Thursday, November 13, 2008

Mother Cabrini and the Parable of the Talents

Today is Mother Cabrini's day, to whom I have a special devotion, but there are millions of people living who owe her a great debt for her spectacular works in life. She was the first American citizen to be canonized, but there is much more to it than that. She was in the United States during a period of poverty and desperation about which we can only imagine today. The immigrant classes were pouring in, crowding cities as never before, and orphans on the streets were the most common sight. Poverty was rampant due to the inability of the social infrastructure to keep up with the dramatic population rise and the demographic changes.

She saw the need and built up an astounding empire of charitable institutions to care for people, starting on the East Coast but later spreading all across the country, wherever there was a need.

She was a gifted businessperson, something along the lines of the other great entrepreneurs of the Gilded Age except that her business was directed solely to caring for those in need. She was prayerful and devoted but also supremely practical.

She could negotiate a business deal like no one else. Anyone who entered a room with her--whether it was a mayor or a business tycoon or a obstinate enforcer of zoning laws--left having caved in to her quiet demands. People would explode in a rage at her persistence but this small Italian woman would keep her cool and stick to her message. She was also good at surrounding herself with outstanding workers who had that combination of piety and practicality.

When I say that there are millions alive for whom she is the benefactor, it is literally true. Many of those she helped would otherwise have become sick and died. Instead she cared for orphans, gave them a great education, and firmly entrenched the Catholic Church in America among new immigrants, and they went on to marry, have children, and build a glorious faith in the United States.

The communion antiphon this week, Domine quinque, is the Parable of the Talents, and how it applies to her! She took her abilities and did great things for God. The antiphon tells a long story so it is appropriately complex. Note the voicing change from the first section in which the servant speaks and the next section, which begins in elation and surprise, in which the Lord speaks (a point made by our schola director during rehearsal). And note just how elaborate the praise! It is a wonderful song for St. Mother Cabrini.

Lord, thou didst deliver to me five talents: behold, I have gained another five over and above. Well done, good and faithful servant, because thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will place thee over many things; enter thou into the joy of your Lord.

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