Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Thursday of the 32nd Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini
November 13, 2014
Plhm 7-20, Ps 146, Lk 17:20-25
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- The Pharisees in today’s Gospel asked Jesus when the Kingdom of God would come. They were doubtless asking this within messianic expectations, that the kingdom of God would erupt by building the type of momentum to fulfill Jewish hopes in evicting the Romans from Israel and reestablishing the Davidic throne. In the question, they were probably egging Jesus on to see whether he thought he was the Messiah and what his future plans might be. But Jesus, as he is wont to do, transcended the question. He said that the inauguration of the Kingdom wouldn’t be a spectacle to be observed. There won’t be trumpets sounding. There won’t be heralds indicating that the kingdom is “here” or “there.” Rather, Jesus says, “Behold, the Kingdom of God is among you.”
- This means two things. First, that the Kingdom had already come because the King was present. The Kingdom is where the King is and Jesus was already present. Secondly the Kingdom had already come because people had already embraced it, entered it and were living in it because they were living with the King. There’s a couplet in the Our Father in which we pray first “Thy kingdom come!” and then repeat it in other words, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The Kingdom of God is wherever God’s will is done, whenever one begins to live in relationship with God and his kingdom. Jesus reveals to us various other qualities about his kingdom and the conditions for entering it and living in it. He says that the kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are “poor in spirit,” to those who treasure God more than all the treasures of the world. He says that it belongs to those who convert and become like little children, who trust in God and accept it as a gift. He says that the kingdom is like a wedding banquet full of joy and those who live in the kingdom are those who are profoundly and serenely joyful. He says the kingdom grows like a mustard seed or yeast, imperceptible to people on the outside but the growth is real.
- Cardinal Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, said very powerfully back in 2000 in a talk to catechists from around the world, “The kingdom of God … is ‘not a thing.’ The Kingdom of God is God. The Kingdom of God means: God exists. God is alive. God is present and acts in the world, in our – in my life. God is not a faraway ‘ultimate cause,’ God is not the ‘great architect’ of deism, who created the machine of the world and is no longer part of it – on the contrary: God is the most present and decisive reality in each and every act of my life, in each and every moment of history.” The kingdom has come to a person when God is truly God of each and every act of one’s life.
- When we enter into that kingdom, everything changes and all other kingdoms are relativized. We see that in today’s first reading. St. Paul writes to Philemon whom he had evangelized and brought into the Church in Colossae. He had a slave, Onesimus, who had escaped and come to Rome where he encountered St. Paul, whom doubtless he had at least seen in Colossae. He served St. Paul for a time, but Onesimus was a fugitive. St. Paul wanted to restore his standing in a way that would help both Onesimus and Philemon. So he sent him back but with what became the Letter to Philemon. In that letter, St. Paul described how things change when we’re really living in the kingdom. In the Roman empire, Onesimus was simply a slave and because he had escaped Philemon could have him cruelly punished and even executed. But the reality and rules of the kingdom needed to trump Roman law. St. Paul said, “I am sending him, my heart, back to you, … so that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother, beloved especially to me but even more so to you, as a man and in the Lord. … Welcome him as you would me.” In the kingdom, we grasp that there is no longer Jew or Greek, no longer free or slave, but we’re all beloved sons and daughters of God and therefore brothers and sisters of each other. St. Paul was confident that Philemon would live by the values of the kingdom and the fact that we have the letter today is clearly a sign that he did. In a similar way, living in the Kingdom needs to change the way we interact, needs to change all our human interactions. In the kingdom, we recognize that the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the ill, and the imprisoned need to be treated with the love with which we would treat Christ. We recognize that even notorious sinners are beloved by God who died for them and therefore must have the door of conversion opened to them. We recognize that those whom the world considers nobodies are often given special missions to reduce to humility those who think they’re somebodies. Today’s Gospel is an occasion for us to ask whether we’re really living in that kingdom, whether God is the “most present and decisive reality in each and every act of my life.”
- Today we celebrate the feast of someone for whom the Kingdom was the most defining reality of her life, someone whose joy for the kingdom led her to give her life to try to make that kingdom come in the lives of so many all around the world. Born in 1850 near the Italian city of Lodi, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini had a hunger for the kingdom from her earliest days 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 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. Ten of the 12 priests working among them had been kicked out of their Italian dioceses for problems. 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 — 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 Kingdom 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 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 spread the kingdom, to help others make God the most present and decisive reality in their life, to help them embrace Christ the King, enter his Kingdom and live with him in that kingdom. She demonstrates for her fellow American citizens how to be at the same time and more profoundly true citizens of heaven (Phil 3:20), living in the Kingdom and seeking to imbue the United States more and more with the values of the Kingdom.
- The Kingdom of God is God and one of the most important ways we seek to live in the Kingdom is to prioritize the King. When we come to receive Holy Communion, we allow Christ the Kingdom to establish his throne within us, so that the Kingdom of God may truly be within us. The Kingdom, as Jesus says, is not something that will be announced by pointing here and there, but for us as Christians is something that we are called to bear within. Through the intercession of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, we ask the Lord Jesus for the grace that as we receive him within we may not do so routinely, but in such a way that we may make him the “most present and decisive reality in our life,” as we seek to spread his kingdom and do his will just as St. Frances Xavier Cabrini did both on earth as she continues to do in heaven.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 phlm 7-20
I have experienced much joy and encouragement from your love,
because the hearts of the holy ones
have been refreshed by you, brother.
Therefore, although I have the full right in Christ
to order you to do what is proper,
I rather urge you out of love,
being as I am, Paul, an old man,
and now also a prisoner for Christ Jesus.
I urge you on behalf of my child Onesimus,
whose father I have become in my imprisonment,
who was once useless to you but is now useful to both you and me.
I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you.
I should have liked to retain him for myself,
so that he might serve me on your behalf
in my imprisonment for the Gospel,
but I did not want to do anything without your consent,
so that the good you do might not be forced but voluntary.
Perhaps this is why he was away from you for a while,
that you might have him back forever,
no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother,
beloved especially to me, but even more so to you,
as a man and in the Lord.
So if you regard me as a partner, welcome him as you would me.
And if he has done you any injustice
or owes you anything, charge it to me.
I, Paul, write this in my own hand: I will pay.
May I not tell you that you owe me your very self.
Yes, brother, may I profit from you in the Lord.
Refresh my heart in Christ.
Responsorial Psalm ps 146:7, 8-9a, 9bc-10
The LORD secures justice for the oppressed,
gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets captives free.
R. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob.
The LORD gives sight to the blind.
The LORD raises up those who were bowed down;
the LORD loves the just.
The LORD protects strangers.
R. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob.
The fatherless and the widow he sustains,
but the way of the wicked he thwarts.
The LORD shall reign forever;
your God, O Zion, through all generations. Alleluia.
R. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob.
Gospel lk 17:20-25
Jesus said in reply,
“The coming of the Kingdom of God cannot be observed,
and no one will announce, ‘Look, here it is,’ or, ‘There it is.’
For behold, the Kingdom of God is among you.”Then he said to his disciples,
“The days will come when you will long to see
one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it.
There will be those who will say to you,
‘Look, there he is,’ or ‘Look, here he is.’
Do not go off, do not run in pursuit.
For just as lightning flashes
and lights up the sky from one side to the other,
so will the Son of Man be in his day.
But first he must suffer greatly and be rejected by this generation.”