lk 1:31).
This too she remembered, and lifting her eyes, she read "the inscription over Him
in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew" (Lk 23:38):
"Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews" (Jn 19:19).
For a moment she thought of her Joseph
she still missed him so -- her friend, her comforter, her rock --
and she remembered what the Angel had said to him as well:
"You shall call His name Jesus,
for He will save His people from their sins" (Mt 1:21).
The Cross, His Throne
"He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High;
and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of David His father;
and He shall reign in the house of Jacob forever.
And of His kingdom there shall be no end" (Lk 1:32-33).
Tell me, O Gabriel, is this bitter abjection His greatness?
Is this cross of execution His throne?
Is this defeat the inauguration of His kingdom?
Dismas and the Kingdom
Just then the thief crucified beside Him spoke,
as if in answer to her torment:
"'Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.'
And Jesus said to him: 'Amen I say to you,
this day you shall be with me in paradise'" (Lk 23:42-43).
For an instant, she turned from the face of her Jesus
to the face of the thief,
and she felt herself a mother to him.
"For those whom God foreknew
He also predestined to be conformed to the image of her Son,
in order that He might be the first-born among many brethren" (cf, Rom 8:29).
Behold Thy Son
With that, her Jesus spoke,
His gentleness like the breeze in the cool of the day,
His authority undiminished by the scourging, the mockery, and the taunts.
Seeing "His mother and the disciple whom He loved standing near,
He said to His mother, 'Woman, behold thy son!'
Then He said to the disciple, 'Behold thy mother!'" (Jn 19:25).
This was a new Annunciation, the second one:
the first, thirty-three years ago by the mouth of the Angel Gabriel;
this second one by the mouth of her Son,
lifted up with bloodied arms spread wide in place of shining wings.
Then, as now and forever, "no word shall be impossible with God" (Lk 1:37).
The Handmaid of the Lord
"Woman, behold your son!" (Jn 19:25).
To this Mary had no answer
apart from the one she had given the Angel then:
"Behold, the handmaid of the Lord;
be it done to me according to your word" (Lk 1:38).
She was to be mother, mother again and again.
mother to John, to Peter and Paul,
Andrew and James,
Philip, Bartholomew, and Matthew,
Simon and Jude,
mother to "the coming generation" of priests,
mother to "a people [of priests] yet unborn" (Ps 21:30-31).
Mother of Priests until the end of history
and Mother of Priests forever in the glory of the Kingdom.
III. Mother of Sorrows
When we were faced with finding a date
for the public, ecclesial oblation
of you, the second group of Spiritual Mothers of Priests in our diocese,
our choice fell upon September 15th, 2010,
the feast of the Mother of Sorrows at the foot of the Cross.
And so, the Spiritual Motherhood of priests in the Diocese of Tulsa,
receives this evening the imprint of a motherhood
at once sorrowful and compassionate,
a motherhood of tears and of blood,
a motherhood made prodigiously fruitful
by the Mystery of the Cross.
Sons of Her Sorrowful Heart
"Afterwards, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished,
that the scripture might be fulfilled, said: 'I thirst'" (Jn 19:28)
and Mary knew in herself the torment that is the thirst of God
and tasted in her mouth the bitter vinegar,
and knew too that this new motherhood was given her
in this new annunciation
to quench the thirst of God with the sons of her sorrowful heart:
with holy priests, adorers "in spirit and in truth" (Jn 4:23).
It Is Consummated
And as she recalled how at Nazareth the Holy Spirit had come upon her
and the power of Most High had overshadowed her (cf. Lk 1:35),
He said, "It is consummated,' and bowing His head,
He gave up His spirit" (Jn 19:30).
She lifted her face to receive the breath of His mouth,
and remembered that the Angel too,
having accomplished that for which he was sent from God, left her,
leaving God in her womb.
"And the angel departed from her" (Lk 1:38).
Descent from the Cross
Afterwards they took His body down from the cross.
Strange that another Joseph should be there helping.
A strong and tender man.
And she remembered her Joseph, also strong and tender,
lifting that tiny newborn body in his calloused hands
to place it in the manger. And she wept.
They placed His lifeless body in her arms.
He seemed so tired, so spent, so in need of His Sabbath rest.
Bits of a lullaby she used to sing to Him went through her mind.
"Sleep, my Yeshua, sleep.
Sleep my Yeshua, sleep until you wake."
She remembered something He had said:
"I will come again and will take you to myself,
that where I am you may be also" (Jn 14:3).
And she repeated something He had prayed:
"Father, glorify Thy Son that Thy Son may glorify Thee" (Jn 17:1).
They placed Him in the chill of the tomb.
And the stone was rolled across the entrance,
sealing her heart there inside with His body.
With Saint John
To John she said:
"Come, son, take me home.
'He has torn, that He may heal us;
He has stricken, and He will bind us up.
After two days He will revive us;
and on the third day He will raise us up,
that we may live before Him' (Hos 6:1-2)."
And John, saying nothing, looked into her eyes,
just as Jesus had earlier in the day,
and like Jesus, he believed her.
IV. Three Facets of the One Mystery
The history of the Spiritual Motherhood of Priests in our diocese,
is, then, in some way, indelibly marked by
the Immaculate Conception,
and Sorrowful Compassion at the Foot of the Cross:
three facets of the one Mystery
that contains, and ever renews
the Sacrifice of the Cross,
the maternal co-redemption of Mary,
and the victimal priesthood
for the life of a Church that can never grow old.
Her Yes and Yours
And so, my dear sisters,
if you would know what it is to be the spiritual mother of priest,
look now into Mary's eyes,
draw near to her maternal Heart,
and receive from her lips,
the "Yes" that, this very evening,
she rejoices to hear repeated on yours.