Reflections on the 75th Anniversary of the Canonization
The Shrine has been hosting many groups of teenagers from inner-city parishes this summer. It’s a joy to have them here, since these are kids Mother Cabrini would have loved to embrace.
I often set the stage for talking about Mother Cabrini by pointing out that she was no stranger to loss and pain. Three of her siblings died before she reached the age of ten. Her parents both died the year she turned 20. She nursed dying smallpox patients until she caught the disease herself. She knew grief. She knew struggle. She knew that Jesus loves us in all circumstances, and she strove to love him back ever more deeply in every situation she faced.
I tell the teens that when she was a girl Francesca fell into a stream and nearly drowned. Not surprisingly, she developed a lasting fear of water. However, this did not stop her from crossing the ocean 23 times. She made long voyages — enduring horrific storms, sometimes narrowly avoiding icebergs — because the people God called her to serve lay on the other side of the water, on the other side of her fears.
I talk about how Mother Cabrini founded dozens of schools, hospitals, and orphanages. She never planned a career path for this. She didn’t think, “I want to build schools and God will help me.” Instead she focused solely on what God wanted. He pointed her to the west, and when she arrived here she saw and responded to the needs of the people he put in her path. Her focus was always on him, never on herself.
It’s easy to assume, given all that Mother Cabrini accomplished, that God must have made the path smooth for her. That wasn’t, in fact, the case. In the course of establishing her Institute Mother Cabrini had to deal with a military coup, cheating contractors, intense prejudice, lawsuits, lack of funds, riots, and faulty construction. She coped with fires and bank failures, deep disappointments, and bouts of illness that left her incapacitated for days and weeks at a time. There were many, many crosses on the road.
Mother Cabrini’s perspective on adversity was that it was simply the path on which she was asked to meet and serve Christ that day. The important thing was not the circumstances, but following the will of God. She once wrote, “Monsignor is making things difficult, but this will be a benefit, because it has placed the seal of the cross on this new foundation.”
Last week at the end of my talk a teenager asked me how the Church decides who gets to be named a saint. “The first thing they do,” I replied, “Is look for evidence that the person lived a life of heroic faith and virtue. They don’t merely ask, ‘Was she a good person?’ They look in depth through the person’s entire life for proof of heroic virtue.”
Heroic virtue is something worth thinking about as we celebrate the 75th anniversary of Mother Cabrini’s canonization today.
How heroic are our attempts to grow in love and service to Jesus?
How willing we are to pick up and carry our crosses?
How fully do we trust in the goodness of Jesus in the midst of hard things?
What do we need to let go of so we can bury ourselves more deeply in the Sacred Heart?
Let’s ponder these things, and then ask St. Frances Xavier Cabrini to intercede for us.
St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, pray that we may grow to have even a fraction of your faith.