How God Seeks to Increase our Faith, 32nd Monday (I), November 13, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Monday of the 32nd Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Memorial of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini (100th year of her death)
November 13, 2017
Wis 1:1-7, Ps 139, Lk 17:1-6

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click here: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today we encounter one of the most important of all aspirations we should be praying constantly: audage nobis fidem! — “Lord, increase our faith!” And in the Gospel, there is a clear context for why we need faith. The apostles ask for it immediately after Jesus talks about the evil of scandal and the need constantly to ask for forgiveness of God and others and to give it when someone asks it of us. One of the most important parts of our life of faith is our recognition that just as God never tires of forgiving us, we should never tire of asking him for forgiveness and of sharing a similar mercy with others. This is hard. It requires great humility to ask for forgiveness. It requires greater humility to give it. Jesus is calling us not merely to give people a second chance, but an eighth chance. And in another part of the Gospel he says, depending upon the translation, that we need to give a 78th chance or a 491st chance. In order to be capable of doing this, we need his help, we need the strength that comes from faith. That’s why we humbly beg, “Increase our faith!”
  • There’s also another aspect to today’s Gospel for which we need increase faith. Jesus describes someone who gives scandal to another and says not that we should forgive 7 times a day but that he should have a millstone tied around his neck and thrown into the sea. A few years ago Pope Francis said in a homily on this passage that there is a big difference between a “sinner” who needs to be forgiven and a “scandalizer.” A sinner repents and comes to say to God and others from the heart, “I’m sorry.” A scandalizer doesn’t repent. He just goes on with the sinful behavior, settling an example of sin for others. Jesus says, “Woe” to him. Pope Francis said that the one who causes scandal has become corrupt. He’s no longer sinning because of weakness, but because of choice. He no longer is humbly coming to ask for mercy, because he has begun to think that his sinful conduct doesn’t need to be forgiven, that it’s precisely the right thing to do. A scandalizer sins proudly, with an air of self-righteous defiance of God and others. We see it, for example, in those politicians who support abortion and claim that they’re just following their conscience. We see it in those people who proudly make excuses for not coming to Church or to Confession. We see it in those people who relate to illegal immigrants with hearts full of stone, calling for policies in their regard that they would never ask for if they were dealing with people whom they looked at as brothers and sisters whom they should love. To this circumstance as well, the disciples cry out, “Lord, increase our faith!,” because we, too, can be in a situation of setting scandal for others — not just setting bad example by weakness, but setting it with supposed justification. As we ask the Lord for an increase in faith, we are asking him for the light that comes from faith so that we may examine our consciences appropriately, see our spiritual blind spots and look at our behavior from God’s perspective, and come, even seven times a day, to say, “Lord, have mercy on me!”
  • In the first reading from the Book of Wisdom, God describes for us the life of faith that he intends. He calls us to “love justice,” “think of the Lord in goodness,” “seek the Lord in integrity of heart.” These are all expressions that say that our hearts, our minds, and our actions should be aligned with God and his holy wisdom. The greatest criticisms Jesus gave in the Gospel were for those “hypocrites” who said one thing, but did another, who on the outside were beautiful in terms of their religious practice but who on the inside were sepulchers full of dead men’s bones. They were people, to use the words of the Book of Wisdom, whose souls plotted evil, regardless of what their lips claimed. They caused great scandal, leading others to a totally false way of relating to God and others. Jesus calls us, rather, to genuine integrity. That’s what the life of faith is all about. As we call out today for an increase in faith, we similarly beg, “Guide me, Lord, along the everlasting way!” The everlasting way is the way of faith and the exact opposite of the way of scandal! We remember that he probes us, he understands our thoughts from afar, he scrutinizes us and is familiar with all our ways. We recognize that he is everywhere around us, wants to guide us, and hold us fast with his right hand. For many of us, the Lord has a mustard seed’s portion of our life. He wants our union with him to grow into such a large plant that many others can rest in the our limbs.
  • Someone who journeyed along the everlasting way, how constantly grew in faith and sought to help others grow in faith, is the saint we celebrate today: St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, who lived and worked for part of her life here in New York and is buried here in New York. Today we mark her feast with particular joy because it’s the centenary of her death, which took place December 22, 1917 in Chicago. She was born in 1850 near the Italian city of Lodi. From her earliest days, she had a deep love for the faith and a deep desire to spread it as a missionary. The youngest of 13 children, her family would read each night from the Annals of the Propagation of the Faith and her young heart became inflamed. She used to make paper boats, fill them with flowers symbolizing the flourishing life of missionaries, and float them down the river, hoping that they would reach China. After the death of both of her parents when she was 18, she applied to enter various religious communities —including those who ran the school from which she graduated — but was refused because her health was poor. Eventually her parish priest, who appreciated her piety, zeal and organizational ability, asked her to help save a mismanaged orphanage. She assented and did all she could, forming around her a community of women to assist in the work of loving these orphans into the kingdom, but after three years of hard work the charitable institution was not able to be resuscitated. But it was through that grain of wheat’s falling to the ground that Frances’ life-long aspiration was able to be fulfilled. Her bishop summoned her and said, “I know you want to be a missionary. Now is the time. I don’t know any institute of missionary sisters, so found one yourself.” And with the group of seven women who had collaborated with her at the orphanage, she did: the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, erected to seek the Christian education of girls. It was suggested to her by many that her new community should head to the United States to work among the Italian immigrants. In the 1880s, there were 50,000 Italians in New York City alone, but fewer the 1,200 had ever been to a Mass or learned the elements of Christian doctrine. They didn’t know how to make the Sign of the Cross, not to mention how to go from created things to the Kingdom. Ten of the 12 priests working among them had been kicked out of their Italian dioceses for problems; they had similar issues in seeing God even among the sacred! Archbishop Corrigan of New York wrote her a formal letter asking her assistance, but at first she wouldn’t hear of it. She had set her heart on evangelizing China. But one night she had a powerful dream that induced her to consult Pope Leo XIII himself. The holy and wise pontiff, after hearing of the dream and her discernment, told her, in words that would change the history of Catholicism in America, “Not to the East, but to the West.” With six of her sisters, she set off for New York in 1889.
  • When they arrived, a poor and humbling reception — a reception unfit for the kingdom, because others hadn’t spotted God in her as they should have — awaited them. They had been asked initially to organize an Italian orphanage and elementary school, but during their voyage, the benefactress underwriting the institutions had reneged on her commitments. There was no place for them or the orphans to live and no building for them to hold classes. Archbishop Corrigan told Mother Cabrini it was probably best for her and her sisters to return to Italy. Despite her disappointment at the chaos she found in New York, this tiny, strongly-accented Lombardian replied with a determination that ever after impressed the prelate, “No. The pope sent me here, and here I must stay.” From that point forward, Mother took some matters into her own hands. She went to see the benefactress to persuade her to change her mind, brought about her reconciliation with the archbishop, founded a house for the sisters and successfully began the orphanage. She began to receive vocations to her community almost immediately and that allowed her community’s apostolate to spread far and wide. She soon opened up a hospital in New York and several institutions in New Orleans, where the integration of Italians was going particularly poorly. Requests for her help were coming from all over the world, and she traveled with sisters to open up homes, schools, hospitals and orphanages in Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, France and England. She also founded institutions in most American cities where there was a heavy concentration of Italian immigrants. By 1907, when the constitutions of her community were finally approved, there were more than a thousand sisters working in over fifty institutions in eight countries. She died ten years later at the age of 67 while visiting her community in Chicago and in 1946, she became the first American citizen to be canonized a saint. Her future canonization had been foretold by Pope Leo XIII fifty years before when, asked about her, he replied, “Mother Cabrini is a woman of fine understanding and great holiness. She is a saint.” Mother Cabrini’s zeal for the faith and her sanctity were seen in her willingness to put out into the deep waters and lower her nets for a catch for Christ all over the globe. As a little girl, she had fallen into a river and almost drowned. Despite her fear of water from that point forward, she spent much of her adult life aboard ship sailing across rough seas — 30 cross Atlantic trips — or over rivers to open schools for the fish she and her community would catch in those nets. She models for us the courage and creativity needed to see and spread the faith and to help others along the everlasting way.
  • This year Pope Francis has spoken about her faith twice as a means by which to increase our own. In January, he said at the end of his Angelus, “I encourage you to carry on in this work, always recalling the example of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, Patron Saint of migrants, the centenary of whose death is this year. This courageous Sister dedicated her life to bringing the love of Christ to those who were far from their homelands and families. May her witness help us!” In August, he wrote a letter to her spiritual daughters in which he spoke at length about her faith. “The centennial of the death of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini,” he said, “is one of the main events marking the journey of the Church both because of the greatness of the figure commemorated and because of the contemporary nature of her charism and message, not just for the ecclesial community but for society as a whole. … Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini accepted a missionary vocation from God, which in those days could have been considered unusual – to train and send consecrated women all over the world setting no limits to missionary horizons, not just as auxiliaries of religious institutes or male missionaries but with their own charism as consecrated women religious. At the same time, these women were willing to collaborate fully and totally with both local churches and with various congregations dedicated to proclaim the gospel ad gentes. This clearly feminine, missionary consecration born in Mother Cabrini came from the total and loving union with the Heart of Christ whose compassion surpasses all limits. She lived and instilled in her sisters the impelling desire of reparation for the ills of the world and to overcome separation from Christ, an impetus that sustained the missionary in tasks beyond human strength. She took St. Paul’s claim, ‘I can do all things in Him Who strengthens me’ (Philippians 4:13) as her motto. This motto was borne out by the surprising number and by the importance of the works that she undertook during her lifetime in Italy, France, Spain, Great Britain, the United States, Central America, Argentina and Brazil. But her love for the Heart of Christ translated into the evangelical fervor that shines out in the care Frances Xavier Cabrini gave to those who today are considered emarginated in society. One such example was when Mother Cabrini opened a house in the most infamous Italian quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana, just one year after the cruel lynching of Italians accused of having murdered the city’s Chief of Police. The charism of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini enlivened a total and intelligent dedication to the immigrants who left Italy for the New World. This choice was the fruit of her sincere and loving obedience to the Holy Father, Pope Leo XIII, and it extended to other fields of missionary work as well. Today’s epoch-making population movements with the inevitable tensions they create make Mother Cabrini a very contemporary figure. In particular, the Saint focused attention on situations of greatest poverty and fragility such as the needs of orphans and miners. She combined that with a lucid cultural sensitivity by continuous dialog with local authorities. She undertook to conserve and revive in the immigrants the Christian tradition they knew in their country of origin, a religiosity which was sometimes superficial and often imbued with authentic popular mysticism. At the same time, she offered ways to fully integrate with the culture of the new countries so that the Missionary Mothers accompanied the Italian immigrants in becoming fully Italian and fully American. The human and Christian vitality of the immigrants thus became a gift to the churches and to the peoples who welcomed them. The great migrations underway today need guidance filled with love and intelligence similar to what characterizes the Cabrinian charism. In this way the meeting of peoples will enrich all and generate union and dialog, not separation and hostility. Nor must we forget that the missionary sensitivity of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini was not sectorial but universal; that is the vocation of every Christian and of every community of the disciples of Jesus. The present centennial celebration is an invitation to take a new look at all this with intimate and joyful gratitude to God.”
  • “Lord, increase our faith!” The greatest way to grow in faith is through the Mass. In the Opening Prayer of the Mass, we prayed that through St. Frances Cabrini’s intercession, we might see Christ in our brothers and sisters. As we behold the Lamb of God here at Mass, we ask him to help us to recognize him more easily in others, so that together with them, we may journey along the everlasting way, setting good example, and forgiving as God forgives. What the Lord does here is a greater miracle than moving a mulberry tree into the sea!

 

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
WIS 1:1-7

Love justice, you who judge the earth;
think of the Lord in goodness,
and seek him in integrity of heart;
Because he is found by those who test him not,
and he manifests himself to those who do not disbelieve him.
For perverse counsels separate a man from God,
and his power, put to the proof, rebukes the foolhardy;
Because into a soul that plots evil, wisdom enters not,
nor dwells she in a body under debt of sin.
For the holy Spirit of discipline flees deceit
and withdraws from senseless counsels;
and when injustice occurs it is rebuked.
For wisdom is a kindly spirit,
yet she acquits not the blasphemer of his guilty lips;
Because God is the witness of his inmost self
and the sure observer of his heart
and the listener to his tongue.
For the Spirit of the Lord fills the world,
is all-embracing, and knows what man says.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 139:1B-3, 4-6, 7-8, 9-10

R. (24b) Guide me, Lord, along the everlasting way.
O LORD, you have probed me and you know me;
you know when I sit and when I stand;
you understand my thoughts from afar.
My journeys and my rest you scrutinize,
with all my ways you are familiar.
R. Guide me, Lord, along the everlasting way.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O LORD, you know the whole of it.
Behind me and before, you hem me in
and rest your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
too lofty for me to attain.
R. Guide me, Lord, along the everlasting way.
Where can I go from your spirit?
From your presence where can I flee?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I sink to the nether world, you are present there.
R. Guide me, Lord, along the everlasting way.
If I take the wings of the dawn,
if I settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
Even there your hand shall guide me,
and your right hand hold me fast.
R. Guide me, Lord, along the everlasting way.

Gospel
LK 17:1-6

Jesus said to his disciples,
“Things that cause sin will inevitably occur,
but woe to the one through whom they occur.
It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck
and he be thrown into the sea
than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.
Be on your guard!
If your brother sins, rebuke him;
and if he repents, forgive him.
And if he wrongs you seven times in one day
and returns to you seven times saying, ‘I am sorry,’
you should forgive him.”
And the Apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.”
The Lord replied, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed,
you would say to this mulberry tree,
‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”