Greetings to dearest Sisters in Christ as we finish this month of ‘so much’ and enter another with ‘continued much’. Grace upon grace - now and ahead. Truly, as Catholics, we live the richest life! If posed the question, “Will ye also go away?”, let us trust we will ever-heartily and without hesitation echo the first Pope, St Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” (Jn 6:68).
During Spring semester, the fourth-year men of our local college seminary offer ferverinos following Mass. Each man’s charge is to consider a model that has ignited the fire in his heart – and talk about it. Typically, it is a Saint – or one-in-the-making. When it was our son’s turn, we fully expected a spirited exchange on either his confirmation namesake, St Thomas Aquinas, or prolific writer GK Chesterton. Instead he opened with Tertullian: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” He proceeded to expound on the treasury of our Catholic inheritance through those that held nothing back, giving all. The unexpected subject matter moved my heart into a great silence of listening. What eventually rose was an inner awareness that almost shouted “that young man is sold out for Christ”. Next impulse: “I want to follow him.” Then came, “Oh… I know him.”
Time seems to collapse and reality seems to lose its boundaries when the heart is moved. The priest more than most is imbued with graces destined to move hearts: sending blazing arrows to enflame souls, to challenge one to decision, to beckon a life to shed encumbrances and live fully. The glory of God is man fully alive (St Irenaeus, 2nd C). As Alter Christus, a priest is set to imitate and speak goodness, truth and beauty that stirs the soul to follow. Outcomes vary. When the depth of the Eucharistic life was verbally unfurled by Jesus Himself while on earth, decisions ensued. First, we learn that “after this many of his disciple drew back and no longer went about with him” (Jn 6:66). We also learn that St Peter and the twelve firmly chose to stay. Fully abandoned, all but one found their passage to eternity through martyrdom. Our modern-day priests have imitated the first priests and assented to a path that is not embraced by great numbers in these days. The Church aches for more priests.
Recently I was within earshot of someone suggesting a solution: that a “prayer for vocations and the St Michael prayer” should be prayed “at every single Mass, everywhere”. While not to dispute the value of these prayers, it dawned on me at that moment that our work as Seven Sisters in no small part also serves as a solution to rally the courage of response to the call to the priesthood.
In the priestly Ordination Mass, when the presiding Bishop presents the bread and wine to each newly ordained priest he says, “Receive from the People of God the gifts to be offered to God. Know what you do, imitate what you celebrate, and conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s cross.” Our offered Holy Hours fortify this promise. Our prayers do nothing less than strengthen the character of the priest, enhancing a growing virtuous attractiveness that appeals to the those in the pew, the confessional line, the street, to those asking the question, “Am I being called to be a priest?”
While the graces of prayer soften one to listen and attend to the ear of the heart (St Benedict), responses to God’s call to the priesthood are invigorated with the appeal of the character and witness of a rightly-ordered priestly life. Our patron, St John Vianney, is a quintessential example. He drew thousands to him because of his holiness. God chose him to show us how far the influence of the transcendental can extend. “The priest is another Christ: Alter Christus, he is Jesus Himself; he has the same work as Jesus to accomplish; he must be the same” (Dom de Roton, OSB ). It is the whole raison d’etre of the priesthood.
The impetus to pray for Fr Joseph Johnson in the summer of 2010 was the witness of Christ evidenced by his extreme generosity. My query was how can I help fuel what I am witnessing? Canon Jean Paul Trezieres (in Heidemann’s The Catholic Priest, Image of Christ) expounds, “The most vital element will certainly be generosity, the giving of one self, and it is this which identifies the priest with his Divine Model, as, like Christ, he has charge of souls. Whether he be a parish priest, an almoner, a curate, a teacher, the superior of an Order or a bishop, following the example of the Good Shepherd, he must forget himself and give of himself without letting up for one moment if his life is to be acceptable in the sight of God.” Our charge as Seven Sisters is a privileged one.While the world today wants to do without God, we foster the opposite. We pray forth His Goodness through His chosen vessels, the priests! We call forth the bloom and growth of the priestly nature forever imprinted on these souls. As the life of Christ matures within them, how unencumbered they may then speak to the heart of another that, in turn, prompts that heart too, to want to follow… as a priest…
Our prayers then, can be seen to serve as a viable solution to the Church’s need for more priests. “The priest… is always suspended in space: He does not touch heaven, but he must make heaven descend to the earth and the earth climb to heaven” (Pere Lamy). This is the sweet essence that attracts souls to follow with abandonment! We have a great honor set before us as Seven Sisters intercessors. We offer not a favor to the priest for whom we pray, but rather recognize our weekly offerings as essential fuel for the life of the Church and its perpetuation. What a JOY indeed!
Barb Y, an Anchoress from Minnesota to one of the original groups started in 2011, offered a simple outline this year to her group of Praying a Virtue a Week for their Pastor. She emphasized to her group members that the suggestion was completely optional. Each week is a one sentence prayer that can be enfolded into the weekly Hour. Find the attachment here and on the Web outlining this.
As we pray for growth in virtue and strength for the recipients of our prayers, it happens that Divine economy blesses us, as well. We too become more attractive in the living out of our rich sacramental lives and may be used to challenge others to come alongside. “Lord, to whom shall we go?” We have found the pearl of great price, dear Sisters in Christ! We can do nothing but share it! And you have: At this writing, there are over 1000 active Seven Sisters groups! What a fitting offering to the Sacred Heart of Jesus on June 28th! Together let us make this offering with gratitude to God for His call on our lives to cooperate in His work through this Apostolate!
United in prayer and mission...
that our prayers may find the heart of every bishop and priest...
... eternal gratitude continues as you each remember to offer a wee Hail Mary for me every day.... that ‘one Ave Maria that makes hell tremble’(St John Vianney). Pray that I will not 'spoil the beautiful work that God has entrusted...' (St Teresa of Calcutta)
... your kind emails and notes and phone calls and generous support always arrive to my heart door at the right moment! Your letters of testimony are so beautiful and edifying! Don't stop writing to me. Eternal gratitude is mine for YOU! Be assured of my continued daily prayers for you at the altar.