July 25, 2013 by lucieromarin
Having reached the age at which confessors no longer advise me to storm Heaven with prayers for a spouse, and suggest instead that I ask God to show me how I might practise celibate motherhood, I was willing to read a booklet given to me by a pious woman, which booklet was entitled ‘Adoration, Reparation, Spiritual Motherhood for Priests.’
The booklet has been produced by the Congregation for the Clergy, and has as its aim the encouragement of worldwide prayer for priests. It’s a series of stories – fifteen in total – of women who have been distinguished by the practice of spiritual motherhood of priests. The first story – that of St Monica – begins thus:
‘Independent of any age or social status, any woman can become a mother for [why not ‘of’? – Lucy] priests. This type of motherhood is not only for mothers of families, but is just as possible for an unmarried girl [do they mean ‘woman’? – Lucy], a widow, or for someone who is ill. It is especially pertinent for missionaries and religious sisters…John Paul II even thanked a child for her motherly help.’
So, while the booklet is clearly not aimed at encouraging men to pray for priests, it does wish to encourage all Catholic women to consider spiritual motherhood of priests, and it is called a ‘vocation’ rather than an ‘apostolate.’
Well, I read the stories, and thoroughly enjoyed them; I’ve always loved reading about the saints, even when their stories are only a few paragraphs long, and the women chosen certainly do reveal in their lives the importance of prayer and sacrifice for priests. At the same time, the booklet irked me. Why? After my fifteenth reading, I understood.
The booklet is aimed at all women. It contains fifteen stories. Six of them are about nuns. Two of them are about women who wanted to be nuns, but were prevented by ill-health. Eight out of fifteen of these women were in some way espoused to Our Lord. Six of the stories are about mothers. (In the remaining story, I think one woman was married, but this was irrelevant; the story wasn’t really about praying for the souls of priests but praying for priests to be sent into their Communist-run country. In fact, we can kind of discount their story – it was amazing, and it put my petty faith to shame, but it wasn’t about maternity.)
One of the nuns did not know she was praying for priests. Another knew, but called them her ‘brothers’, not her ‘sons.’ Six of them (including three of the laywomen) embraced this vocation following locutions or apparitions of Our Lord.
In other words, the main thing that these women had in common was that they were married. They were married either to Our Lord or to ordinary men, and spiritual motherhood of priests was the natural result of that marriage – in six instances, because Our Lord appeared to His spouse to ask this commitment of her. Rather than proving that spiritual motherhood is a) something to which any woman can aspire and b) something you should mention to single women, the booklet proves that… it is married women who have children. This is why St Therese wrote “To be your Spouse, to be a Carmelite, and by my union with you to be the Mother of souls…” See? Her motherhood is a consequence of her marriage.
I’m not writing this to dismiss the idea of praying for priests. What I am suggesting is that to encourage it in this way is…well, kind of weird. For a start, women are not the only ones who should be praying for priests. Men need to pray for them, too. Second, you should take up an apostolate of prayer because it’s good, not because you want to be a mother (or anything else.) It’s actually like using the priest’s need as a way of injecting meaning into your life. Third, if praying for your son constitutes ‘spiritual motherhood’ then what, exactly, is ‘motherhood’? Is it just the changing of nappies? And, if so, doesn’t this play right into the idea that motherhood is menial? I mean, if the enrichment of your son’s soul is a separate and higher vocation…Finally, don’t give me a booklet full of married women, and then tell me that it represents a universal apostolate!