Mary, Mother of Mercy, Mother of the Priest


Pope Francis at prayer before a statue of Our Lady of Fatima

Marian titles are so numerous, and devotions so diverse, the litany could confuse and confound those less familiar with Catholic popular piety. The various titles show the relationship of a mother with her children. She can be all things to all men. The incarnational reality of our faith shines forth in Marian piety, as it should, since in her the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. It was in Mary that we began to encounter the Divine through the human. That first prevenient mercy, the Immaculate Conception, prepared Mary to become the first shrine of Divine Mercy. From the moment the Holy Spirit first formed the Sacred Heart in her womb, Divine Mercy was joined to human tenderness. The Mother who bears the fountain of Mercy is the Mother of the Priest who, with human hands, dispenses the treasures of grace allowing the gift of divine life to grow in souls. During this Jubilee of Mercy when the whole Church clamors for the richness that flows from the Heart of Christ, the priest is challenged to be an even greater reflection of the priestly Heart of Jesus by plunging his humanity deeply into the beating Heart of Jesus, so that the Divine Mercy may enter into the hidden recesses of wounded souls. “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” The greater the human tenderness of the priest, the greater the possibility that the skittish sheep of his flock will entrust themselves to the torrents of grace available through his consecrated hands. It is a mother’s role to teach her child to be more human. She initiates her child into the pursuit of the True, Good, and Beautiful. Every priest, as alter Christus, will find that his flock will receive Divine Mercy through his hands in the sacraments with greater efficacy if his humanity radiates a certain reflection of Mary, Mother of Mercy. Let us look to her to see how she allowed Divine Mercy to enter into the world through her humanity.

The Annunciation
At the annunciation, Mary gave her entire humanity over to Divine Mercy. Hers was a surrender to mercy in simplicity as a servant, but also in intimacy as a spouse. Her question of “How can this be?” was one of prompt obedience, rather than disbelief. She sought eagerly to fulfill the will of the Father so that the Messiah could enter in. In her surrender to the Holy Spirit, the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us. She knew the scripture, and the prophesies of the Messiah, and his sufferings, but she stepped forward, in trust, and her fiat was renewed with every breath. The priest, too, lays his humanity at the service of the incarnate God. His humanity is surrendered, and divine life flows upon the new Israel, the Church. Christ is made present, and the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world, washes those sins away.

The Visitation
At the Visitation, the first pilgrimage of mercy brought Divine Mercy upon the threshold of a home worn out with waiting. New joy had arrived, accompanied by quiet expectation. A girl’s voice is heard, and Mercy is released into the world, as forerunner and his mother are filled with the Holy Spirit. Perfect love is poured out, and all fear is cast aside. Those who were once slaves have been set free. The rulers of the present darkness are cast down from their thrones, and the lowly, those formed from dust, have been raised upon the heights. Mary, the Mother of Preachers, and Spouse of the Holy Spirit, speaks a simple greeting, and mother and son receive salvation. Here the priest can see his mother who teaches him how to preach. When he ponders the Word within his own heart, the simplest of human encounters will become openings for Divine Mercy to enter into the world. How blessed is the one who receives the Word in a humble heart, and gives it flesh through human action. When the priest gives himself over to the Word in contemplation, and allows the Word to take hold of his heart, Israel will see her Bridegroom bounding over the mountains which sin has placed in her path, for He has come to save her, and all the Bridegroom’s friends will rejoice.

The Nativity
Mary, the Mother of the Good Shepherd, receives the vigilant shepherds who have spent the night among the sheep, and entrusts her son, the son of that other shepherd of Bethlehem, into their calloused hands. Those shepherds upon the hills waited to chase every wolf away from the vulnerable sheep and, no doubt, were worn out and sleepy when the angels appeared as a mighty throng announcing to them that the time of waiting had ceased. The poverty of the shepherds who have spent themselves for the sake of the sheep, met the voluntary poverty of Jesus Christ, Good Shepherd of souls, and only rest of those shepherds after His own Heart. Mary encourages them to draw near, for the call to adore has been delivered by angels and she must hand over her son, her own flesh to allow the shepherds to touch him. They are simple men who need to touch the promised child, and in their simplicity, they adore, for their watching has made them tender, and their attentive care of the sheep has formed their hearts to listen. The touch of the smooth newborn skin brings about the encounter with the untouchable presence of God. No longer will the presence of God remain on the threshing floor out of fear, but all might touch Him and be healed, for the Ark has handed him over to good shepherds, and they take the Bread of Angels to feed to those sheep for whom His blood was shed.

The Presentation
A procession begins. The procession to the Father’s House, the King to His sanctuary, the temple in Jerusalem. The days being fulfilled, the fullness of time, the King of Peace is carried in the arms of the Ark, prefigurements of sacrifice are offered—two doves—and prophesies are uttered of two pure hearts being pierced so that the thoughts of all might be revealed. Here, the Mother of Mercy is shown as the Mother of Sorrows, and she shows her priests the way of leading souls into their own darkness so the thoughts they have hid, even from themselves, might be revealed. This first sword of sorrow of the heart of Mary is the same sword which pierces the confessor’s soul. The priest who suffers the penitent’s sin with the Heart of Christ, and the heart of the repentant sinner acts as the bridegroom’s friend, who encourages the bride to open her heart to her only Bridegroom, and allow Him to claim every part of her heart. Though the Bridegroom himself bears the key, He much prefers the watchmen to encourage the bride to open to her Beloved in trust. Mary’s trust at the prophesies of Simeon is a model both for the priest and the penitent. The Father is worthy of trust, and the Spirit by whom the prophet speaks, will strengthen all in the moment of weakness.

The Exile into Egypt
For Mary, the Flight into Egypt was the first fulfillment of Simeon’s prophesy. The words were still reverberating in her heart in the silence of the night as she held her son—the Lamb—they went off into the desert. The cries of Rachael lamenting her children gave perfect witness to the little one who had become a man of sorrows.

Through all this, Mary surrenders all control. She no longer hears the angel’s voice, but simply that of Joseph. His voice is for her, and her Son, the very voice of the Father. Through the exile, Egypt—that place of slavery—became a place of pilgrimage. The priest, like Mary, passes through the sufferings of others, as well as his own, as a pilgrimage to free captive souls. The Incarnate Lover of Israel has sought out His Bride, and identified Himself with her in all her wanderings. He has become an exile in her place of slavery in order to lead her out of her bonds. The priest, too—but only with a heart wholly united to Jesus—enters into those places of bondage in order to bring freedom to souls. His greatest safeguard on this journey is obedience like Mary’s. He must be sure he has Jesus resting in his heart, then all the idols of Egypt will fall at his feet as he brings the good news of salvation.

The Finding in the Temple
Why have you done this to us? Our Lady’s question rends the heart. Why does her Divine Son leave behind his mother and foster father to cling to Jerusalem? It seems that He has already claimed His Bride as he stayed in Jerusalem. How many times priests must hear heart-rending questionings of their spiritual children? “Why?” “Why does evil exist?” “Why does my child suffer?” Our Lady’s maternal heart knows such questions, and will quiet the soul beset by the storms of life, so her child’s heart may hear. Perhaps Our Blessed Mother’s greater suffering was to watch Joseph fret over the loss of Jesus. Her heart was pierced with a double edged sword, her sufferings and that of Joseph’s. She speaks for her silent husband, “Your father and I.” She asks expecting an answer, though obedient to her obedient son. It is right to ask, “Why?” but like Mary, we must listen. The priest, as spiritual father, teaches his child to listen. He encounters his child in the pain and confusion, even suffering with his child, but also listens with him. What is the Father doing, and how should I respond?

Jesus gave His mother this preparation of suffering in His Mercy for when He would be about His Father’s business of Mercy in a more tragic and glorious way. He would have to leave her on another Passover, and he would seem to be gone. This time, however, He would not return home with her, but Home to the Father’s true home. Home to prepare a place for her.

“He learned obedience through what he suffered.” Who was his teacher in obedience if not Mary. She gave Him His humanity, the means by which he could learn and suffer. By compassion, he was able to enter into suffering before His Passion. Mary’s own heart would point the misery of others in compassion, teaching her Son, who came to seek and save the lost, to see human misery with his human eyes.

The Wedding at Cana
When the priest has run out of human strength, and so seems unable to allow others to encounter the Divinity of Christ through his weak and frail humanity, he should meet a woman at the wellspring. Not the woman seeking another human husband, but who encountered the Divine Lover, but the Woman who bore the Divine Lover under her heart, and provided the water of his human nature so that springs of Living Water might well up in the hearts of all those who thirst for Him. The priest must go to this woman, and she will whisper to her Son, “He has no more wine.” Then, go and be a servant, pour out the reserves of your humanity at the feet of Jesus, and let Him transform your gift of obedient faithful self-gift into a new wine infused with His life, trusting that where all is given, nothing is lacking.1 Then, the Good Samaritan will be able to pour out this water-turned-wine upon the wounds of those He carries, bringing these souls, attacked by thieves and robbers, into the safety of the Inn for poor pilgrims, the field hospital in the day of battle. When the Good Samaritan returns, He will surely repay every penny poured out upon his littlest of brothers, a hundred fold.

The Proclamation of the Kingdom
“Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother.” We just reflected on the wedding at Cana when Our Blessed Mother, in her merciful heart, let go of her son, urging him to the Cross, and prompting Jesus’ first public sign. “Do whatever He tells you.” She knew her Son’s heart for obedience. She knew He could not refuse an act of trust. She teaches the newly chosen disciples by her trust that they might come to believe the words of the Word. She is the good soil which has allowed the Word to drop deeply into her humble heart, allowing it to take root and grow, sharing its fruit with all those who come to her. The small moment of Mary’s visit with those the scripture calls ‘brothers of the Lord,’ shows Mary’s care in the formation of those who have become brothers of the Lord. She herself trains them in accompaniment. As the preacher makes known the Word of God, he must also walk beside his spiritual child, watching to be sure that the Word is growing through surrender to the Father’s will. Mary’s own words become His. She does not tell the servants what to do, but simply to listen to Jesus and to do as He says.

The Crucifixion
“Behold your son.” The fulfillment has come, and the types have passed away, but the life of Christ, though disappearing for a time upon the Cross, needs new nurturing in the life of his priests. This task he has entrusted to His mother. She takes her own flesh once again, wraps Him in cloth, and lays Him down in an act of giving Him away. John has taken her home to learn from her the secrets of her Son, which he could not handle the evening before. At Mary’s side, he learns the silence necessary to wait for Mercy’s triumph to be shown. He no longer begs to call down fire and brimstone, but beside the Mother who stands at the foot of the cross, he has learned meekness, and so has inherited the good soil. His new mother teaches him how to live from the union he received the evening before. The union of the transformed heart of one who has become another Christ. In silence, he has learned the humility of the littlest one as is shown on Easter morning as he defers to Peter at the tomb. He sees and believes for he has done the will of God. He does not need to be first now, but is joyful to escort his brother to the Good News so his brother may see first. The priest will often find himself the servant and slave of all, putting others’ relationship with the Lord first, though while not neglecting his own.

The Descent of the Holy Spirit
Here the Spouse of the Holy Spirit waits again, this time with sons in abundance surrounding her. She has heard the Word, and is waiting in obedient expectation. In her waiting, she is Mother, but also companion. Her children, her priests, look to her as their Mother, but also as the first of the members of His Body, His Bride. The Bride has been entrusted to them, and it is to Mary’s face they look. In the Upper Room, Mary, as mother, prepares them to say, “Abba,” with which the Holy Spirit plunges them into a relationship in order to pray these words. Her prayer and obedience witness like a new mother repeating “Dada” to her infant. She longs to hear her children call out in love to one she loves. She also prepares them, in this waiting, for the gift of the Holy Spirit, when these priests will receive their Spiritual Fatherhood as a gift for the whole Church. She already knows the gift of motherhood by the power of the Holy Spirit, like a mother who knows the life already forming within her, and shares her motherhood, teaching the father his new vocation in so many ways. The priest must also learn a father’s tenderness for his spiritual children, beside Mary. Fatherhood can only be learned in relationship.2 In physical fatherhood, it springs from his relationship with his wife. Spiritual fatherhood must also be formed in a chaste, vulnerable, and intimate relationship of love. The priest’s bride, as another Christ, is the Church, but this Church has a Marian face. His love of Mary, as her son and companion, teaches him the tenderness necessary so that his quiet prayer of waiting bears fruit in his active apostolate. She is the mother who teaches the priest to pour himself out when the Divine Life of grace in souls is only visible to the Father who works in secret. She teaches him to carry the newborn Lambs with tenderness so they may trust his human heart to share Divine Mercy, to rejoice at the coming of the Bridegroom, who calls souls to Himself, to be all things to all men, that all may encounter the merciful gaze of Jesus, so they may know Him and the Father. The priest, as another Christ, extends the same Divine Mercy which welled up in the Heart of Jesus, and was poured out upon the world at Calvary. His heart which has received mercy, must distribute the treasure of the King of Mercy. For Christ has no hands upon earth but his.

Let the priest then stay beside Mary as his mother, his intercessor, his constant companion. She will teach him as a mother, praying and interceding, and fulfilling in her love all that the priest may seek as a companion for his earthly pilgrimage. Her tenderness will teach him and compliment his masculine identity, allowing the fullness of Divine Mercy to flow freely upon those who encounter his humanity transformed by the graces of ordination.

  1. St. Bernard, Sermon on the Song of Songs
  2. Mulieris Dignitatem, 18.
Sr. Mary John Kramer, OP About Sr. Mary John Kramer, OP

Sr. Mary John Kramer, OP, is a Dominican Sister of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. She has been a professed Bride of Christ for eight years, and currently teaches second grade at the Spiritus Sanctus Academy in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Sister is also working toward a Masters in Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minnesota.