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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Word to Your Mother... Mother C.

Word to your Mother… Mother C.
(And Shout-out to Arleen, who went to a Cabrinian parish in FL.) :)

Her feast day was a few weeks ago, on November 13th, so this post is belated (Sorry, Matt!), but here are my thoughts on why I love Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini: Reader’s Digest Version. (Because there’s so much I’d like to write, but this will have to do for now.)

Ready? Go.

I was first introduced to this woman when I was little. As an immigrant by definition (although my experience is atypical), I knew that she was in some way connected to me, but at that point, all I really knew about her was that she worked with Italian immigrants in New York City and is the patron of immigrants. From that basic knowledge came a yearning to know more about her and her mission and I’ve come to love and admire this woman. She herself was such a part of my discernment process to work with her sisters (the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, MSC). The more I learn about her and her unabashed faith that she was the beloved of God, the more I am inspired to be the person who I was created to be. Especially with all the politics surrounding immigration and migration in the United States today, Mother Cabrini’s audacious boldness to go where needed, even if we may feel unqualified for the job, can still speak to us.

So, back when she was growing up in the 1850’s in Italy, her dream was to go as a missionary to China. After going to school for teaching in Italy, working as a teacher, and founding her order, she appealed to Pope Leo XII to start her mission in China. However, as the story goes, he simply told her, “Not to the East, but to the West,” and told her of the need to help Italian immigrants in New York, who were being discriminated against in terms of work, housing, education, and healthcare.

I tell this story to my students at the high school all the time, and one first year on retreat said it best. Before I give them the punch line of “Not to the East, but to the West" and explain what happened, I ask them to think of a dream that they have and to really imagine that goal. Then, they are told that Cabrini’s dream was exchanged for a different one*, how do you think that may feel? This student, without missing a beat, blurted out, “Aw, MISS! I’d be mad tight!” (Translation: She’d be really angry.)

But MC went on to New York, boarding that steamer and traveling west, despite an intense phobia of water (which was a result of a near-drowning as a child). She battled this fear when she made 27 trans-Atlantic journeys for her missions, and was even scheduled to be on the Titanic (which she missed because her connecting train was late). Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself…. So this readiness and willingness to go wherever called, or Disponibilitá, is a value that is very close to the hearts of missionaries, and one that MC instilled in her sisters.

However, MC was human— she was only 4’11”, had incredibly frail health, and was fearful (and not only of water). There were even times when she was not particularly open or ready to take on a new mission. The opportunity came to start a hospital in NYC when Archbishop Corrigan begged her to start one to serve the underserved and needy Italian immigrants. But since she was trained as a teacher back in Italy, she didn’t jump at the chance. Like many of us when we are faced with a new prospect that we know nothing about, MC turned away because she felt unqualified. That night, she had a dream that she was walking down a hospital ward, and she saw a woman in blue tending to the sick. Approaching the woman, she realized it was Mary, Jesus’ mother. Her dream self asked Mary why she was changing the bandages of the sick. Mary turned, looked directly into her eyes, and said, “Because you won’t.” Let’s just say that MC worked quickly after that to establish Columbus Hospital (that unfortunately was just closed by the government last year—their reasoning was that there were too many hospitals in the same area… and how can a small Catholic hospital compete with NYU’s?). Soon after, she founded more hospitals in Chicago and Seattle.

One distinguishing mark that I’ve always thought was interesting and telling about those in the Cabrini family is that it is RARE to hear people refer to her as “SAINT Francis Xavier Cabrini.” Although she is the first American-citizen saint, she is most often referred to as simply “Mother Cabrini.” Makes her more personable, I feel. J Furthermore, I’ve noticed that people talk of her in the present tense, as if she is still here among us. Some people have told me it’s creepy, but I’m all over it!

Along with that, it’s amazing to me how the students at her high school (the one in NYC, there’s another in New Orleans) adopt her as their mother, too. I mentioned one of my students earlier, but no combination of words could really express how much I love them. Most of the students at Mother Cabrini High School (which is attached to the Shrine, where MC is buried) are from the Dominican Republic, so if they are not immigrants themselves, their parents are. Most live in the Bronx, so they are die-hard Yankees fans. These students have such pride in MC, and go all-out on her feast day with liturgies and memorize dramatizations from her letters. It’s considered a real honor to “be” Mother Cabrini in these plays.
*Another note on Disponibilitá and prayer/ MC's "exchange" of dream: There's a lot of this student in many of us: We want what we want when we want it, so we pray about it. But I heard one of my community members share recently that God answers prayers in three ways: Yes, Not now, or I have something better planned. For MC, it was a mixture of the second and third. Cabrini Sisters have had missions in China, even though Cabrini never set foot on Chinese soil, and now that this year's 3 missioners all have some type of Asian blood in us (2 Filipina, 1 Chinese), we like to joke that we brought Asia to Cabrini. :) Also, in terms of "I have something better planned," MC herself quoted St. Paul's message of Ephesians 3 in saying that the adventure of her life was "more than I could have ever asked for or imagined."

I feel that MC’s missions were deeply grounded in this belief that she was the beloved of God and that she had the honor of serving God’s beloved. From that core belief came her call to establish schools, orphanages, hospitals and social service programs that served women, children, and immigrants. So the last shout-out goes to my fave Dutchman, Henri Nouwen, who loved to talk about the meaning of claiming the beloved-ness within ourselves: Check out his talk on “Being the Beloved” in the 8-part series on YouTube:
MC, Pray for us! :)

Peace in (never out!)

To learn more about Mother C:

1 comment:

Matthew said...

Man, those Nouwen videos are GREAT!
Thanks for the link and for sharing your love for Mother Cabrini.