At the Convocation of Parish Leaders in Fargo this past November, I made friends with an awesome little baby. I got to the point where I would hold him every once in a while to give his beautiful mother a rest. A good priest friend asked me there, “doesn’t your heart ever break sometimes to have a baby too?” I was able to respond that, honestly, I feel so much that the people around me are my spiritual children God has given me that the need I have as a woman to be a mother is fulfilled tangibly in my consecration.
And so, in light of the recent World Youth Day (WYD) in Panama, I would like to share my story of the evolution of my spiritual motherhood from two snapshots: my experiences at two past World Youth Days: Madrid 2011 and Krakow 2016.
When I went to World Youth Day in Madrid, I had just finished High School at seventeen years old. I traveled with three siblings, one of our SOLT priests, two of our Hispanic SOLT Sisters, and other SOLT laity and friends. We walked the Camino de Santiago de Compostella for five days (about 100 miles) and visited Fatima before the actual WYD. I was so strengthened and edified by the whole experience of the universal Church there. The Church, our Mother, really nourished me during this time and helped strengthen and urge forward the call I already held to consecrated life. Our group was in the front lines of the crowd four times when Pope Benedict drove by, and I’ll never forget him leading us all in the Our Father inLatin, the universal language of the Church. I was chosen by our group to also go in the front reserved section the night of the vigil (we had gotten three tickets) when Pope Benedict consecrated all the youth of the world to the Sacred Heart of Jesus (in Spanish). That night, after singing, chanting, and praying at the top of my lungs all day, sleeping in the open field, I was surrounded by religious, laity and priests, keeping vigil together under the beautiful stars. My heart was so happy and content in this experience of the universal Church. Seven months later, I entered Aspirancy in the Society, thanks in part to the graces I received at this WYD.
Fast forward a bit to 2016… and WYD Krakow!! I had then just completed one year in vows as a sister and was able to join our SOLT pilgrimage group from our mission in Belize City. We had one priest (the same priest who was our Madrid chaplain, as a matter of fact), teens and chaperones, and four of us SOLT Sisters. That was a whole different story, one where I wished this time that the super energized teens around me would stop engaging in chanting battles (haha), one also where I recognized deeply the role I was being asked to play as spiritual mother. This time I was helping lead the teens in retreat and pilgrimage. On our visit to Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, a shrine frequented by St. John Paul II, we gave talks and led our teens in small group discussions. Outside St. Maximilian’s starvation bunker in Auschwitz, we led them in a Chaplet of Divine Mercy. We were always engaged in meaningful conversations during our long train rides. Again, it was a beautiful and extraordinary experience of Mother Church, but this time, in my own person as a consecrated bride of Christ, I too was helping the teens touch their spiritual mother.
John Paul II wrote in Vita Consecrata, “By virtue of their dedication lived in fullness and in joy, consecrated women are called in a very special way to be signs of God’s tender love towards the human raceand to be special witnesses to the mystery of the Church, Virgin, Bride and Mother (#57, emphasis in original). What I experienced in being a spiritual mother to the teens at World Youth Day was only one encounter of many that God graces me with. The children I teach at St. Ann’s school… the people I visit in the hospitals and nursing homes… priests and seminarians… the people that ask, “Sister will you pray for me:” I find in all of them the children God has given me. By prayer, frequent feedings of teaching, intercession and friendship, and sometimes even changing a spiritual poopy diaper in a difficult situation, spiritual motherhood is present daily. It is my prayer that in each encounter, Our Lady of Guadalupe intercede for all women and all spiritual mothers, that we may receive her heart to love with. In this way our spiritual motherhood will bear abundant fruit. Amen!
Submitted by Sr. Mary Rachel, SOLT