23 April 2008

Spiritual Maternity

I have my mother to thank for what I have become and the way that I got there!
--St. Augustine

Every vocation to the priesthood comes from the heart of God, but it goes through the heart of a mother!
--Pope St. Pius X

Let us live for souls, let us be apostles, let us save especially the souls of priests.
--St. Thérèse of Lisieux

To offer yourself for souls is beautiful and great… but to offer yourself for the souls of priests is so beautiful, so great, that you would have to have a thousand lives and offer your heart a thousand times…
--Bd. Maria Deluil Martiny

From the Congregation for the Clergy:

Independent of age or social status, any woman can become a mother for priests. This type of motherhood is not only for mothers of families, but is just as possible for an unmarried girl, a widow, or for someone who is ill. It is especially pertinent for missionaries and religious sisters who have given their lives entirely to God for the sanctification of others. John Paul II even thanked a child for her motherly help: “I also express my gratitude to Bl. Jacinta for the sacrifices and prayers offered for the Holy Father, whom she saw suffering greatly.” (13 May 2000)

Every priest has a birth mother, and often she is a spiritual mother for her children as well. For example, Giuseppe Sarto, the future Pope Pius X, visited his 70-year-old mother after being ordained a bishop. She kissed her son’s ring and, suddenly pensive, pointed out her own simple silver wedding band saying, “Yes, Giuseppe, you would not be wearing that ring if I had not first worn mine.” Pope St. Pius X rightfully confirms his experience that, “Every vocation to the priesthood comes from the heart of God, but it goes through the heart of a mother!”

One sees this particulary well in the life of St. Monica. Augustine, who lost his faith at the age of 19 while studying in Carthage, later wrote in his famous “Confessions” regarding his mother:“For love of me, she cried more tears than a mother would over the bodily death of her son. Nine years passed in which I wallowed in the slime of that deep pit and the darkness of falsehood. Yet that pious widow desisted not all the hours of her supplications, to bewail my case unto Thee where her prayers entered into Thy presence.”

After his conversion, Augustine said thankfully, “My holy mother never abandoned me. She brought me forth in her flesh, that I might be born to this temporal light, and in her heart, that I might be born to life eternal.”

St. Augustine always desired to have his mother present at his philosophical discussions. She listened attentively and sometimes intervened with such fine intuition that the scholars who had gathered were astounded by her inspired responses to intricate questions. It should come as no surprise then that Augustine described himself as her “disciple of philosophy”!

Eliza Vaughan, Mother of Six Priests
Eliza came from a strong Protestant family; in fact, it was one of the founders of the Rolls-Royce car company. Yet even during her childhood education in France, she was deeply impressed by the exemplary efforts of the Catholic Church toward the care of the poor.

After she married Colonel John Francis Vaughan in the summer of 1830, Eliza converted to the Catholic Faith, despite the objection of her relatives. During of the Catholic persecution in England under Queen Elisabeth I (1558-1603), the Vaughan’s ancestors preferred imprisonment and expropriation to being unfaithful to their beliefs.

Courtfield, the ancestral family home, became a place of refuge for priests during the decades of terror in England, a place where the Holy Mass was often celebrated secretly. Nearly three centuries had now passed, but the Catholic beliefs of the family had not changed.

So profound and zealous was Eliza’s religious conversion that she proposed to her husband to offer all of their children back to God.

Convinced of the power of silent, faithful prayer, Eliza spent an hour in adoration every day praying for vocations in her family. The mother of six priests and four religious sisters, her prayer was bountifully heard. Mother Vaughan died in 1853 and was buried in the grounds of her beloved family property, Courtfield.
Of the 13 children that lived, six of her eight boys became priests: two priests in religious orders, one diocesan priest, a bishop, an archbishop and a cardinal. From the five daughters, four became nuns in religious orders.
The Vaughan children enjoyed a pleasant childhood because their virtuous mother knew how to educate them in a very natural way by uniting spiritual and religious obligations with amusement and cheerfulness. Thanks to their mother, prayer and daily Mass in the house chapel were just as much a part of everyday life as music, athletics, amateur theatre, horse riding and playing. It was never boring for the children when their mother told them stories from the lives of the saints, who little by little became their dearest friends.

Eliza happily let her children accompany her on visits to the sick and needy of the area. On such occasions, they learned how to be generous, to make sacrifices and to give away their savings or their toys.

Shortly after the birth of her 14th child, Eliza died. Two months after her death, Colonel Vaughan wrote in a letter that he was convinced divine providence brought Eliza to him. “I thanked the Lord in adoration today that I could give back to him my dearly beloved wife. I poured out my heart to him, full of thankfulness that, as an example and a guide, he gave me Eliza with whom I am still now bound by an inseparable, spiritual bond. What wonderful consolation and grace she brought me! I still see her as I always saw her before the Blessed Sacrament: her inner purity and extraordinary human kindness which her beautiful face reflected during prayer.”

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