SAFEGUARDING SPIRITUAL VALUES
“Quite truly it has been written of [St Frances Xavier Cabrini] that she…was a modern woman by nature and inclination. She was thoroughly in sympathy with what has become known as ‘the women’s movement,’ provided only that spiritual values were safeguarded…she was no obscurantist, and wasted no time in sighing after the days of her youth and lamenting the degeneracy of the rising generation. Nor did she adopt an attitude of wholesale, unintelligent destructive criticism towards every educational development, or even every Government requirement.
WOMEN IN MODERN LIFE
Realising the increasing part woman was to play in public life, she envisaged her in the world of to-day as the Church herself does…She foresaw the part the cinema was to play in modern education; [regarding the students in her schools] she believed in plenty of healthy exercise and catered for all the sporting and athletic interests of the day. At the same time, her keen sense of the need of home-making in modern society led her to develop the teaching of domestic science along the most up-to-date lines, and also to preserve and encourage the traditional feminine arts and crafts. She rightly objected to the type of woman who, whilst proficient in higher mathematics, cannot use a needle or run her own home intelligently! …
PREVENTING PURE MATERIALISM IN NURSING
Another field of women’s labour with which she was greatly concerned was nursing. As she gained acquaintance with hospital conditions and medical circles in the [United] States, she was sadly impressed by the fact that so many doctors and nurses are free-thinkers. She saw how easily the young nurse, constantly occupied in tending bodily ailments and studying material science, can fall into a pure materialism. Hence she desired to have nurses’ homes attached to her hospitals, and these foundations to be thoroughly efficient and recognised as training centres for the State nursing certificates, so that girls who entered the profession as practising Catholics should not lose fervour and, perhaps, faith during their years of training. She readily admitted non-Catholics who were ready to conform to the regulations and the Cabrini nurses’ homes, as the Cabrini schools, are recognised as some of the best in the States. In the true sense, she was a Christian humanist and humanitarian.
MOTHER FRANCES AS A SUPERIOR
Turning to consider Frances Cabrini as a Superior and a nun… Among her rare personal notes we find this resolution: ‘I will study to maintain the union of holy charity among the Sisters. I will love them with a true mother’s love, yet striving to bear myself as the servant of all…seeing in each one the image of my beloved Bridegroom and of Mary most holy…’ Those who knew declared that she succeeded…
PENITENTIAL PRACTICES – DESTROYING THE IDOL OF SELF-LOVE
She prescribed no special corporal austerities, and rarely allowed any, but she made up for these in other ways. If lacking the ‘classic’ penitential practices, her institute is yet sufficiently severe. She required her religious to ‘mortify themselves a little in everything and destroy the idol of self-love.’ In 1895, she notes that Quito is ‘where Blessed Mariana lived in such austere penance, though this is rather to be admired than imitated.’ (Blessed Mariana Paredes, known as the ‘Lily of Quito’, is patron of that city. Born in 1618, she died in 1645, having lived the life of a religious in her own home, but never joining any congregation. She was beatified in 1854). From Lima, having alluded in a letter to the austerities practised by St Rose, she passes on to write of that saint’s ‘other crucifixions – those of the spirit – which are better; real crucifixions in the strictest sense, which serve so well to purify souls and unite them intimately to their Beloved.’
MORTIFICATION IN DAILY LIFE
She held that the special circumstances of their life provided her religious with mortifications enough, provided that these were rightly used and, it must be added, she ground fine.
NO GRUMBLING OR COMPLAINING
She would not tolerate the slightest grumbling or complaint, or the raising of difficulties over the daily trials of life, be these what they might. A sister who complained of the heat, when travelling in summer, was promptly silenced and reminded that all weather was God’s weather. Another, who asked permission to take a drink outside of meal-time, adding that she was very thirsty, received the reply: ‘Do not speak like that; it is unmortified. Say simply, ‘May I have a drink?’ without adding anything else.’ Yet another, travelling along the Ligurian coast, remarked, as she watched the bathers from the hot, stifling railway carriage, how she would love a plunge. ‘Do not talk like that; it is self-indulgence,’ was the foundress’ reply.
CHEERFULNESS, PATIENCE, SILENCE
Frances Cabrini’s daughters must take in silence, patiently and cheerfully, absolutely what each day might bring forth. ‘Contradictions,’ she once wrote, ‘there is a real, sharp hair-shirt! If you love penance, there is a penance that has made saints and which all can practise, even with the weakest health. It is a hair-shirt that you can wear not for an hour but all day long.’…
‘YOU MUST BE EMPTIED OF SELF’
Loved as she was, she was extremely reserved, and allowed no familiarities. The few who ventured upon such were severely snubbed. She treated everyone alike, showing an equal interest in all, so that it was impossible to say that one was loved more than another… ‘Do you want to love God? You must be emptied of self. You must enlarge your hearts, and that is done only by getting rid of self-love. Our self-will and self-love are what hinders the love of God from entering our souls. Get rid of these, and you will become fervent souls, true missionaries.’
OBEDIENCE DISTINGUISHES TRUE FROM FALSE PIETY
DAILY LIFE OBEDIENCE AS SACRIFICE
The relations of subjects to their local Superiors had to be on the supernatural plane, always and absolutely. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries Frances Cabrini here speaks but the authentic language of the classic ages of religious life.
‘You serve our Lord Jesus Christ; therefore, see Him in your Superior…if thoughts assail you against obedience, reject them as promptly as you would those against faith or chastity…never look at her personal qualities, her gifts, her manners; otherwise you will change supernatural obedience into that which is purely human.’ Again: ‘It is obedience that distinguishes true from false piety. It is the obedient religious who speaks victories… Obedience is a sacrifice immensely more pleasing to God than any sacrifice you might choose for yourselves.’
And all this in view not only of their own sanctification but that of others. ‘If you sacrifice yourselves, you will become saints and, after having sanctified yourselves, you will certainly be able to sanctify others. She who is not holy will never be able to make anyone else so; she who is will shed a fragrance of holiness around her and all who come into contact with her will breathe it.’
ABANDONMENT TO GOD’S WILL
Her conception of humility… No refusal to recognise real gifts or good qualities in one’s self, no pious cliches, easy to utter but often meaning nothing; no posing. Humility meant perfect truth as regards oneself, and perfect ABANDON to the will of God; the soul simply counting upon His grace to fulfil whatever task be laid upon it as well as He means it to be fulfilled; referring to Him whatever measure of success may be achieved, and accepting apparent failure peacefully, even joyfully, should failure be His will.
Once she placed a Sister at the head of a school of several hundred pupils. Taken by surprise, the latter exclaimed: ‘Oh Mother, what a responsibility! So many innocent souls to train aright!’ In a flash came the retort: ‘Do you imagine that the welfare of these souls depends upon you, and not rather upon God working in you? Poor creatures we should be, indeed, if the fruit were to be looked for from our puny efforts! We must do our duty well, but in the utmost simplicity and without preoccupations, secure that our Lord will take thought for everything.’
She thus expressed the principle more at length: ‘The true Missionary Sister never thinks, ‘What office will be given me? Where shall I be sent?’ And she should never say, ‘I can’t carry out this or that; I am incapable.’ Whether she be made Superior-General, sent to teach a class of infants, or to sweep a staircase, she should carry it out serenely, in holy indifference…that is real love, practical love, stripped of all self-interest; the strong love you ought to have. You are immolated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus; in this complete self-abnegation lies the very essence of sanctiity. So courage, perseverance! Live up to your vocation!'”
– From: “Frances Xavier Cabrini, By A Benedictine of Stanbrook Abbey”, 1944