The more we grow in our love for God, the more we will desire to see as He sees, to love as He loves, and to forgive as He forgives. But we will stumble and fall repeatedly because our Fallen nature will continue to get the better of us at times.
This movement away from our fallen nature to sainthood occurs as Christ purifies us through a fire that is extremely painful, but that never annihilates us. This purifying fire is how God forms us into the holy saint He is calling each one of us to become. How this is accomplished varies in accordance with God’s will. However different our refinement, the ultimate end for all of us is the same.
One of the most difficult aspects of this refinement process is learning how to submit our will to God’s will, not strictly out of begrudging obedience, but out of love for Him. We are called to echo the words of Our Lord by repeatedly saying to God: “Not my will, but Your will.” This is difficult for us to do because we have our own plans, dreams, and desires, many of them good. Tension arises most keenly when we desire something that is inherently good, but which God—for mysterious reasons—decides is not for us. We struggle to see how our true joy can only be found in surrendering completely to God’s plan for our lives when it is opposed to our own plans.
I know this process well because God has taught me His will through painful means as I refused to relinquish my own grip on what I wanted. His will for me is not the same as what I wanted for my life. In the process of ignoring God’s will, I wrecked my body and my mental health. I endured deep agony and grief because of how much I wanted this great good that the vast majority of my friends get to enjoy: The gift of many children.
The deepest longing of my heart—besides becoming a saint—is to have a son to give to God in the priesthood. I would happily give as many sons to God in the priesthood as possible in an age when far too many Catholic parents do not support a priestly vocation for their sons. The reality is, however, that God has told me “no”. This is not His will for me. I will not have any more children. He is calling me to something else.
It’s not easy for me to say out loud or to write about, but I think it’s essential to demonstrate how often we desire great goods that are not God’s will for us. We don’t get to know why, either. We are called to trust and surrender to His will in love, faith, and hope.
I prayed about this great desire for a son with all of my pregnancies. My first pregnancy I was pregnant with twins. I lost my daughter’s twin very early on. I spent that pregnancy awaiting my only child’s birth experiencing the joy of her arrival and the sorrow of the loss of her twin. My daughter is now 8-years-old. At that point in time, it never occurred to my husband and me that we would not be able to have anymore children and that we would grieve the loss of four children in the years to come.
I did everything that I could do to have another child while staying obedient to Holy Mother Church. During my last pregnancy my, husband stabbed me in the abdomen and the glute muscle with different hormones in the hope that our child would live. After two weeks with a heart beat, I miscarried. The agony of it all was unbearable.
It was after my fourth miscarriage that I realized there was nothing more that I could do. My husband became ill with a dangerous and rare autoimmune disease 10 months after that miscarriage and our lives shifted dramatically. It was becoming increasingly clear to me that God’s will was for us to have one child and that this deep longing of my heart would never be realized. Instead, God would use this agony to sanctify me and others in accordance with His designs, but He wouldn’t be able to do that in me until I agreed to submit to His will.
I had to relinquish my grip on my desire for the great good of more children, especially a son. When I did so, when I gave it all back to God, something unexpected and extraordinary happened. He began to show me the path that He has in mind for me; a plan that continues to unfold daily. A path that isn’t easy—it’s not easy for any of us—but one that would take the deep grief that I carry from losing four children and from not being able to have anymore children and using it for my own sanctification and for—much to my astonishment—the sanctification of priests. Even more amazing is that it is also a path of great joy after so much anguish. After going through an intense period of being called and tested by God, He revealed to me that I will not be the natural/biological mother of a son, but instead I am called to be a spiritual mother to priests and seminarians.
God’s ways are not our own. The path that God is asking me to walk is not the path I would have chosen if left to my own devices. I never would have imagined or predicted what He is asking of me now. It’s a path that many people do not understand, because much like spiritual fatherhood, spiritual motherhood is not of this world. Spiritual parenthood is not something we see as tangibly as natural parenthood. We tend to dismiss it even though to be called to spiritual fatherhood and spiritual motherhood is to serve in a higher order, the supernatural order.
Even as Catholics, we struggle to understand spiritual maternity and spiritual paternity, but this calling is grounded in the deepest levels of reality itself. It is to seek the ultimate good for others in the supernatural order, which at its root, is the deep desire for all people to enter into communion with the Most Holy Trinity and with one another. In my case, it is a call in charity from the Holy Spirit and the Immaculate Heart of Mary to see priests become saints in order to lead souls to Christ.
After I relinquished my grip on the desire to have a son of my own, God showed me through a crucible of sorts, that the greatest good He can accomplish through me is by my prayers, sacrifices, suffering, and call to minister to priests and seminarians in an age of scandal. I also seem to spend quite a bit of time explaining the nature of the priesthood to my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ in the laity, which is once again an area where God is able to reach other people through my willingness to live in accordance with His will.
In order to execute my secondary vocation in union with my primary vocation, I must always be on guard against that which is opposed to God’s will for me. One of the temptations that I must fight against is the desire for my own son. By God’s grace I have made tremendous strides in relinquishing my will to His, but I still struggle with the pain I carry. Many well meaning people over the years have told me that I should try to have another child. Some noticing how much I am at ease with priests, will mention that I’d be a great mother to a son who could become a priest. What they do not know is that these comments can cause me great pain because I did everything that I could to have another child and God told me “no.” It is not God’s will for me to have a son of my own become a priest.
We have to be careful going about encouraging other people, especially when we don’t understand their path fully. It is in these moments of temptation that I must face from well-meaning and loving people, that I often think of Our Lord telling St. Peter to get behind Him. Telling me to try to have another child is to tell me to ignore God and to once more be like Jonah—who has been in the Mass Readings this week—heading for Tarshish. This is a part of my Cross and if I don’t embrace it out of love for the Eternal High Priest and His priests, then I’m walking away from Him. This is what He has called me to.
Much in the way that priests relinquish natural fatherhood in order to become spiritual fathers in the supernatural order of grace, God has called me to relinquish my desire for more children in order to be a spiritual mother to priests. This is how God operates and we all have to learn to submit to His plans. No matter how much someone loves me and wants me to have another child or doesn’t understand my call to spiritual motherhood, this is God’s path for me and that desire on the part of my friends can become a major stumbling block for me. It is true for all of us, no matter the mission God has for each one of us. We must seek to love one another, and in so doing, accept God’s plan for our loved ones’ lives. We have to accept God’s plan for our own lives and trust that it is for our ultimate good and because He loves us.
Almost all of my friends have sons and I listen frequently as they express their hope that at least one of their sons will become a priest one day. It is a hope that I have for them as well, since the Church needs good holy men to be priests, but it also causes me pain that I must repeatedly offer up to Christ on the Cross for the sake of His priests. I must say to myself: “Not my will, Your will.” And as I’ve told my friends who can have more children, I am overjoyed for them and I will be there to love and serve them regardless of any pain I experience from my own Cross. In so doing, I’m also given the opportunity to offer my own suffering up for my priest sons. This is the way of the Cross. This is the way of love that Christ has called me to.
All of us must seek to conform ourselves to Christ in love and to seek to live in union with God’s will for each one of our lives. As we do so, the Holy Spirit will infuse us with greater faith, hope, and charity. The more we are obedient to God’s will, the more we will become like Christ and the more we will experience the joy that can only come from following Him.
It doesn’t matter if the people around us understand our path or not. The saints were often misunderstood and we are all called to be saints. What matters is that we are seeking to surrender our lives to Christ. There is work that Christ wants to do through us, but we get in the way if we place our own desires over His. We must set our face towards Jerusalem and seek to always be in union with Him, no matter the cost.
“…spiritual joy depends on the Cross. By beginning to forget ourselves for Love of God, we find him, at least obscurely. And since God is our joy, this joy is proportionate to our self-denial and union with him.”
Robert Cardinal Sarah