April 10, 2024 // Perspective

A Eucharistic Word: Mission

“Truly, nothing is more beautiful than to know Christ and to make Him known to others.”

These words in Pope Benedict XVI’s Sacramentum Caritatis (“Sacrament of Charity”) echoed in my mind when watching the recently released “Cabrini.” The film captures the indomitable spirit of America’s first citizen-saint, and viewers become well-acquainted with the diminutive nun’s spunk and determination.

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini is no doubt one of the most important women in the history of United States Catholicism, and her character, as portrayed in the film, will inspire Catholics and non-Catholics alike. The love with which she served the poor and orphaned was clearly an extension of the furnace of charity in Christ’s own Sacred Heart, making it apropos that she gave that name to the new congregation she founded. She was relentless in helping those whom she was sent by the pope to serve in New York City.

Through the international, social, and charitable infrastructure she built up, Cabrini had the objective of making Christ’s love alive and visible in a world needing it so much. And she and the sisters in her congregation brought love where there wasn’t love, brought faith and hope to poor immigrants looking for something to cling to that would help them survive the wretchedness that surrounded them.

“Truly, nothing is more beautiful than to know Christ and to make Him known to others.”

But, like each of us, Cabrini couldn’t give what she didn’t have. That’s why she made it a priority for her sisters to spend regular time before the Blessed Sacrament. She wrote to them, “Go often dear ones and place yourself at the feet of Jesus. He is our comfort, our way, and our life.” Doing such enabled Christ’s own Sacred Heart to beat in hers and that of the sisters who banded together with her in the early mission she lived and breathed.

“Remember that the Blessed Sacrament is like a pillar of fire that is our light and guide,” she argued. It was in the Eucharist that Cabrini found the fuel for the firepower that came to define her life and holiness. It’s the grace of the same sacrament that makes itself available for you and me, in the circumstances of our lives, to allow Jesus to live in and through us.

Sadly, though, “Cabrini” doesn’t give much of a glimpse of the source from which the saint’s Gospel witness and charitable zeal flowed. While her life is certainly an embodiment of the virtue to which she strove, rarely was she depicted in prayer, much less before the Eucharist, nor attending Mass. Cabrini once wrote that it is “in the shadow of Your tabernacle where I can enjoy that intimate union with You which is paradise on earth.” How I wish the film would’ve more often captured her in that shadow, impressing upon all of us how vital it is for us to be right there with her.

It was from the tabernacle’s shadow, too, that Cabrini was sent forth on mission for Christ.

Again, as Pope Benedict wrote: “The love that we celebrate in the sacrament is not something we can keep to ourselves. By its very nature it demands to be shared with all. What the world needs is God’s love; it needs to encounter Christ and to believe in Him. The Eucharist is thus the source and summit not only of the Church’s life, but also of her mission: ‘an authentically eucharistic Church is a missionary Church’” (Sacramentum Caritatis, No. 234).

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini was a woman on a mission – a mission that was born in the Eucharist, from which should be born the Christian mission to which we’re each called. After all, the word “Mass” comes from the Latin dismissal, “Ite missa est” – “missa” meaning “being sent.” What if our sending forth could be as fruitful as it was for Mother Cabrini?

Michael R. Heinlein is author of “Glorifying Christ: The Life of Cardinal Francis E. George, O.M.I.” and a promised member of the Association of Pauline Cooperators.

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