At this point in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 14: 25-33), Jesus is steadily making his way to Jerusalem, where he knows that he can expect nothing but betrayal, condemnation, humiliation, torture, and death, but then; on the third day he will rise.
He also knows that everyone who wants to be his follower, everyone who wants that incomparable meaning and deep joy of his Kingdom, will have to follow the same path, he tells us, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.“ Every Christian has to die with Christ in order to rise with him.
Death in this sense will not necessarily take the form of physical crucifixion, although for many of his closest followers (the martyrs) it has. But whatever form the cross does take in a particular Christian’s life, it will always require a painful renunciation of something dear to us. Christ’s exhortation to hate father and mother and brothers and sisters simply points out that a true Christian can prefer nothing to Christ. These demands may sound harsh, but they flow from Christ’s love. He doesn’t want us to have any illusions. Christ reminds us from the very start that following him will be demanding, because he knows that real friendship is always built on the truth.
St. Frances Xavier Cabrini was the first United States citizen to become a canonized saint. Her deep trust in God gave her the strength to carry her cross and to do great good for our country. She was born in 1850 in Lombardy Italy. She was the youngest of 13 children. Mother Cabrini was born 2 months premature, and for the rest of her life she lived in a fragile and delicate state of health. Mother Cabrini received her education from the Daughters of the Sacred Heart. And after graduation she applied to join the order, but they wouldn’t take her because of her poor health. So she got a job teaching at an orphanage and there she formed her own community. When the orphanage closed a few years later her bishop asked her and her order to care for poor children in schools and hospitals. In her first five years she founded 7 homes and a school. At this point she asked the pope to let her order go to China. He said, “No, not to the East but to the West.” And so she ended up going to New York City to serve the growing Italian immigrant community. When she got there the house that was promised to her was gone, the Bishop told her to go away, go back to Italy. She didn’t, she found other housing and began her work. Frances was known for being as resourceful as she was prayerful. She was always able to find people to donate their money, time, and support for her institutions.
She encountered many disappointments and hardships and crosses but they never kept her down. Filled with a deep trust in God and gifted with an administrative ability, over 35 years, Frances Cabrini founded 67 institutions, including orphanages, schools, and hospitals, always dedicated to caring for the poor, uneducated, sick, and abandoned, and especially the Italian immigrant.
Mother Cabrini died on December 22, 1917 at the age of 67. She was canonized in in 1946. In her papers we have this letter she wrote to one of her nuns, it’s a letter to encourage the sister in bearing the cross.
“Why, dearest daughter, do you waste time in sadness when time is so precious for the salvation of poor sinners? Get rid of your melancholy immediately. Don’t think any more about yourself. Do not indulge in so many useless and dangerous reflections. Look ahead always without ever looking back. Keep your gaze fixed on the summit of perfection where Christ awaits you. He wants you despoiled of all things, intent only on procuring his greater glory during this brief time of your existence. For the short time that remains, is it worthwhile to lose yourself in melancholy like those who think only of themselves, as if all were to end with this life? Ah no. We must not even desire that our pilgrimage on this earth be a short one because we do not yet know the infinite value of every minute employed for the glory of God. Carry your cross then but carry it joyfully, my daughter. Jesus loves you very much. And in return for such love, don’t lose yourself in so many desires, but accept daily with serenity whatever comes your way. May the heart of Jesus bless you and make you holy, not as you want but as he desires.”
Some of us may already know what our cross is. Maybe it is weighing heavily on our shoulders even right now. If that’s the case, then we can be sure that God is speaking directly to us today. He is reminding us that we aren’t carrying that cross alone. Every one of our crosses is a small piece of his cross, a small part for each one of us to play in the great drama of redeeming the world.
He can remind us of that, as he does today, but that reminder in itself doesn’t lessen our load. For that to happen, we pay attention to the reminder. We have to consciously, deep in our hearts, unite our crosses to Christ’s, to exercise that essential virtue of hope. Hope is the assurance of things unseen. Hope is the assurance, the deep conviction, that Jesus Christ shares our cross and that blessings and graces will surely follow.
This week, when we feel the weight of the cross digging into our shoulders, let’s lift our gaze to heaven, confident that whatever we suffer here on earth in union with our Lord is a storing up of treasure in Heaven, that will gain eternal reward for us and for those we love. And if even that thought is not enough to give us strength, if even today’s reminder doesn’t keep our hope alive, we can always come and kneel before the Tabernacle, where Jesus is truly with us in the sacrament of the Eucharist. He has stayed here precisely because he knew that there would be times when the troubles of life put our faith and hope to the test. When they do, he will be right here, ready to strengthen us, if only we will come to be strengthened.
In the words of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, “Jesus loves you very much. And in return for such love, don’t lose yourself in so many desires, but accept daily with serenity whatever comes your way. May the heart of Jesus bless you and make you holy not as you want but as he desires.”
Peace and all good,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley