Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Spiritual Motherhood of Priests: An attempt to answer some of your questions

Many of the emails I have received have been from feminine souls who feel God's call to spiritual maternity of priests but do not know how to go about becoming a spiritual mother. Is it a vocation to which one may be consecrated by the Church, either privately or in public, or is it one which any Catholic woman (religious or lay) can privately and hiddenly embrace? Currently, the answer to both parts of this question would seem to be affirmative. The 2007 document of the Congregation for Clergy, addressed to the bishops, does not legislate about it. It conveys the desire of the Holy See that such 'consecrated feminine souls' should be sought and encouraged but does not give much advice about how this should happen in practice. In one sense this is a weakness in the document, but in another, in the age of the Internet, it is a strength. Why a weakness? It is addressed to bishops who are busy men snowed under with documents they must read and implement if possible. As far as the bishops are concerned, there seems to be only one, well known on the Internet for taking positive action on the matter and that is his Excellency Bishop Slattery of Tulsa, Oklahome. The strength of the document of course lies in its availability to everyone on the Internet. Priests and women have themselves read it and been inspired by it to take action at personal, parish, or diocesan level. It seems that apart from in Tulsa and perhaps one or two other places unknown, the movement for Spiritual Maternity of Priests, is growing from the grass roots, and is not being generally initiated by the episcopate.

Some of my correspondents live in parishes or dioceses where there is an official group of Spiritual Mothers. There is another group, members of which are content to live the vocation in a totally hidden way with private guidance from a priest spiritual director. In another post I will describe the different ways in which these two types of spiritual mother live out their vocation. However, the present post is meant for people who feel called to spiritual motherhood, but who are alone in this desire and do not know what to do next.

Judging from your emails, most of you already know whether belonging to a group appeals to you, or whether you wish to be solitary. Some are not sure, but whatever the case it's my conviction that a priest spiritual director is essential. If you don't already have one and don't know how to go about finding one, the 'Catholic Spiritual Direction' blog has some good pages on that (link towards top of sidebar on my other blog 'Thoughts from an Oasis in French Catholicism', for link to it, see sidebar here to the right.) Once found, your SD will be able to answer all the questions I am not qualified to answer! One of those questions will possibly be about whether you will be a spiritual mother to one special priest, or to several, or whether you will devote yourself to a particular group or type of priest, those who have gone astray or who are being persecuted for instance. Seminarians are another very special focus for some spiritual mothers. Of course it's possible to pray privately for your own special priest(s) and also belong to a parish or diocesan group that has a more general focus, and which meets occasionally for prayer, mutual support and encouragement.

Another thing a spiritual director could help you with, is how to go about asking your PP or bishop to consider forming a parish or diocesan group. However, there is nothing to stop you from approaching your priest or bishop about this. My own view is that a diocesan group like the one in Tulsa is ideal. The women there went through a discernment process followed by some months of formation from a director (Fr. Mark Kirby) appointed by the bishop, before being consecrated by Bishop Slattery at a special ceremony in the Cathedral. They made a solemn oblation in public, which as a form of profession shows the holy significance of the action for the spiritual mothers themselves. Added to that, it also demonstrates to the entire faithful that the Church blesses, values and encourages the vocation of Spiritual Motherhood for Priests.

I hope this helps a little. More as soon as possible. If you are at this stage of enquiry and have further questions please comment here or email me at

St. John Vianney pray for Pope Benedict, for all bishops, priests and seminarians, and for their spiritual mothers.
Holy Mary Mother of the Church, pray for us.
Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us. Amen

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