That which you most desire

Bishop Jorge Rodriguez

In our Catholic tradition, we esteem the saints of heaven and ask them to help us with their prayers. But along with the assistance brought us by their intercession, these brothers and sisters of ours awaken in us a dream, a dream that is sometimes dormant — the dream of becoming saints like they are.

The saints are part of the great crowd of men and women that the Book of Revelation describes as innumerable, from every race and nation, clothed in white robes and adoring the Lamb in the heavenly liturgy. Only God knows the name of every one of them. But many of them are perhaps people we knew or our own loved ones.

All of them motivate us to turn our gaze heavenward and they bring us to discover in the depths of our hearts the most sincere and authentic longing we experience: the longing to be saints.

Why can this desire for sanctity never be extinguished in our hearts? Because that’s how God made us: to be saints. This longing is sealed within ever spiritual “cell” of our souls. Because, as St. Augustine said, “You have made us for yourselves O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.”

Sanctity is that which belongs only to God. God alone is Holy. Sanctity is the beauty, the goodness, and the splendor of God who is love. Only by contact with him can one become holy. Thus, sanctity can be understood as a relationship of love. This is also what we understand by “life of grace,” that is, a life lived in the love of God. Our hearts were made to love, and for nothing else. Hate does violence to our hearts. Thus, if you were to ask your heart what it most sincerely desires, it would unquestionably respond that it only wants to love, but that its thirst for love can not be quenched until it is full of Love itself, which is God.

St. Augustine has a rather daring phrase: “Love and do what you will.” But he adds immediately, “but love.” He is convinced that if we truly love God, we will not want to do anything that could offend him. That’s why the Christian life should not be lived on the defensive, concentrating on avoiding sin. Instead it should be lived in a very active way, seeking to love God more every day. To live each day, as St. Teresa of Avila said, “seeking to please my Captain in everything.”

The saints are those men and women who love God with their whole soul. And I am sure that you know one of these people personally. And I am also convinced that you want to be one of these people.

If you ever go to Los Angeles, visit the cathedral. Along the inside walls are beautiful tapestries presenting the Communion of Saints. One hundred thirty-five saints from all over the world are depicted there, including the canonized saints of North America. As well, there are 12 figures who are not identified, including children of various ages. They represent the anonymous saints who live among us — these ones that you meet every day. Who says this yet unidentified saint can’t be you? In fact, this is what you most desire in the depths of your heart!

COMING UP: Honored for 50 years of service at Cabrini Shrine, man says it’s been ‘blessing after blessing’

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Every workday, facilities manager Tom Francis starts his morning the same way. He enters the chapel at Mother Cabrini Shrine on Lookout Mountain, turns on the lights and addresses a statue of the shrine’s namesake.

“I tell her, ‘OK boss, this is your place. I’m just a pair of hands. You need to help me or we won’t be able to be here for those who come.’”

On December 1, Tommy, as he is affectionately called, marked 50 years as an employee of the shrine, which is named after St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, the first U.S. citizen to be canonized. The shrine staff honored the energetic 71-year-old with a Mass and luncheon.

“Tommy has a deep devotion to Mother Cabrini,” said JoAnn Seaman, Development Director. “He has had a huge impact on the shrine and what it has become. … He is very humble and gives all the credit to Cabrini.”

In 1880, the native Italian nun founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to spread devotion to the Sacred Heart by means of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. Desiring to do mission work in China, instead Pope Leo XIII urged her to minister to Italian immigrants in the United States. From 1889 until her death in 1917, Mother Cabrini did so, even becoming a naturalized citizen in 1909.

Tommy was recognized for service that started when he was a 21-year-old college student who labored summers, nights and weekends at the shrine and lived with his parents, grandmother and siblings in the caretaker’s house. But in reality, his service began when he was still a child and his father Carl worked as the maintenance manager for Mother Cabrini’s Queen of Heaven Orphanage. Located in north Denver, the orphanage operated from 1905-1967. It was torn down in 1969.

“I was blessed to work with my dad and to be around the [Missionary] Sisters all the time,” Tommy said. “By the time my dad passed [in 1984] he’d spent 54 years of his life working for them. It was from him I learned respect for the sisters and their mission.”

Even after Tommy finished college and was working fulltime as a math teacher, he continued working part-time at the shrine. Upon retiring from a successful 30-year teaching career in 2003, he began laboring fulltime at the shrine.

“Mother Cabrini bought this property in 1910, primarily as the summer home for the girls at Queen of Heaven Orphanage,” Tommy explained. “In 1938, when she was beatified, they started building a chapel as there was a lot of interest in Mother Cabrini…. After she was canonized in 1946, that’s when the real development started. In the 1950s the statue of Jesus was placed at the top of the hill. That’s how the shrine got started.”

By the time Tommy started working there, Mother Cabrini had been canonized more than 20 years and was recognized as the patron of immigrants. The shrine was already attracting pilgrims who wanted to walk where a saint had once walked.

Tom Francis has worked at Mother Cabrini shrine for 50 years, continuing the legacy started by his father, who began working for the Shrine in 1930, when it was operating as Mother Cabrini’s Queen of Heaven Orphanage. (Photos by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

They were also drawn by a spring that was discovered in 1912 when Mother Cabrini’s sisters complained to her about the lack of water on the property. The saint told them: “Lift that rock over there and start to dig.” They did and found a spring that runs to this day. Many pilgrims believe that through faith, the water has brought healing and peace to their lives.

A replica of the grotto at Lourdes, France, was built over the spring in 1929 and replaced with the current one in 1959. The historic Stone House dormitory, completed for the orphan girls in 1914, now serves as a retreat house.

The 22-foot statue of Jesus, which stands on the highest point of the 900-acre site and serves as a landmark for the shrine, is reached by a prayer path of 373 steps built in 1954. At the foot of the statue is an image of Christ’s Sacred Heart made with white stones by Mother Cabrini with help from her sisters and some of the orphan girls in 1912.

The original pump-house is now a charming museum about the saint and the 50-year-old main building housing the chapel, gift shop and convent is constantly busy with visitors.

In his years with the shrine, Tommy, with the help of many volunteers, has further beautified and enhanced the tranquility of the grounds with his landscaping skills.
“Not only does he take care of the grounds and buildings, but he designed and built all of our meditation and prayer gardens,” Seaman said. “He knows every inch of this place like the back of his hand.”

“Our sisters would not have been able to maintain this ministry without Tommy and his family, who worked for the sisters since the time of the orphanage,” said Missionary Sister Roselle Santivasi, noting that when she arrived to the shrine nine years ago, Tommy’s mother Elda, who died in 2012, was still a helpful presence at the shrine.

“Every Missionary Sister knows Tom Francis and his family,” declared Sister Roselle. “Our whole ministry here was so dependent on Tommy and his family and continues to be. They are a large part of why the [shrine] mission has succeeded and has brought the presence of God to so many people.”

A widower for 27 years as he raised two daughters after losing his wife to cancer, Tommy met his current wife Sarah, a speech therapist, in 2005 when she moved to the shrine from Green Bay, Wis., as a Cabrini Mission Corps lay volunteer. The couple will mark their 10th wedding anniversary in March.

Sarah is just one of the blessings Mother Cabrini has brought Tommy as he labors at her shrine.

“You can feel a connection with Mother Cabrini here — you can feel her presence,” Tommy asserted. “Even though we no longer have orphans, about 50 percent of our visitors are immigrants who have great devotion to Mother Cabrini. The sisters still work with the poor and it’s still the Cabrini vision to spread God’s love through the world.”

The shrine remains a prayerful place of pilgrimage to foster one’s relationship with Christ, whether for a day or for a longer formal retreat. Tommy said he loves his work and plans to go on keeping the shrine vibrant.

“Since my dad started working for the sisters in 1930, it’s my goal to continue working to 2030 so we can have 100 [consecutive] years of service to St. Frances Cabrini in Denver,” he said, not satisfied with the 104 combined years they’ve already given. “The shrine is a wonderful place to be. It’s blessing after blessing here.”