“Every vocation to the priesthood comes from the heart of God, but it passes through the heart of a mother.” –St. Pius X
An interview with Father Anthony Sortino on the lessons he’s learned from his earthly mother and the Blessed Mother.
Describe the role your mother played in your spiritual life growing up.
My mom loved me with that fierce, protective motherly spirit from the start. Though I was premature by 10 to 11 weeks, I still gave her a hard time coming into the world that bright Easter morning. A cradle Catholic herself from a Catholic Italian culture, she made sure we had our sacraments and learned the Faith. It’s been a joy to see her grow in it also, going from the Catholic culture to more understanding.
What was your mother's reaction to your decision to become a priest?
It was honestly such a surprise for everyone for me to receive a call to the priesthood, including myself, that it was truly humbling for all to let the Lord show us a different path than our plans had anticipated. Mothers have a tender, protective love for their children, so giving them to the Lord for a vocation is truly a testament of Faith in itself. In the last several years in which I’ve served as school chaplain, she has been touched by the remarks of the children who are grateful to have a priest present closely in their lives. Many notes from the little kids have brought tears to her eyes (and mine).
What is one of the most valuable or memorable pieces of advice your mother has given you?
My mom has taught me how to sacrifice and persist in loving even when it’s hard. She is the persevering presence of love in our family that tries to bring everyone together, reconcile people when needed, and take care of each other always. This has been a gift to me.
Tell me your favorite trait about your mom.
It gives me great joy to see the way my mom delights in me (and each of her children) and wants to keep me close. I feel so loved. I know I am loved. The love of a mother grants indescribable strength to anyone.
What is your relationship like with the Blessed Mother? How does she impact your vocation as a priest?
My mama in Heaven has a very special place in my life. As a teen, helping in youth ministry, I saw some who had such a special relationship with our Blessed Mother. I remember at fifteen making a little prayer like this, “I love your Son - a lot even- but I’m not sure why or how to have a relationship with you. Please show me.” Even though it was simple and I felt a little silly at the time, it truly opened my heart to discover the gift Jesus gave us at the foot of the Cross: a mother to love us and show us the way home to His Heart. Since that prayer, she drew me deeper. I made the De Montfort consecration (one I’ve repeated many times) and have been deeply inspired by the devotion of so many saints of Heaven to our Lady. At my ordination, with the natural nervousness to take on the service of ministry, I found refuge in her, in the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, remembering never to fear, since I am always “under her mantle and protection”.
What is one of the most important lessons you've learned from your Heavenly Mother?
There are so many lessons she has taught me: her “fiat” to God, always selflessly choosing to love the Lord even when His will was obscure, uncertain or just plain hard to live out. She said the words “let it be done to me” not just once but each day in her life. She loved like no other creature and she surely pleases the Lord like no other. She’s my model and my mother, a comfort and an inspiration.
Can you offer your brief thoughts on the importance of motherhood?
Today’s culture is unfortunately so consumed in a busy lifestyle of achieving goals, getting things, etc. It tends to lose sight of the simple but essential things in our lives: our relationships, first our relationship to Him and then the other ones. Marriage as a sacred gift of union and communion is not understood well, not to mention the joy of bearing children and, with sacrifice, raising them up in the Lord. Pope John Paul II, one of my heroes, explained the feminine genius so well in his letter to women and his teaching on the Theology of the Body. Motherhood is a sacred gift, both the physical motherhood and the spiritual one. Pope Francis has echoed this, even recently. Mothers remind us of the way the Lord loves His children. Mothers’ sacrifices contribute to His Plan of redemption, give hope and purpose as we carry our crosses in life and strive to be holy as He is holy. The tenderness of mothers’ hearts is refreshing and strengthening and stirs in us life. All men and women are gifts made in the “image and likeness of God” and reflect His love. Woman and her gift of maternity reflects Him in a special way as “life-giver”.
Father Anthony Sortino is the Chaplain of Canyon Heights Academy and of Young Catholic Professionals Silicon Valley in the Diocese of San Jose