by Father Mitchel Zimmerman
Advent has always been my favorite time to renew my devotion to Mary.
May and October are beautiful months of Marian piety, but the nearness of the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8), patroness of the United States, and the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Dec. 12), patroness of the Americas, make December my favorite Marian month. I always sense, after celebrating these two great liturgies, that Mary has taken me personally by the hand and is leading me toward the Christmas mystery.
Stay awake. Be ready. This is the Advent challenge that Mary accomplished with incomparably beautiful purity and receptivity. Mary, who only regarded her lowliness, was perfectly awake and ready to receive another. Mary is always the final and greatest Advent prophet, even surpassing John the Baptist in showing us how to prepare the way for the Lord to come.
Within Mary’s annunciation lies the true vocation story of every priest. Of course, we easily think of priests in terms of what they do. Our priests are the archbishop’s closest helpers in his apostolic mission to teach, to sanctify and to govern as prophet, priest and king. We know our priests to be the ones so closely conformed to Jesus by the sacrament of holy orders that they can make him uniquely present in the sacraments of reconciliation and holy Eucharist.
In vocations, we’re always on the lookout for guys who will be good at doing what priests do. Yet in the end, no priest can be a better disciple of Jesus than Mary. No priest can be better at making Jesus present than Mary. At best, every priest can only take his cues from her — of how to look upon his unworthiness, but nonetheless to let it be done to him according to God’s word. Mary shows every priest how to be a great priest — not by making himself worthy, but by allowing Jesus to do great things in him, with him and through him.
In the end, there is only one qualification for the priesthood: Can a priest be like Mary? If we were looking for the perfect disciple of Jesus, we would never sign up a guy for seminary. Our priests aren’t sinless like Mary either, but she is first in showing how a human nature can receive a supernatural vocation. Ultimately, a priest must believe, like Mary, that Jesus has looked upon his lowliness and chosen him out of sheer love.
Just as in the order of nature we are given a mother, so also Mary is our mother in the reception of a supernatural vocation like the priesthood. She is the mother of priests. A vocation story like hers is a sure qualification for the priesthood.