The Blessed Virgin’s Fiat as the Model for Our Fiat

The Blessed Virgin’s Fiat as the Model for Our Fiat

A reflection for the seminarians of Cardinal Glennon College

     My first two years of priesthood have been a whirlwind of memorable moments where I find myself in situations where I am perhaps the least qualified priest available. To be honest, being here today to lead this day of recollection is another one of those situations where I am probably one of the least qualified. You see, I am not an academic theologian, or a deeply holy priest with great spiritual insights, or even a priest with years of experience. No, I am simply a priest in love with Jesus Christ, His Church, the priesthood and my priestly ministry. While highly unqualified to lead this day of recollection I count this as one of the greatest honors of my young priesthood because of the great admiration and respect I have for each of you. Your willingness to forgo a “traditional” college experience to explore if God is calling you to the Holy Priesthood is a shining ray of hope for our Church; a ray of hope that inspires me in my daily ministry.

     As I stand before you today, I am reminded of my days as a seminarian at Cardinal Glennon College. While my four years in the college seminary where some of the hardest of my life, I can honestly say I am the man and the priest I am today, because of those four years at Cardinal Glennon College. It was those 4 years that laid the human, spiritual and academic foundations I have needed to be a successful priest and just as importantly it was during those 4 years that I formed relationships with priests who would become mentors and brother seminarians who would become my closest friends. In fact some of my closest friendships were formed while in the college seminary. I’ll certainly admit that I did not always see eye to eye with my rector, but the best decision I made was to buy into the program, trusting that the Holy Spirit would never lead me astray.

      Since “Mary is one of the human beings, who in an altogether special way belongs to the name of God, so much so in fact that we cannot praise him rightly, if we leave her out of the account,”[1] if we want to properly reflect on how to authentically discern our vocation, I think it is only prudent that we turn to our Blessed Mother as our model for discernment because it was she who most perfectly trusted in God’s plan for her. As many of you probably know, Pope Saint John Paul II, often closed his encyclical letters with a section on Mary and so as we bring this academic year to a close it only seems appropriate that we use today’s day of recollection to turn our hearts and minds to our Blessed Mother. So in that spirit, I would like to use this first conference to reflect on the Annunciation as it relates to our own vocational calling.

READ LUKE 1: 26-38

     Imagine with me, for just a second, how Mary must have felt when she was told by the angel Gabriel that she would be the mother of the long-awaited Messiah; that she would be responsible for the only Son of God. I suspect that each of us, in our own small way, can relate to our Blessed Mother, if we stop to recall the moment when we first heard the Holy Spirit whisper to us that He may be calling us to the holy priesthood. As I imagine Mary’s first encounter with the angel Gabriel and recount the first time I heard the Holy Spirit whisper the idea of the priesthood to me, one word comes to mind; FEAR.

     Yet notice how the angel Gabriel greets Mary. He greets her by saying “Hail favored one the Lord is with you.”[2] Literally the angel greets her by saying the Lord is in you.[3] Brothers, this same greeting is offered to each of us, for every time we receive Holy Communion, the Lord is literally within us. Without the daily reception of Holy Communion and time spent in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, you simply cannot discern the priesthood. In fact I dare say if you cannot keep these disciplines throughout the summer, you should seriously question if you are actually discerning a vocation to the priesthood. Yet when the Eucharist is at the center of our lives; when Jesus is literally within us, we have nothing to fear and we can freely surrender ourselves to the discernment process for St. Paul reminds us “if God is for us, who can be against us.”[4]

     It is only when Jesus is with us that we, like Mary, can properly respond to God’s calling for our lives. St. Luke tells us that our Blessed Mother was “greatly troubled” and “pondered” this message. While utterly surprised and in perfect humility recognizing, her own unworthiness, she seeks to understand what this calling might mean. Is this not, the proper first step in any vocational discernment? Should we not ponder what we are being called to and what is being asked of us? Notice that our Blessed Mother does not let this interior reflection paralyze her. No, she undertakes this necessary step, but with great faith, she inquires how this will come to pass. She does not ask whether this will happen, but only how. Trusting completely, she does not leave it to herself to determine her vocation, but rather she buys in to God’s plan for her and only asks how. Brothers, this may be the hardest part of discernment. We live in a world that teaches isolationism; a world that tells us we need to do everything on our own, because we can only trust ourselves. Yet our Blessed Mother shows us how to be countercultural and to place our trust in the Church trusting that She will show us how to discern and form us into who we were made to be. It was only through buying in that our Lady could freely surrender herself to the will of God saying “I am the handmaid of the Lord, may it be done unto me according to your will,”[5] and it is only by joining Mary in professing this great act of faith, that we can become the men and God-willing the priests we are called to be.

     The yes of the Blessed Virgin changed her life forever. That surrender to the will of God gave her the singular honor of being the Mother of God. Through our yes to God’s will in our lives, we have the honor of sharing in the ministerial priesthood of Jesus Christ. Just as the Blessed Virgin was not worthy in her own right to be the Mother of God, we are not worth in our own right to share in the ministerial priesthood of Jesus Christ. But like Mary who are we to question the will of God? Since after all it was “through her obedience, the Word entered into her and became fruitful in her,”[6] it is through our obedience that we are intimately united with Jesus Christ as His priest and only through living our priestly promise of obedience that our ministry truly becomes fruitful.

     Brothers “it is only by obedience that we grow in wisdom,”[7] and discernment is impossible without wisdom. So for you who are discerning a vocation to the priesthood, obedience is essential. For through practicing obedience in the seminary you are preparing to live out the promise of obedience that you will make at your diaconate ordination. After all “obedience is a promise made by an ordained priest in a way that should encompass his whole life, grounding it in an act of faith that the Lord will respond to the total gift of oneself, which includes even the surrender of personal choice and freedom.”[8] It was obedience that enabled the Blessed Mother to surrender her personal choice and freedom to accept the honor of becoming the Mother of God and it is obedience that frees the priest to surrender his personal choices and freedom to live in the world as an Alter Christus, another Christ.

     This short encounter with the angel Gabriel changed Mary’s life forever and as soon as this encounter was over St. Luke tells us that she was left alone to take up that supernatural task of being the mother of God. This is the same for those of us called to the holy priesthood. I remember lying in my bead at the seminary the night after my ordination staring at the ceiling wondering what I had gotten myself into and asking myself if I could really be the priest I was being called to be. In my two years as a priest there have been numerous nights when I have laid awake at night staring at the ceiling wondering how I will make it through a seemingly impossible or difficult situation in ministry. Yet notice that the Blessed Mother did not allow fear to paralyze her. No she moved through the dark moments of life faithful to her obedient fiat with the faith that God was in control of the situation.

     The faith and obedience of our Blessed Mother was tested throughout her life and I can only wonder how many times she must have inwardly returned to the moment of the Annunciation to find solace in the comforting words “do not be afraid.” As you go through the seminary your faith and obedience will be tested time and time again. In those moments of trial return inwardly to the moment when you first heard God calling you to the priesthood and to what has led to this point and ask your heavenly mother to give you the strength you need to persevere. Just as the angel departed from Mary and she remained to carry out her mission so to there will be moments where our discernment is not so crystal clear, but unless your spiritual director or formatter sees signs that you should not be ordained continue to grow in closeness to our Lord and like our Blessed Mother exercise the faithful obedience required of every disciple.

[1] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger and Hans Urs Von Balthasar. Mary the Church at the Source. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005. Pg 63.

[2] Luke 1:28

[3] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Jesus of Nazareth The Infancy Narratives. San Francisco: Image, 2012. Pg 28.

[4] Romans 8:31

[5] Lk 1:38

[6] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Jesus of Nazareth The Infancy Narratives. San Francisco: Image, 2012. Pgs. 36-37.

[7] Fulton Sheen. The World’s First Love Mary, Mother of God. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011. Pg. 11

[8] Thomas Acklin, O.S.B. The Unchanging Heart of the Priesthood. Steubenville: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2005. Pg. 141.

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