"... create the spiritual atmosphere of the first Christians..."
(Leitmotif taken from the Prayer of Pope John Paul II for Vocations)
Mary is the first fruit of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament; through her heedful obedience in faith began the call to follow CHRIST. Mary was accustomed to keep the word of God faithfully in her heart. "Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart" (Lk 2,19). The Holy Father Pope John Paul II calls Mary "The model of all vocations." Thus, it is through Mary that we should create "The spiritual atmosphere of the first Christians," "in order to receive the Holy Spirit and His Gifts," so that we can "generously welcome [God's] call" and understand that to follow Him is a goal of fulfillment: "[Lord God,] help them to understand that only in You can they find and achieve their fulfillment." This is the disposition of the new heart, which the Holy Spirit has to create in our days.
To create is an act of God because it means to make something new out of nothing. Only God can do that; but we can help to establish a good spiritual atmosphere so that God can create vocations to the priesthood and to the religious life. Or, to put it in the words mentioned above, so that others be made able "to receive the Holy Spirit and His Gifts"; to welcome His call, and to understand that only in Him can they find and achieve their fulfillment.
In order to establish a "good spiritual atmosphere" for vocations to the priesthood and the religious life, the Church needs, in its foundation, fathers and mothers to radiate this atmosphere.
There is a call; a mission to paternity and to maternity. This mission comes from God, the Giver of life. Paternity and maternity is God's gift to those whom He calls to participate in His creative work. Through the procreative act, parents, as instruments of God, provide the body, as it were, into which God infuses the immortal soul, thus creating the human person. This great mystery of human life, which requires the collaboration of three, God, man and woman, continues to develop in the mother's womb. After birth, this giving and receiving of life continues insofar as the parents accept responsibility for the child. While caring for the natural life of the child, they are also solicitous for its supernatural formation, that it be baptized, and so become an adopted child of God, who as its Creator was already the child's first beginning.
Daily it becomes more clear that God's love for His creatures must be shared and be present in the hearts of fathers and mothers. Without this love -- at the very least on the natural level-- there will be no benevolent ambience which the children require for life and growth. Abortion, in particular, happens first in the heart and then in the womb when the spiritual climate and atmosphere of God's paternity, of God's love as Father and Giver of life, is vanquished by worldly and selfish interests. When idolatry of the false gods of this world replaces the adoration and worship of the true God and the principle set down in Psalm 95 is forgotten: "Come, let us bow down [and worship]".
Our consumer culture of material development has destroyed the atmosphere of benevolence for children (pro-life), and replaced it with malevolence, which is a hostile climate of "anti-life". By means of birth control and abortion, death enters the womb, which ought to be the sacrosanctum of life. What was once said of the Christ Child has become true for a host of children on a vast plane "There was no place for them at the inn". The spiritual atmosphere at Bethlehem was not disposed to receive that gift of life, nor is the modern world.
The same process repeats itself on a spiritual level in the case of vocations which God the Creator offers to the Church. Many vocations do not find a favorable ambience; a good atmosphere in which to develop. This great deficiency may be verified, first, with the parents in the home life, and then later in the seminaries. Healthy foundations for the vocation were not provided and so, tragically, many of those who still pursue this life do not have the strength to persevere through the trials they meet in the course of their later ministry, and so abandon their priestly or religious life. Vocations can only grow and survive and produce fruit in an atmosphere of faith.
Only parents who have faith will desire and pray that God may call one of their children to be consecrated toHim and will encourage him or her. When parents have only one or two children, they want to see their children married with a number of grandchildren. Consequently, there is no place for God's call, and they will not heed His voice. If one of their children were to manifest the holy desire to be consecrated to God, they will probably try to dissuade and discourage him or her. The faith of the majority of parents in our day is too weak to allow the most precious fruit in the kingdom of God, the fruit of a vocation to the consecrated life, to develop and mature. Generally, the climate in the families is too worldly, offering no protection against the evil influences of the world. There is no matrix for a vocation to take root and grow.
A recent issue of the "L'0sservatore Romano" published a report on the Synod for the Church in Asia. A speaker mentioned that the Church in the Netherlands had 2,000 major seminarians in 1963; in 1997, there were only 149 major seminarians. The speaker noted: "A process of secularization is taking place." Using the terminology of our reflections we may say: the spiritual atmosphere has turned into a secular one. This crisis could be compared with the three and a half years of famine in the time of the prophet Elijah in the Old Testament. That was a natural famine, a drought, which reflected the spiritual famine of persecution and of idolatry. The enemy always persecutes the good shepherd first, because he knows: "I will strike the shepherd and the flock will be scattered" (Lk 22,31). In a bad atmosphere, shepherd and flock are wounded alike and are in danger of death. What, then, is God's tactic to remedy such a famine and dryness, namely persecution and idolatry? God provides small places with a beneficial climate for survival. Scripture says in 1 Kg 17,9: "I have commanded a widow there to feed you." This is the place for the prophet to survive.
Our responsibility for priestly and religious vocations and for priests and religious in general calls for a "pro life" movement a '"pro spiritual life movement' in order to create the spiritual atmosphere of the first Christians so as to receive the Holy Spirit and to welcome the call to the priesthood or to the religious life. Read attentively Apoc. 12, 11-17: "And the woman (the surviving Church) fled into the wilderness, where she had a place prepared by God, in which to be nourished." The many widows, who, like the widow of Zarephath, act in a spirit of love and compassion towards the "prophet' in need, will feed and nourish priests, religious and vocations by means of their prayers and sacrifices, that the latter will survive in times of famine and will always find a place and atmosphere in order to survive. Thanks to the poor widow, whose. "jar of meal was not spent," and whose "cruse of oil did not fail" (cf. 1 Kg 17,16). Thanks to the continuous prayers and works of atonement of so many faithful souls.
Besides good parents, the Church needs many prayer groups, victim souls, adopters, "widows of Zarephath" to create the spiritual atmosphere of the first Christians. The widow of Zarephath had her own son, and when the prophet Elijah came into her house, she had another son an "adopted son."
We call adoption the acts done in mercy and love towards a child who does not have parents nor other guardians to provide the human goods and gifts which are necessary for its growth and perfection. It is a juridical act, by which a person accepts the child of another and takes the child into its home as its own. The adoption which we find provided for by the social laws on the natural level find a corresponding reflection in the spiritual life of the Church under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It belongs to the very nature of charity that we be solicitous for one another, and desire to share the spiritual goods which we have received from God with one another. This is really a living the "communion of saints", which originally meant a common sharing in holy things (graces, and gifts of God), and only subsequently came to mean the group of holy persons involved in this spiritual sharing. It is within this communion of saints that we learn to become givers of love, and assume a sense of responsibility for the supernatural life in the Church. This loving sense of responsibility corresponds to the spirit of adoption we are discussing. The new commandment of love written into our hearts teaches us to help those in need, that they may have the good climate and atmosphere they need for their spiritual growth. At Cana Mary saw the material needs of the wedding couple, and through her intervention helped secure the joyful convivium of the wedding patty with the gift of wine. St. John certainly would have us understand this spiritually: like Mary we should have our eyes open for the spiritual needs of the souls within the Church. "They have no faith!", "They have no more vocations!" The joy (wine) of their vocations is in danger of running out! Certainly Mary the Mother was responding to the impulse of the Holy Spirit. And today the need for "mothers" to respond to this impulse of the Holy Spirit is greater than ever. This is a challenge to look beyond the needs of one's own immediate family, to the needs of the kingdom of God.
Like the widow of Zarephath, God may call you also to such a spiritual adoption: "I have commanded there a widow to feed you." You can be like a mother or father to such an adopted son, by surrounding him with your constant prayers and sacrifices on his behalf; just like the Guardian Angel who is constantly surrounding his protegé with his loving care. And when you learn to fulfill this mission of adoption in collaboration with the Guardian Angels, you will be able to create a new climate~and atmosphere around you. And your protegé will have someone to come to his aid in his spiritual needs and to help him overcome the temptations of stubbornness, indifference, vanity, etc, because then he will have a spiritual atmosphere around him in which he can receive the graces and gifts of the Holy Spirit and generously respond to God's call, "Come, let us sing to the Lord!" And he will understand again and joyfully fulfill his priestly ministry as a good shepherd and his calling to the religious life, because you are spiritually upholding and strengthening him. Thus you will have saved his vocation with the help and grace of God. He is your adopted son. "Behold, your son!", JESUS says from the Cross, establishing with these words a permanent work of spiritual adoption throughout the history of the Church. And Mary's motherhood is the model; it is her Heart that forms and fortifies. By establishing a spiritual motherhood after the example of Mary's motherhood, by adopting a priest, you can miraculously change the condition of the priesthood in the Church.
As a beginner, every human person needs the help of an adult: as learners we need the help of an experienced expert or teacher; so that we will also be perfect one day. Our Mother the Church knows that besides the help of the parents, every baptized person needs another adult as helper to grow in faith. The institution of God-fathers and God-mothers has existed since the first centuries of Christianity we could say, since Jesus introduced Mary into this sacred office, thus becoming the first "God-Mother" of the Apostles, the "atmosphere of the first Christians." How many blessings and how much holiness has come forth from this institution in the Church!
Time and again, the Holy Spirit awakens people in the Church and makes them so strong in faith and love and fills their hearts with the compassionate love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus that God can make use of them in His strategic providence to save souls. We call such persons with this special mission "victim souls." They adopt others for "intensive care." Only God knows how many souls in heaven were saved through this strategic providence. Only God knows how many victim souls are needed to cure the wounds of the priestly and religious state in our days and to awaken and form religious vocations. These souls are a foremost group in the Church, organized, as it were, by the Holy Spirit and imitating the widow of Zarephath.
May St. Therese, the Little Flower, in this year of her solemn proclamation as "Doctor of the Church" show us how she understood this mission of adoption and victimhood in her life and how she fulfilled it. The biography tells us that during the life time of Saint Therese, there lived two notorious sinners who had received a lot of attention in the public life. The story of one of them was published in the newspaper when Therese was fourteen years old. It was Pranzini, who was sentenced to death after having killed three people. He did not manifest any sign of repentance. Nevertheless, Therese could not put up with the idea of seeing him die without being reconciled with God. She decided to pray and make sacrifices for the salvation of his soul during one month. God gave Therese a sign: at the very moment of his execution, this great sinner took the Crucifix and kissed the Wounds of Our Lord three times. When Therese heard about this event, she said to her sister Celine: "He is my first son!" We could add: "whom I have adopted." Later she wrote about this mission: "Only by suffering can people gain souls for Jesus." They have to know and to go the way which Jesus and Mary went.
With this letter, the Work of the Holy Angels wishes to thank you for all your fidelity in organizing and promoting this apostolate for the priests, and for helping create this spiritual atmosphere for the priest. You know who are the Widows of Zarephath in your surroundings, who are well disposed to hear the voice of the Lord, to follow Him and to pursue with fidelity this way of prayer and atonement. Please continue, please sign up and invite others to sign up for the adoption of a priest. Please use the new prayer booklet: "Adopt a Priest!"
With many greetings from Detroit, and sending you my priestly blessing,
Laborers for the Harvest
O JESUS, Good Shepherd, raise up in all parish communities priests and deacons, religious, consecrated lay people and missionaries according to the needs of the whole world, which You love and want to save. We entrust to You in a particular way our parish community; create in it the spiritual atmosphere of the first Christians in order that it may be a cenacle of prayer where we lovingly receive the Holy Spirit and His Gifts. Assist our pastors and all consecrated souls. Guide the steps of those who have generously welcomed Your call and prepare themselves for Holy Orders or the Profession of the Evangelical Counsels. Direct Your loving gaze to the many well-disposed young people and invite them to follow You. Help them to understand that only in You they can achieve their fulfillment. We entrust these great desires of Your Heart: to the powerful intercession of Mary, Mother and model of all vocations, and beg You to sustain our faith in the certainty that the FATHER will listen to what You Yourself have instructed us to ask for. Amen.
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© 2008 Order of the Holy Cross