St. Frances Cabrini: Your Heart's Desire and God's Will

· Founder,Religious Saint,Italian Saint,US Saint
Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini: Your Heart's Desire and God's Will from Letters from the Saints Blog with an image of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini

Follow Your Heart

When it comes to making decisions, you might have heard, or perhaps even given, the advice to follow your heart. The idea behind this advice is that in our hearts, our innermost persons, we know what it is that we should do or say. Instead of listening to the many other voices that might be telling us what to do or what we can do, we can trust that what is coming from deep within us, is the right thing for us to actually do. It is simply a matter of hearing that still, small voice and following it.

There is quite a bit of truth in this statement. We certainly believe that God places desires in us that our good and we should follow them in accordance with His will. That does not take away one bit from our heart's desire. Instead, God will refine it as we obey Him in order to bring to fruition that desire of ours in the most beautiful way because it will have been for love of God because we loved God above any desire that we might have had.

That is the part of discernment that we have to be certain to verify, namely that we submit everything to the will of God. However, as we continue to pursue what is in our heart, God will strengthen us, because the way will not be easy. There will be many challenges that we face, but the fire of our desire which is strengthened by God's grace will enable us to keep going despite the many setbacks.

Today's story is about St. Frances Cabrini (1850 - 1917) who had a desire in her heart that she followed. However, she always followed it in obedience to the will of God which meant that she pursued her heart's desire while remaining open to how God would fulfill that desire.

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Her Dream Nurtured by Her Family and Devotion

Her story begins on July 15, 1850, when St. Frances Cabrini was born in the small town of Sant'Angelo in the Lodi region of Lombardy in Italy. She was the tenth of eleven children born to Agostino Cabrini and Stella Oldini.

Her parents were peasants who took seriously the importance of passing on the faith to their children. In particular, Frances remembers the impression left on her by her mother who always made it a point to begin and end her day with devout prayer.

Other important influences upon her include initiatives taken by the bishop of the area to combat the anti-clerical, pro-Freemason attitude which dominated the area at that time. The bishop emphasized the work of missions and the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Both of these initiatives caught the attention of the young Frances.

First, she longed to be a missionary to far away China. As a young girl, she would place flowers in paper boats and pretend that they were missionaries bound for distant lands where they would proclaim the Gospel. Her father also nurtured her missionary desire by reading stories of the great saints who had faithfully shared the Good News in far away places.

Second, Frances began to develop her devotion to the Sacred Heart. This was nourished by her older sister Rose who was a teacher in her village and her uncle who was a priest with whom she would spend her summers.

As early as eight years old, after she had been confirmed, Frances began to dedicate herself completely to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in order that she would perfectly follow His will. She sensed a call to religious life which gave shape to her desire to be a missionary.

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Not a Straight Path

Later when Frances was thirteen, she spoke with a Franciscan missionary who stayed in Sant'Angelo for several days. In response to her sharing her desire to be a missionary, the Franciscan advised her to speak about it with her older sister Rose. Frances had always looked up to her sister, and therefore, she was crushed when her sister did not take seriously her desire to be a missionary. She had received the first challenge to her desire, and it was a difficult one to take because of her love for her older sister.

When she was a little older, she traveled to the nearby village of Arluno in order to attend school to become a teacher like her sister. The school was run by the Daughters of the Sacred Heart, and Frances lived with them in their convent. During this time, through the charism of the sisters, she further grew in her devotion to the Sacred Heart.

Her second major disappointment came, when she was rejected for entry into that same order of the Daughters of the Sacred Heart. The rather mysterious reason given by the superior was that she should wait until she helped found a religious order.

More Setbacks in the Journey

Instead of becoming a religious, at the age of eighteen, the young Frances completed her training to be a teacher and returned to her hometown where she began to teach in the same parish school as her sister Rose. Two years after she began teaching, she would lose both of her parents within months of each other.

While still mourning the loss of her parents, another setback occurred when Frances contracted smallpox as she helped serve those who had gotten the disease in the epidemic which swept her region.

When she recovered, she took that as a sign to once again pursue religious life. However, this time it was the Canossian Sisters who rejected her presumably so that the parish school would not lose her as a teacher.

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Becoming a Religious

Finally, she decided to try another approach to pursue her religious calling. At the age of twenty-four, she went to the House of Providence in Codogno which was an orphanage run by the diocese. At the time, the bishop wanted it to become a religious institute.

Despite the desires of the bishop, the two older women in charge were not interested in starting a religious order and no changes were made. The diocese responded by putting Frances in charge. She and five others took religious vows. The older women, who resented the change in leadership, responded by slandering Sr. Frances in an attempt to turn everyone against the young superior. The situation was painful for her as she could only partially enjoy the accomplishment of her desire to be a religious having taken her religious vows.

The bishop recognized the situation and made the decision that the House of Providence would not become a religious institute. Instead, at age thirty, Sr. Frances should take the five sisters and start a new religious order altogether. They were given a house in Codogno and began to live the religious life. This new order was the beginning of what would become the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

At the time of the founding, Sr. Frances added "Xavier" to her name in honor of the great Jesuit St. Francis Xavier who had taken the Gospel to India and China. As the sisters began their religious life, they plunged deeper into their devotion to the Sacred Heart. Through the love of Christ that was communicated to them through His Sacred Heart, they grew their missionary zeal and performed their duties of supporting the orphanage and teaching the orphans.

The Young Order Grows

Within four years, Sr. Frances had established two other similar convents, including one in Milan. Then she decided it was time to move beyond her region and set up a convent in Rome. The archbishop of Milan who was not as interested in her expanding the young order beyond the region nonetheless gave her permission to visit Rome to seek permission from the Pope.

Although it took several years and much prayer in the face of the discouragement given by the clerics in charge, eventually Sr. Frances was asked to found two convents in Rome with the express permission of Pope Leo XIII.

Go West, Young Woman

At this point, the congregation which had been granted full approval, would take on a new turn that would realize Sr. Frances' childhood dream if not quite in the way that she expected.

During her stay in Rome, Sr. Frances met Monsignor Scalabrini who was the Bishop of Piacenza and the founder of an order which was dedicated to helping Italian immigrants in the United States. The bishop was looking for an order of religious women who could work side-by-side with the priests of his order. After discussing the matter with Sr. Frances, Monsignor Scalabrini obtained a letter from the Bishop of New York in which he formally invited the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Finally, Pope Leo XIII confirmed that call by informing Sr. Frances in an audience with him that, "You will not go to the East, but to the West!" Now that the pope had made clear the direction to take, Sr. Frances submitted in obedience to the Lord's will as expressed by the Holy Father.

And thus, when she was almost forty years of age, Sr. Frances left Italy with several of her sisters to begin her lifelong goal of going overseas as a missionary. She would continue to know many challenges and setbacks over the remaining years of her life, but this missionary had already experienced how God is faithful in the midst of her calling despite what might seem to be difficult circumstances.

She had seen that God is never hindered by what men and women might do, and He is faithful to the calling He had placed in her heart. Indeed, Sr. Frances would become known for her determination to fulfill the will of God despite the tremendous obstacles she would face in her new missionary field. Her grit and trust in God would help her and her sisters faithfully serve her fellow countrymen in the New World.

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