It is timely that today is the feast day of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, (1850-1917) who was the first US citizen to be canonized. She was born and raised in northern Italy, and came to the US in 1889 in order to build and operate hospitals, schools, and orphanages for the poor immigrants in New York. During her life of service she built 67 such institutions in Europe, the United States, and South America which were run by the sisters in the congregation she founded, the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Although she loved Italy, she decided to become a US citizen and spent much of her time doing more than just administrating her congregation, but tirelessly working to make sure the needs of the poor were met. It seems timely to me that it is her feast day when many of the people of New York and New Jersey are in such need. So many people need her today!
I first became acquainted with Mother Cabrini when I was a teenager. She came into my life through a remarkable woman named Joan. She was already elderly by the time I met her, but Joan led such a fascinating life that I never saw her as anything but young. For example, Joan dashed around on a motorcycle when she was in her younger years at a time when women were not usually on such vehicles. She traveled to what seemed like exotic places and loved life, living it to the full. I am not one who usually classifies people this way, but Joan had to be one of the "coolest" people I ever met. Nothing seemed to be impossible to Joan. She possessed an adventurer's heart for as long as she lived. Convention did not make a difference to her; she did what her heart led her to do. But the truth of her heart was that it was given totally to Christ. Joan went to Mass every day and was a very devout Catholic. Joan was very humble; she loved God with everything in her, and it was the Lord alone whom she served. She was very giving, and by the time I met her, she spent many hours praying for others.
The connection here is that Joan was cured of a life threatening illness when she was a very young child due to St. Frances Xavier Cabrini's intercession. When Joan was only two or three years of age she suffered kidney failure due to an illness. Little Joan was dying and the doctors told her parents there was no hope. Some sisters from the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart brought Mother Cabrini's crucifix, which was worn during her life on her habit, to Joan's parents and let them have it overnight. They placed the crucifix on Joan's body and prayed for the intercession of Mother Cabrini in healing their daughter. The next morning not only was Joan still alive, but when the doctors examined her later she was found to be totally healed. Joan lived into her early 90's, and while in her older age she had other health issues, her kidneys were never one of them! I loved Joan dearly and always have hoped that I could live life with the enthusiasm and gratitude with which she lived each and every day, which no doubt came from receiving such a great gift as the healing she experienced as a small child.
When I was a young adult, Joan brought us that crucifix, which had been given her by the sisters after her miraculous healing, so we could pray with it. We had it for one day, keeping it overnight. I remember praying with it and feeling a closeness to Mother Cabrini. I was not expecting any miracles, but it made me realize that all it takes is the openness of faith to recognize when we are in the presence of something that conveys holiness. The cross was not a good luck charm and had no power of its own. But it was the connection to this holy woman and the belief that she could intercede through her prayer for anyone who asks which was important. She has no power of her own either. The power is the power of God, who hears the cries of the poor and the prayers of His faithful servants. Any one of us can intercede for someone who is in need; one need not be a canonized saint to pray! The Scriptures and our faith teach us that we pray for the dead and we can also pray to them, asking for their intercession. And of course we ask the living to pray for our needs. Most of us do this quite often when we ask a friend to pray for us, or when we pray for the needs of our church and our world when we are at worship in our faith communities. Our world needs our intercessory prayer very greatly. Of this I am sure!
Mother Cabrini is important not simply because of miraculous experiences such as the one I have mentioned. She is important because she teaches us about the great courage it took first to found a congregation and then to leave her homeland and cross the ocean at the cost of great discomfort and danger. She teaches us about the courage and fortitude it took to minister to the poor immigrants who had next to nothing and had great needs in what for them was still a foreign land. She had to raise money, get the right builders, and staff the hospitals, orphanages, and schools with sisters. She traveled tirelessly all over the country establishing these institutions in other cities because she knew the One whom she served. She knew what He had called her and gifted her to do. She had many obstacles that had to be overcome, but she did not let anything stand in her way. She was a woman of prayer and of great love for those who were seeking to find a way out of poverty. I think she must have been the inspiration for my friend Joan who seemed to have many of the qualities that Mother Cabrini possessed, even though Joan was married with children and not a vowed religious.
Mother Cabrini should inspire us to prayer and the action born of prayer also. We do not have to go to exotic lands and dash around on motorcycles, but we can open our hearts to the poor in our own towns and cities. There are so many people suffering from the effects of Hurricane Sandy on the east coast; there are many people suffering from unemployment or under employment; there are many people suffering from illness or loneliness due to being home-bound; there are many people who are struggling to feed families; there are many homeless and many veterans who were wounded visibly or invisibly who are struggling to integrate into life back at home; there are needs all around us to which we can respond. This is what Mother Cabrini inspires and challenges us to do: to hear the call of the suffering and do what we can to alleviate it. Nothing is too small when it is a gesture of love for the poor.
May we be inspired with the courage of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini to reach out to those around us in need. May we be so moved to pray in intercession for the needs of our communities, our nation, and our world. May we be filled with gratitude for the many blessings we have, especially the small ones we often overlook. And may we be filled with love for all our neighbors, stranger and friend alike, just as Christ was during His lifetime and will be evermore. Let us continue to meet in the Heart of our loving Savior. Peace!
The above icon is St. Mother Cabrini, Missionary of the Sacred Heart, by Rev. William Hart McNichols. You can find this and others like it at http://www.standreirublevicons.com.
I mentioned the book seen on the left, Mother of God, Similar to Fire in my last entry. I recommend it highly not only because of my love for icons, but because of the meditations paired with them. The book contains an incredible 50 different icons and images of the Blessed Virgin Mary all painted by Rev. William Hart NcNichols, each one beautifully accompanied by the prayerful reflections of Mirabai Starr. I cannot think of another book with such an exquisite and moving combination! The writing is inspired by grace and so are the icons. I find myself drawn to different icons at different times, depending on my needs, or my moods, or the situation I am praying about. You can find this book at the link above, or click here. It will definitely help with prayer and will move your heart to praise. (Not a bad gift idea, either!)
Once again, I gain nothing from recommending this book (or the icons) except to share the wealth of beauty that is contained in it with others.
Heart Speaks to Heart