After his dramatic conversion, St. Augustine credited his mother, “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. I have my mother to thank for what I have become and the way that I arrived here.” The lives of St. Augustine and St. Monica exemplify how the spiritual motherhood of priests is not only exceedingly necessary but also effective for the mutual sanctification of both the priest and spiritual mother.
In the following priest testimony, Fr. Charles Cortinovis of the Archdiocese of Washington DC emphasizes the importance of Mary who drew him from his law practice to the seminary. He credits the ardent prayers of his mother and other spiritual mothers for supporting him to ordination day on the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Father Cortinovis writes: Every priest’s vocation story is unique. Jesus and Mary have been with me throughout my whole life, but it took some time before I was open to their plans for me. I grew up in the Pittsburgh area and attended Catholic grade school, where I enjoyed serving as a lector and altar server at Mass. In college at Duquesne University, I spent three of my spring breaks in Immokalee, Florida, working with the migrant farm-worker community. These trips nurtured a desire to participate in community-service activities during my college years and beyond.
I graduated from Duquesne in 2000 and attended law school at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where I became active with the campus Newman Center, attending daily Mass and weekly Eucharistic adoration. After my first year of law school, I went on a Marian pilgrimage to Europe, where I listened to priests speak of how our Lady had drawn them to the priesthood and how happy they were to be priests. During that pilgrimage, I felt a call to the priesthood for the first time. Yet I followed the advice of a trusted spiritual adviser, who recommended that I finish law school and work for a year to experience life as an attorney. So I continued to attend daily Mass, frequented the sacrament of Reconciliation, and made spiritual reading a priority. I also developed a greater love for our Lady, especially through the Rosary.
During law school, I began a relationship with a friend from college. She and I had much in common — our Catholic Faith, a desire for children, and many other qualities that were important to me. I tried to discern whether God was calling me to the priesthood or to married life with this wonderful woman. I thought I felt in prayer that Jesus was calling me to married life. So, in the summer of 2003, after graduating from law school and taking the bar exam, I asked the woman to marry me. Soon after our engagement, I realized that I felt no peace about this decision. She noticed my unease, and after a few months of anguished prayer and discussion, we ended our engagement. I was devastated and could not understand why God would permit a wonderful woman to come into my life precisely when I was discerning a priestly vocation. Shortly thereafter, on a retreat, Jesus made clear to me that I experienced a lack of peace about getting married because he was calling me to be a priest. My joy about a priestly calling returned, and I later explained this to my ex-fiancée. We ultimately parted on good terms because she understood that God had different plans for both of us.
By this time, I was practicing environmental law with a law firm in Washington, D.C. I enjoyed the subject matter of my work, yet I did not find it to be fulfilling. During daily Mass I was attracted to the celebration of the Eucharist and felt an increasingly strong desire to be a diocesan priest. In the summer of 2004, I applied and was accepted into the priestly formation program for the Archdiocese of Washington. I studied philosophy for one year at Immaculate Conception Seminary in New Jersey and then spent five years at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. I was ordained to the priesthood at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., on June 20, 2009, the Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. It was the happiest day of my life. I felt strongly the presence and love of our Lady that day and have been regularly supported by her intercession as well as that of my earthly mother, Nancy. My earthly mom is one of my biggest fans, and her prayers and encouragement supported me in seminary and continue to be a source of great strength in my priestly ministry.
I firmly believe that the prayers of many people, some of whom I have never met, helped me to be open to Jesus’s call. Throughout my time in seminary, the prayers of many holy friends, both lay and religious, were essential to my persevering on the path to priesthood.
Each day I thank Jesus for my vocation. I regularly turn to Mary for her assistance and invite all who are considering a vocation or struggling in their vocation to turn to Mary for help on their journey. To those who pray for priestly vocations, realize how important your prayers are to men who are discerning, as I did, God’s plan for their lives. I promise that your prayers will make a difference in their lives, as they have in mine.
Marian Consecration and Spiritual Maternity
Marian Consecration is a living covenant of love that results in the union of our hearts with Mary’s. Various saints and the tradition of the Church tell us that Marian consecration to Jesus is a sure path. Our new unity with Mary draws us into her mission on earth. What is Mary’s mission? To birth Jesus on earth! God formed Mary to bring Jesus into the world, made her the Mother of the Eternal High Priest, and then made her the Mother of all priests.
Now, many centuries later, there exists a spiritual army of women who place themselves in Mary’s hand. Marian Consecration has formed this army, which is also a sisterhood. Mary’s daughters are her pupils in the art of spiritual maternity of priests. These daughters are desirous of living a life of poverty of spirit, humility, prayer, mortification, and charity. They come forth to uphold the priests on the front lines of today’s spiritual battle.
Mary teaches us how to offer humble and hidden acts of reparation and sacrifice for priests. She positions her daughters like spiritual hedges of protection around her priest-sons. She sends her well-schooled daughters to make prayer vigils on the watchtower of the Cross. She dresses her daughters in the most beautiful spiritual garment of her mantle. This army of Marian women forms a fulcrum of spiritual sanctity to press Mary’s heel to the head of the serpent that attacks the shepherds to scatter the sheep.
God wills that Mary have her retinue of daughters to work with her in the service of the priesthood. What are the first fruits of being a woman consecrated to Jesus through Mary? Spiritual maternity! Consecration to Mary and spiritual maternity of priests will advance the New Evangelization.
St. Edith Stein teaches, “The intrinsic value of woman consists essentially in exceptional receptivity for God’s work in the soul. For an understanding of our unique feminine nature, let us look to the pure love and spiritual maternity of Mary. This spiritual maternity is the core of a woman’s soul. This holds true whether the woman is married or single, professional or domestic or both, a Religious in the world or in the convent. Through this love, a woman is God’s special weapon in His fight against evil.” (St. Edith Stein quoted by K. Beckman in Praying for Priests: A Mission for the New Evangelization, Sophia Press, 2014, pg. 67)
Prayer for a New Springtime of Spiritual Motherhood
Eternal Father, we ardently implore You for a springtime of spiritual motherhood of priests. We pray for the initiative of the Holy See in which they invite the broader Church to offer Eucharistic adoration and intercessory prayer for the sanctification of priests. Please fortify the clergy with special grace and protection necessary for the unique challenges of this day and age. May the prayers and sacrifices of new spiritual mothers assist priests to be holy agents of the New Evangelization. Through a new springtime of spiritual maternity of priests, please grant the Church virtuous priests to radiate the love of the Sacred Heart that all may come to love the Lord. We implore the Holy Spirit to carry this invitation to women in all nations that they will embrace the vocation of spiritual motherhood. Amen.
This is an excerpt from the book, Praying for Priests: A Mission for the New Evangelization (a treatise on prayer) published by Sophia Institute Press.
May 11-15, 2015, each AM & PM, this book will be highlighted on EWTN TV, “Women of Grace” programs in a weeklong series on Spiritual Motherhood, the Call of Women. Johnnette Benkovic interviews Fr. Joseph Aytona, C.P.M. and Kathleen Beckman on set.
Visit www.foundationforpriests.org for more priest testimonies, teachings on spiritual motherhood and fatherhood, Eucharistic adoration, intercessory prayer, and to spiritually adopt a priest or seminarian.