1 Corinthians 4:6b-15
Psalm 144:17-18, 19-20, 21 (R. 18a)
Your Father in Christ Jesus
“I do not write this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me” (1 Cor 4:14-15). Saint Paul speaks clearly of the grace of spiritual fatherhood. He recognizes that he has become the father in Christ of the members of the Church at Corinth, his beloved children. Spiritual fatherhood is realized through the Gospel, that is, through the “word of the Cross” (1 Cor 1:18). By planting the word of the Cross in souls, the priest becomes more than a “guide in Christ” (1 Cor 4:15); he becomes a father.
A Costly Grace
Spiritual fatherhood does not come cheaply; it is a costly grace. Saint Paul rehearses exactly what his fatherhood of souls has cost him:
“We are fools for Christ’s sake,
but you are wise in Christ.
We are weak,
but you are strong.,
You are held in honour,
but we in disrepute.
To the present hour we hunger and thirst,
we are ill-clad and buffeted and homeless,
and we labour working with our own hands.
When reviled, we bless;
when persecuted, we endure;
when slandered, we try to conciliate;
we have become, and are now, as the refuse of the world,
the off-scouring of all things” (1 Cor 4:10-13).
This is the cost of spiritual fatherhood. Look at the saints who were great fathers in the order of grace; it is verified in the life of each one. I am thinking of Saint Benedict, Saint Bernard, Saint Aelred, and Saint Francis of Assisi. I am thinking of Saint John of the Cross, Saint Alphonsus, and the Curé of Ars. I am thinking of Saint Seraphim of Sarov, of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, and of Pope John Paul II. The folly of the father becomes wisdom in the children. The weakness of the father becomes their strength. The disrepute of the father becomes their honour. The labour of the father is the price of their rest.
Saint Peter Claver
Saint Peter Claver stands today as the father of a great multitude. Sent to Colombia in 1610, he went out on pilot boats to meet the slaves arriving from Africa. He approached them with food, medicine, and a heart abounding in the charity of Christ. He offered them another life, the life of Christ communicated in the sacraments. Peter was judged and roundly condemned by devout Catholics for giving the sacraments to miserable creatures deemed to be without souls! He died a slave of slaves, servus servorum, as the Collect put its, and as their father in Christ.
Father, Priest, and Victim
For the priest, spiritual fatherhood is not an option. It belongs to the very essence of who he is in the supernatural order; it demonstrates the power of the Word of God and the inexhaustible fecundity of the Precious Blood of Christ offered in the Holy Sacrifice and dispensed in the sacraments. A priest who refuses to enter into the gift and mystery of fatherhood remains stunted in his vocation. His very perseverance in the priesthood is jeopardized. “If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers” (Jn 15:6).
So long as a priest remains united to Christ the Victim on the altar of the Cross, he will be fruitful. His spiritual offspring may not be known to him in this life; the Precious Blood of Christ will make him the father of a great family of souls that he will come to know only in heaven. “By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples” (Jn 15:8).
Do not think for a moment that women are dispensed from participation in the same mystery of supernatural generativity. The woman who does not consent to the sacrificial love of spiritual motherhood remains, spiritually, an adolescent focused on herself and not yet fully engaged in life. Every woman, but in a particular and emblematic way, the consecrated woman, is called to spiritual motherhood. It is in every way as costly as spiritual fatherhood.
The widespread rejection in 1968 of the prophetic encyclical of Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, carried within it the seeds of a rejection of motherhood at every level. By separating the unitive aspect of the marital act from the procreative aspect, those who dissented from Humanae Vitae prepared the crisis that shattered not only family life, but religious life as well. The regeneration of religious life will begin with the recovery of the grace of spiritual motherhood or it will not happen at all.
Mothers of Souls
Reflecting in 1932 on the mediation of the Blessed Virgin, Mother Marie des Douleurs wrote: “What a model, what an encouragement she is for us who are called to the signal honour of participating in this mediation. We too, next to her and through her, must remain at the foot of the Cross to pour over souls the drops of Blood which we gather from it. We must also, in a lesser but very real way, become mothers of souls and, to that end, give our life at every instant.”
The Fecundity of the Cross
The Sacrifice of the Cross made present in the Mass remains the source of all supernatural fecundity. The priest, having announced the word of the Cross from the ambo, makes the whole mystery of the Cross sacramentally present at the altar and, being identified with Christ the Priest, enters personally into the immolation of Christ the Victim.
The consecrated woman, the sponsa Verbi, having received the seed of the Word, takes her place with the Blessed Virgin Mary in the same mystery of the Cross. Receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, she surrenders her own body and blood to the power of God’s fruitful love, for the sake of the Body of Christ, the Church. The secret of supernatural fecundity is revealed in this little prayer of a consecrated soul who is a spiritual mother to many: Seigneur, je me livre à la puissance de ton amour fecond, “I surrender myself, O Lord, to the power of your fruitful love.”
Life in the Blood of Christ
“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide” (Jn 15:16). Saint Peter Claver, father in Christ of a great multitude, pray for us that we too, in spite of our weaknesses and sins, may engender souls to life by the power of the Precious Blood.