Feb 13, 2019 3724 David Torkington

My Mother Was a Priest

We were all shocked and shattered when my brother announced he wanted to become a priest. It was not just that he wanted to become a priest, but he wanted to become a Cistercian priest. That meant that once he left home, he would never return. My mother was totally bereft. She was proud that her son wanted to be a priest, but why, oh why, did he want to become a monk as well? She did not know what to do, but fortunately, she did know who to turn to. She turned to Gus, a friend since childhood. He himself had left home to become a priest and a monk and was at the time the Abbot of Belmont.

The Meaning of Motherhood

Gus told her that a mother only really fulfils and completes her motherhood when her love is so great that she allows her child to both choose and follow his own chosen vocation in life, whatever that may mean. He told her this was the sacrifice Mary made when she allowed the Son she had given birth to go His own way and respond to the vocation to which He had been called.

My mother felt much better after talking with Gus, or Abbot Williams as he was then. After all, he was a priest and a monk himself and so was able to console and encourage her better than anyone else. Although my brother had been accepted as a prospective monk at Mount Saint Bernard’s, the Abbot asked him to finish his studies in Paris, where he was studying at the Sorbonne. Naturally, he was delighted he had been accepted, because he thought his handicap would have prevented him from becoming a priest—one leg was shorter than the other as a result of polio when he was six.

A Terrible Accident

Unfortunately, my brother had a terrible accident on the way to his final examinations. Partly due to the iron calliper on his leg, he slipped down the escalator on the Metro, hit his head and was killed instantly. He was only twenty-two. I was seventeen at the time and called out of the school study to be told of the tragedy. When I got home it was to find my mother all but inconsolable. She had already come to terms with the sacrifice she had been asked to make when he chose to become a monk, now she was asked to make another, more complete and final sacrifice that she never thought for a moment would ever be asked of her. Once again, she turned to Abbot Williams for spiritual help.

Like Mary, My Mother Became a Priest

Abbot Williams told her she was now being asked to be the priest that her son never became. He told her Mary had been a priest and the greatest sacrifice she made was the sacrifice of her own Son. All of Mary’s life revolved around selflessly giving her all for the dear Son she had born. Everything had always been for Him and then she had to give absolutely everything, even Him. This was the most perfect and complete sacrifice any mother had to make, and she made it as she stood there at the foot of the cross. My mother never forgot what Gus said to her. It did not take away all the pain, but it did give meaning to it and made it bearable. What helped most was seeing that the sacrifice she had to make was exactly the same sacrifice Mary had to make on Calvary.

A Lesson Learned from My mother

There is only one true priest and that is Jesus Christ, who made the most perfect sacrifice anyone can make, the sacrifice of Himself. We are priests to the degree in which we share in His priesthood. Throughout His life He offered Himself unconditionally to His Father and for the people His Father had sent Him to serve. We share in His priesthood when we also offer ourselves to the Father, in, with and through Him and offer ourselves to the same family of man He came to serve.

That is what my Mother came to see and understand more clearly than anyone else I have known, not just in the way she thought, but in the way she acted. It was a lesson she had to learn at the most painful moment of her life, when she had to share in the sacrifice of Christ in exactly the same way as Mary had. Lessons learned in such moments are never forgotten. They indelibly stain the memory and determine the way you think and act for the rest of your life, for better or for worse. In my mother’s case it was for better not worse, as it was for Mary.

For both of them it meant that through their terrible ordeal their motherhood had somehow been refined and deepened to the benefit of other children who looked to them for the motherly love that was always given without measure. I for one know this because I have experienced it for myself and still do. As I look back at the past, it is the more dramatic demonstrations of my mother’s self-sacrificing that stand out in my memory. However, the more I reflect the more I see that her whole life was a continual selfless sacrifice for her family, just as the life of Mary had been. Every day of her life and every moment of her day was given for her children, in a hundred and one different ways, through which she exercised her priesthood, as Mary did in her life on earth. It was little wonder that her three sons all wanted to become priests; after all, they had been living with one all their lives!

Selfishness and Sacrifice

When the family went to Mass together each Sunday, they saw my mother totally absorbed in what they took all too easily for granted. Their selfishness meant they had too little to offer while she was offering a thousand and one acts of self-sacrifice, made for them during the previous week. This meant my mother received to the measure of her giving, for it is in giving that we receive, and she received in ever-greater abundance with each passing week. This gave her the help and strength she needed to go on giving in the forthcoming week, go on sacrificing for the family that took her all too easily for granted.

Without any formal theological education, my mother discovered for herself that the Mass is not only a sacrifice, but also the place where we offer ourselves in, with and through Christ to the Father and something further. It is also a sacred sacrificial meal where we receive, from the One through whom we have offered our sacrifices, the love that He is endlessly pouring out on to, and into, all who are open to receive it.

Motherhood was for her, as for so many other selfless, self-sacrificing mothers, a way of participating in the central mystery of our faith. If her daily dying united her to the dying of Christ, it also opened her to receive the love that raised Him from the dead on the first Easter day, empowering her to share what she had received with the family for whom she had given everything. The son she always mourned may never have become the priest he desired, but she more than took his place. The priesthood she exercised would not only inspire her own family but other families as well— families who are still inspired, as I am, by her shining example that will never tarnish.

My Brother’s Death Was Not In Vain

The death of my dear brother affected me deeply, but his death was not in vain. It inspired me in such a way that I have spent my life writing about him and using him to spread the profound spirituality that attracted him to the monastic life, to inspire others as well. I have spent much of my life writing three major spiritual works. The main protagonist in each work is the hermit, Peter Calvay, who is entirely based on my brother, Peter Torkington. In my imagination, instead of entering the Cistercian order, as he had intended, I simply transferred him to the Outer Hebrides, where he became a hermit. Then, as his spiritual life deepened, he began to help others.

If Peter had become a monk his spirituality would have been monastic. However, living as a lay-person enabled Peter to develop for himself a profound lay spirituality based on the spirituality that Jesus Himself lived with His disciples, through whom this spirituality was bequeathed to the early church. This is, of course, of particular help to a modern reader trying to live the Christian life while outside the context of the religious life, like yours truly. If these books help you, as they have helped more than 300,000 readers over the years, then my brother’s death will not have been in vain, nor will the simple spirituality we both learned from our mother.


David Torkington

David Torkington (www.DavidTorkington.com) is a Spiritual Theologian, Author and Speaker, who specializes in Prayer, Christian Spirituality and Mystical Theology. He was educated at the Franciscan Study Centre, England, and the National Catholic Radio and Television Centre, Hatch End, London, where he was later appointed to the post of Dean of Studies. He was extra mural lecturer in Mystical Theology at the Dominican University in Rome (The Angelicum). In addition to giving Retreats and lecturing all over Europe, he undertook five prolonged lecture tours to Africa, mainly Equatorial Africa, speaking on Prayer and Spirituality to Religious, Monks, Diocesan Priests and lay people. His personal spirituality is predominantly Franciscan, his Mystical Theology Carmelite, all welded together with a solid blend of Benedictine moderation. He has sold over 300,000 books in more than twelve different languages. His most successful book is "Wisdom from the Western Isles," the popular "Peter Calvay Trilogy" (Hermit, Prophet, Mystic) re-edited in one volume in which he teaches the reader how to pray, from the very beginning to what Saint Teresa of Avila calls the Mystical Marriage. He is at present working on his latest book, "Wisdom from the Christian Mystics" which will be followed by his autobiography "Injured Innocence." When not writing, he spends time on his boat on the peaceful Beaulieu river in the New Forest, Hampshire, and exploring the Jurassic coast, Dorset. He is a member of The Athenaeum, Pall Mall, London. The three books mentioned in the article are “Wisdom from the Western Isles, Wisdom from Franciscan Italy” and “Wisdom from the Christian Mystics.” All are available from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com or from any bookshop.

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