Cardinal Blase J. Cupich

The freedom of being sent

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

On Friday, Nov. 13, the Catholic community in Chicagoland gathered to ordain Fathers Kevin Birmingham, Jeffrey Grob and Robert Lombardo, CFR, as our newest auxiliary bishops. As this ceremony took place on the feast of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, I took the opportunity to draw attention to some core values and virtues found in the Word of God, proclaimed for that day, which shaped her life, and should shape all Christian lives, and especially those of ecclesial leaders.

In the Gospel, Jesus prays that his disciples not be taken out of the world, but that they be preserved from being of the world. Mother Cabrini learned to live in the tension between these two realities. At the time of her death, she had founded 67 institutions around the world that cared for the sick, uneducated, poor and disenfranchised.

On the day of her canonization, Cardinal Stritch called Mother Cabrini the patron saint of Chicago. “She loved us,” he observed. “She rode our street cars. She went begging in our streets. Through alleys she went in search of little hungry children who were homeless and friendless. The very day she died she had been wrapping candy for Christmas gifts for poor children.” 

Yet, as much as these earthly achievements and occupations were part of her legacy, she understood that the work she was doing had to be God’s own. She always reminded her community members: “It is praying fervently that gives our work vitality, action and merit.” Her main goal was not buildings and programs. These were important only if they helped bring about the salvation of humanity, which she noted “does not depend on material success, but on Jesus alone.”

Mother Cabrini reflected in her life what we heard in the Nov. 13 readings about being sent. Jesus sums up his life by making his own the words of Isaiah: “the Spirit has sent me to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the brokenhearted.”

This is also how his disciples should understand their lives. Mother Cabrini surely did. She possessed the freedom of being sent. Although she had her heart set on the missions in China, when Pope Leo XIII told her to go instead to the New World to care for immigrants, she trusted that being sent by the successor of Peter was God’s will.

The story is told that Archbishop Corrigan invited her to the Archdiocese of New York, but when she arrived, he told her he didn’t need her anymore and she should return to Italy. She reportedly told him, “Yes, Archbishop, you invited me, but the pope sent me, so I’m staying.”

There is great freedom that comes in being sent. It liberates us from the trap of seeking the approval of others who measure success by a different standard. Mother Cabrini was surely a strong woman. But her determination and tenacity were underpinned by an unwavering conviction and the internal freedom of knowing that she was sent, that Jesus wanted her to succeed.

Finally, Mother Cabrini had an abiding trust in divine providence, which meant she always kept in mind the big picture of God’s plan. People often asked her where she got her money to found institutions. “We spend millions,” she replied “but haven’t a cent. We draw from the Bank of Providence. Its funds are inexhaustible.”

In the second reading for Nov. 13, St. Paul tells Timothy that our destiny has been designed before time began, a destiny to live the life of the holy and eternal God and that nothing will thwart God’s plan. That is the big picture that all disciples, especially those who serve as bishops, must always keep in mind.

In sum, I urged the new bishops to look on the life of this good disciple, Frances Xavier Cabrini, to inspire them and to walk the streets of Chicago and its environs to care for God’s holy people as she did.

Yes, their ordination is about serving as a successor of the apostles, but all of us bishops must remember that the church called us to this ministry because we have been found worthy in the call of Christ to live as his disciples.

Mother Cabrini has much to teach all of us about being disciples: to live in the tension of remaining in the world, but not being of the world; to cultivate the internal freedom that comes with being sent, without the burden of succeeding on our own or making the success or failure in ministry the gauge of our own worth in the eyes of God.

And finally, we all should learn from her to trust in God’s providence, knowing that the grace bestowed on these new successors of the apostles through the laying on of hands was given to us before time began.

May St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, our patron, continue to inspire us and pray for us.



  • bishops
  • frances cabrini