Philemon and Cabrini

Holy Mass on Mother Cabrini's tomb.  She was beatified 76 years ago today!
Holy Mass on Mother Cabrini’s tomb. She was beatified 76 years ago today! (photo credit Mr. Dan Shanahan)

Hard to imagine any document more truly ennobling to the reader than St. Paul’s letter to Philemon. My dime-store summary:

Dear Philemon,

Your beloved slave Onesimus (whose name means ‘useful’) found me here in prison. Since running away from you, he has become a Christian, like you. As I know that you aspire to a true practice of the religion of Christ, I point out the following to you.

1. You owe me your life, as if you were my bondslave in the Lord, since I preached the Gospel of salvation to you and baptized you. I won you from the devil. You are, in the sight of God, my chattel.

But as I, too, strive to follow in the footsteps of the humble, divine Servant of mankind, I will not give you any orders. I leave you free to choose what you believe is the best course.

2. Mr. Useful, according to the calculus of this passing world, has a discrete monetary value to you, as your slave. By running away from you, he has effectively robbed you of that amount. If you wish, I myself will pay you that debt in cash, in order to make you whole monetarily.

3. Now that he, too, has been redeemed by Christ from the eternal slavery of sin, you must regard Mr. Useful as a brother. No longer just useful, but now beloved. I would rather that he stayed here with me–since he really is remarkably useful! 🙂 But that would be stealing; that would be me forcing your hand—which I will not do. So I send Mr. Useful, my beloved brother, back to you, who are also my beloved brother. I will not use either of you.

I request, I beg you to be useful to me, and treat Mr. Useful as something more than useful.

Love, Paul

Being useful can lead to a person feeling used. The Christian never uses another human being as a means to an end. Because the Christian is free with the freedom of God.

Seeing a fellow human being as a slave, as a means, a tool—to see the world that way is the worst slavery of all. It means being trapped in the jail of a world without love.

But if I see in my neighbor’s eyes the doorway to an invisible throne room, where a human person chooses the good, chooses love, chooses God—if I behold the tabernacle of freedom in my neighbor, then I have been liberated from the slavery of using people. And I live now in the wide-open freedom of the only absolutely free One, namely God.

New York Holy Days


A lot of people think of New York City as a godless place. But I am going to demonstrate with solid evidence that New York City has a lot of holiness, from one end of town to the other. Because you can take any two days on the calendar and connect them with the holiness of New York City. Let’s take tomorrow and the next day. Ready?

Ok. Anyone Ukrainian? Anybody know any Ukrainians? Anybody know where Ukraine is?

Many Ukrainians migrated to the U.S. during the 20th century. On the Lower East Side of Manhattan Island, you can find a huge, beautiful Ukrainian Catholic church, on 7th Street. And there’s a school there, K-12. Down the street you can get some great pierogis.

Wait a minute. Ukrainian Catholic? Shcho tse? What is this?

St. Josaphat made Ukrainian Catholicism possible, by his heroic self-sacrifice. He loved Christ, the Pope, the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, and his country. As you may know, the Ukrainians have a beautiful way of life, and they have their own way of celebrating the Mass—a way that goes back to the most ancient times, like our way of doing it does.

St. Josaphat gave his life so that his people, with all their ancient Christian traditions, could be Catholic. He suffered martyrdom 390 years ago tomorrow. He didn’t think twice about risking his life for Christ, because he considered himself a humble servant of the Lord, simply doing his duty.

Now, speaking of humble servants of the Lord…We’ve got a connection between tomorrow and the holiness of New York, with St. Josaphat and the Ukrainian-Catholic school (like our own Roanoke Catholic School!) on the Lower East Side. But what about Wednesday?

Mother Cabrini awaits the ResurrectionNo problem. I have two nephews who live on the other end of Manhattan Island, the northern tip of it. They live at 186th Street.

Anyone know what usually happens to the body of a saint after his or her life on earth? We build a beautiful chapel or church so that people can come and pray for special help from this particular saint.

Anyway, Mother Cabrini—anyone ever heard of her? A tireless missionary nun who came to America to help the Italian immigrants. St. Frances Xavier Cabrini was beatified 75 years ago Wednesday. And whenever I see my nephews, I see her, too, because her shrine is at 190th Street.

My Brother’s Neighborhood Saint

Washington Heights, New York City
Washington Heights, New York City
When the Lord Jesus comes again in glory at the end of time, all the dead will rise again. The saints will rise to everlasting happiness.

The bodily remains of the saints are a precious reminder of our hope for eternal life. That is why we have shrines for their graves. To visit the body of a saint is to draw close to the glory of God. Venerating the body of a saint is an act of faith in the promises of Christ.

For the past three years, my brother and his wife have lived one block away from a saint. My little two-and-a-half-year-old nephew has lived his whole life two hundred yards away from the body of a holy nun.

Someday the neighborhood saint will rise again in glory. When she does, it will be on Ft. Washington Avenue in Manhattan. My brother, sister-in-law, and nephew live a block away from the Shrine of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini in Washington Heights, New York.

Mother Cabrini awaits the Resurrection
Mother Cabrini awaits the Resurrection
Whenever I go to visit my brother and his family, I try to visit Mother Cabrini, too. Believe it or not, I have run into people I know at the Shrine there. It is a small world.

Since my brother is Presbyterian, and my sister-in-law and nephew are both Jewish, they don’t pay much attention to their neighborhood saint. There is a little festival on her feast day, so they know that her feast day is tomorrow (November 13). But that is about all they know.

They do not know that she was a brassy and tireless champion of the poor. They do not know that she traveled all over North and South America founding convents. And they do not know that someday they will see her alive in their neighborhood. (Though perhaps they will have moved to the suburbs by the time the Lord comes again. Or maybe they will be resting in their graves then, too. It could be today; it could be countless years from now.)

subwayI don’t think a lot of the people in Washington Heights appreciate how fortunate they are to have a neighbor who is a canonized saint. At this point in history, there are very few neighborhoods in the western hemisphere that have such a privilege.

I try to pray to Mother Cabrini for my brother’s family as often as I can. May my brother and his wife see the light, and go and kneel at Mother Cabrini’s tomb and pay their neighborhood saint some respect. They simply could not ask for a more desirable neighbor.

In the meantime, I pray that she will watch over them.