If anybody could have made excuses it was Francesca. If anyone had reason to call it quits, it was her.
Francesca was the proverbial runt of the litter – born two months premature in 1850, when Italy’s infant mortality rate was horrifying. Even though she survived infancy, she remained frail and sickly throughout childhood and early adulthood.
At six years old, however, Francesca believed God was calling her to bring the gospel to China. Everyone, including her family mocked her idea. At twelve she took a vow of chastity and planned to become a nun. Everyone made fun of that idea too. When she reached the minimum age of eighteen, she applied to join the Daughters of the Sacred Heart, but was rejected for being too sickly. For six years she continued to apply, and for six years she was repeatedly rejected. Rather than brood and be bitter, Francesca filled her hours with good deeds, teaching children and ministering to the sick.
Finally, six years later Francesca gained acceptance into the order. But did she find support to take the gospel to China? No. No one took the request of a pint-sized sickly nun seriously and she was given menial tasks with the local populace. Finally, a superior advised her that if she wanted to be part of a missionary order she should form one herself – something not likely to happen. Yet that’s what Francesca did. In 1880, she and a half-dozen other nuns formed the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart. Then after establishing foundations in Milan, Rome and other Italian cities, she again sought approval to take the gospel to China. But her dreams finally were crushed when Pope Leo XIII sent her instead to – New York City, where he wanted her to help run an orphanage, school and convent.
Yet when she arrived in the strange land of America, she found that the plans to establish those facilities had fallen through and was told to go back from where she came. At this point Francesca had received nothing but opposition to the dreams God had placed in her heart. How easy it would have been to conclude she was never meant to serve God and to make excuses for not doing God’s will.
Francesca had come as a missionary to America and in America she would stay. She quickly solved the problems with those failing plans for the school, orphanage, and convent and established those facilities. And over the next twenty-eight years Sister Francesca Cabrini – better known as Mother Cabrini – established more than seventy hospitals, schools, and orphanages in the United States, Spain, France, England, and South America. The impact of this little dynamo of a woman was immense. All because she refused to make excuses or give up in the face of adversity.i
All of us will face opposition to our dreams and plans. And we, too, will have plenty of opportunities to make excuses for doing nothing. But the Scripture admonishes us: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go,” (Joshua 1:9)
Dear Father in heaven, help me to persevere in the face of adversity, opposition and discouragement. Motivate me, energize me, and inspire me to press onward to the dream you’ve placed in my heart. Amen.
i Information from John Maxwell, Failing Forward, and Frances Heerey, Biographies: God at their Sides