St. Frances, the Faithful Servant

Luke 17: 7-10
Tim 2:1-8,11-14 / Psa 37

We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.
(Luke 17:10)

For the gift of life it’s only right
That we serve the Lord in all our ways,
Our hope in His Word our guiding light,
Divine reward by His loving grace.

“Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’ ” (Luke 17: 7-10)

Reflection

At first glance it would seem that our Lord Jesus aimed this parable at the Pharisees and the high priests, who were proud and feeling righteous in their rigid observance of Judaic laws and practices. However, when taken in the context of the preceding verses, this parable is actually a continuation of Jesus’ response to His apostles who asked Him to increase their faith (Lk.17:5). It is only by admitting our unworthiness, and humbly acknowledging God’s power over all our works can we grow in faith.

As St. Paul said, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph.2:8-10) It is important to keep this in mind, so that we do not fall into the same pit as the pharisees in Jesus’ time, who thought that their faithful tithing and observance of rituals were enough to gain salvation, if not divine merits. None of our works of mercy, religious devotions, or witnessing to others can be means of attaining grace; instead they are manifestations of the grace of God already at work in our lives.

Today the Church commemorates the feast of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, the first canonized saint of the United States (1850-1917). Migrating from Italy, this frail nun traveled with six sisters to New York City to help thousands of Italian immigrants living there. From the very start of her mission she faced challenges that would have broken men of weaker faith. Even the New York archbishop advised her to return home when quarters for her first orphanage in the United States seemed unavailable. But the resiliency of her faith never made her waver in her mission. In 35 years she established 67 institutions that cared for the poor, the abandoned, and the sick. She also organized schools for uneducated immigrants in order to increase their faith. Her strong faith also gave her the courage to cross the Atlantic Ocean more than 30 times despite her great fear of drowning. She died of malaria in her own hospital in Chicago. St. Frances Xavier Cabrini accomplished so much not because she was seeking to earn credits in heaven, but because she believed that she was merely an obedient servant, doing the works that her Master intended for her to do. She is truly an ideal model of the faithful servant in today’s Gospel.

Lord Jesus, sometimes, we feel that the more we serve You, the more You allow us to share in Your pains and labors while You were here on earth. We consider our ‘stripes’ a great privilege— for the greatest joy is the hope of spending eternal happiness with You in heaven after this short sojourn on earth. Amen.

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