Feast Day: November 13th
This month our parish will continue to engage the third part of the catechism, on our moral life following Christ, but specifically wrestling with the overlapping topics of our freedom, discernment, conscience, and choice – to get to the heart of the matter: we’re delving into our ability to do what is good, but propensity to do what is not good. As Bishop Paprocki said when he first came to our diocese, the only thing standing between us and a fervent, fruitful, faithful practice of our faith is sin and the great task of living a moral life is rooting out sin and living according to God and relying upon His grace.
I think we’ve all heard that sort of thing before though! How do we take the next step? Well, this week we are given two specific aids in that journey: firstly, this first week of November, the Church every year celebrates “Vocation Awareness Week” inviting all of us to approach anew the specific call God has offered to each of us. Plus, this year these days include the feast we celebrate on November 13th of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini. Famously the first American citizen to be canonized, her story offers a tremendous example to all of us someone seeking to follow God’s call, that is, to place our freedom in the Lord’s hands and discover that we are more free, and more good, and more happy, in doing so.
For Frances, born in Italy in 1850, the first seeds of her vocation were planted at home after Agustino, her father, had finished planting seeds on their family farm. He would tell the stories of the Church’s missionaries to his children, firing their imagination with the tales of St. Paul and St. Boniface and St. Francis Xavier. Little Frances would make paper boats as she played behind her home, sending them down the nearby canal hoping they would make there way to India or China as “missionaries”, carrying – in lieu of the Gospel – violet petals she had collected from the nearby flowers. Jesus continued to mold her heart for the work He had in mind for her during her years studying at a school ran by the Daughters of the Sacred Heart. Earning good grades all the way through, when she was old enough it was to this order that she applied, desiring to spread the faith as one of their sisters. She was rejected.
How easy it would have been for the young woman to give up on God’s plan at that point, or to think He had something else in mind?! Always, there will be uncertainty and setbacks on the road of following Jesus, and always our temptation will be to choose the easier route, the less painful one, the one that doesn’t require failure and risk and trial and trust, but Frances knew she was called and created to be a missionary: her heart was set alight by the idea, and God doesn’t plant dreams in us to watch them wither. Still, it would be a path of pain that Frances walked in the years that followed. She lost both her parents at the age of 20, worked as a substitute teacher for a time, applied again to the sisters (and was again turned down), and then found herself heading up an orphanage at the recommendation of a local priest only to have it abruptly closed several years later.
Dead end for God’s designs? Never! It was at that orphanage, far from home, having lost her parents, and rejected as a religious sister, that Frances was inspired to begin a religious order of her own. They started there in Cadogno, Italy, with several young women joining the fledgling institute, and – now “Mother” – Cabrini showing her still-strong desire to head East by taking as patrons St. Francis de Sales and St. Francis Xavier (Cabrini took his name into her own for her religious name).
But God had different plans. Meeting with Pope Leo XIII, he was supportive of her order, and desire to teach, but redirected her zeal “not to the East, but to the West.” Italians by the millions were settling in New York, Chicago, and elsewhere around the USA and South America. They needed to be sustained in their faith (and in the practical hardships they would meet here!), and that task was the one entrusted to the small group of sisters who had stumbled into teaching behind Mother Cabrini.
I am out of space already before relating the dozens of schools, hospitals, and other institutions this indefatigable sister would found across our country, or the hardships and rejections and setbacks she would find here too, but we have already learned a great lesson from her. The Lord’s call is not evident based on the comfort we find in our lives – often times we are quite uncomfortable in doing His will. Rather, His will is found in constant turning again and again to Him: begging that He would show the way through; asking Him to reveal why He has placed this or that on our heart; discovering the responsibilities, and abilities, that He has already entrusted to us, and learning to live in the freedom of knowing that He has our back, but has also entrusted us with a “talent” of our own which He delights in us learning to carry with Him watching on.
– Fr. Rankin rides his bike over to the diocesan offices regularly to get a bit of exercise and avoid paying for gas when he doesn’t have to. The reason he does not have training wheels to this day is because his dad taught him long ago that sometimes you have to wobble along for a bit to figure out how to balance, and our Heavenly Father often loves us in a similar way. Thanks Dad!