Fr. Roger J. Landry
Sacred Heart Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Friday of the 32nd Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Feast of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini
November 13, 2015
Wis 13:1-9, Ps 19, Lk 17:26-37
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Yesterday we pondered how the Kingdom of God is among and within us because the King is here. It’s not supposed to be something that’s sought all over the place but in ordinary circumstances.
- In today’s first reading we see that everything is meant to be a reminder of the King and the Kingdom. The Book of Wisdom tells us that from the “good things seen” we’re supposed to succeed in “knowing him who is.” From studying the “works of the artisan,” we’re supposed to discern the Creator. Everything — fire, wind, air, stars, water, planets — are supposed to remind us of the one who created them, “for from they greatness and the beauty of created things their original author, by analogy, is seen.” The problem is that often we lose the connection between sign and signified, we stop at the work and fail to get to the Creator. We “search busily among his works but are distracted by what [we] see because the things seen are fair.” This was the experience of St. Augustine, when he said, “In our unloveliness, we stopped at the loveliness of your creatures.” We sometimes fail to see the created world as the footprints of God, following them back to the Creator. We fail to see God’s fingerprints all over creation. That’s why it’s key for us to reconnect everything in the kingdom to its King.
- This is what the Gospel is all about, the contrast between living in the kingdom and being oblivious to it. Jesus contrasts Noah with those who perished in the flood, and Lot and those who perished in Sodom. Some were attentive to God through the signs of Creation and some were not. Jesus encourages us to be similarly on guard. He says that when he comes we shouldn’t head down into the house to get possessions or come in from the field, because we shouldn’t leave the Creator for creatures. Two will be sleeping, two will be cooking, but only one will be taken. This isn’t to be misinterpreted as if God’s going to do an arbitrary 50/50 split. Rather, it’s saying some in the very same circumstances will be ready because they’re connecting sleeping or cooking to God, and others won’t be ready, because all they think they’re doing is sleeping or cooking rather than doing it in communion with God, in the kingdom. When they ask where this will take place, Jesus uses an aphorism, “Where the body is, there also the vultures will gather,” to indicate that just as vultures find a corpse, so we should find the kingdom!
- Someone with this type of holy awareness was St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, who worked here in New York and is buried here in New York. 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. 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 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 see and 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 greatest way we have to acquire this capacity to view the whole world as sacramental, as signs leading us to the Signified, is here at Mass. Jesus comes and we should leave the rooftop and the field tot come. The more we grasp that this is the most important thing that ever happens in the world on a given day, and the more we keep communion and awareness of him in the day, the easier it will be go from created things to him always. 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. And this is where it starts. Today we pray that we may respond to this gift as she did, begin living and showing others to live with this way of sacramental seeing!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 WIS 13:1-9
and who from the good things seen did not succeed in knowing him who is,
and from studying the works did not discern the artisan;
But either fire, or wind, or the swift air,
or the circuit of the stars, or the mighty water,
or the luminaries of heaven, the governors of the world, they considered gods.
Now if out of joy in their beauty they thought them gods,
let them know how far more excellent is the Lord than these;
for the original source of beauty fashioned them.
Or if they were struck by their might and energy,
let them from these things realize how much more powerful is he who made them.
For from the greatness and the beauty of created things
their original author, by analogy, is seen.
But yet, for these the blame is less;
For they indeed have gone astray perhaps,
though they seek God and wish to find him.
For they search busily among his works,
but are distracted by what they see, because the things seen are fair.
But again, not even these are pardonable.
For if they so far succeeded in knowledge
that they could speculate about the world,
how did they not more quickly find its Lord?
Responsorial Psalm PS 19:2-3, 4-5AB
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day pours out the word to day,
and night to night imparts knowledge.
R. The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
Not a word nor a discourse
whose voice is not heard;
Through all the earth their voice resounds,
and to the ends of the world, their message.
R. The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
Alleluia LK 21:28
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Stand erect and raise your heads
because your redemption is at hand.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel LK 17:26-37
“As it was in the days of Noah,
so it will be in the days of the Son of Man;
they were eating and drinking,
marrying and giving in marriage up to the day
that Noah entered the ark,
and the flood came and destroyed them all.
Similarly, as it was in the days of Lot:
they were eating, drinking, buying,
selling, planting, building;
on the day when Lot left Sodom,
fire and brimstone rained from the sky to destroy them all.
So it will be on the day the Son of Man is revealed.
On that day, someone who is on the housetop
and whose belongings are in the house
must not go down to get them,
and likewise one in the field
must not return to what was left behind.
Remember the wife of Lot.
Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it,
but whoever loses it will save it.
I tell you, on that night there will be two people in one bed;
one will be taken, the other left.
And there will be two women grinding meal together;
one will be taken, the other left.”
They said to him in reply, “Where, Lord?”
He said to them, “Where the body is,
there also the vultures will gather.”