Modern Mercy at the Cloisters, Cabrini Shrine

Modern Mercy at the Cloisters, Cabrini Shrine December 8, 2019

I decided to introduce our school field trip to the Cabrini Shrine and the Met Cloisters with the following message: “Most people today live as if the things we do, objects we use, and people we meet are mere cogs in a machine. Daily life becomes more robotic than beautiful, as we chase after the passing ideals of efficiency, pleasure, and success. The sites we are going to see represent an ‘enchanted’ worldview, in which every person, thing, and event is full of meaning and purpose …everything is a sign of the Mystery who is present in the details of our daily lives.”

I explained how relics and medieval art/architecture are rooted in the belief in the Incarnation. By taking on flesh, God enters into the small, mundane details of our lives. I left the seniors with two questions as we embarked on our trip: What was it like to live in an “enchanted” world where every little detail–exciting, difficult, and boring–was full of meaning? Is it possible to find a deeper meaning/value within the boring and difficult aspects of your journey to young adulthood? 

Before entering the Shrine, we talked about the life of Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini, who from a young age had the desire to go on mission to China. During a meeting with Pope Pius IX, she was told that she indeed could be a missionary, but that she was to go “not to the East, but to the West”–the Pope wanted her to work amongst the poor Italian immigrants in Manhattan. Perhaps less glamorous and idealistic than her original vision, she obeyed what was asked of her, and ended up founding 67 schools, churches, and hospitals…so much for a back up plan!

Mother Cabrini Shrine, NYC

After we offered our intentions in front of Mother Cabrini’s body, we made our way to the gift shop, where the students ended up spending more time than planned buying things for their family members. “Are you all going to stay for 12:00 Mass?” asked the gift shop attendant. 

“Sorry, we have an appointment at the Cloisters that we’re already late for.” I quickly started rushing the kids out of the store and across the street from the Shrine.

“Wait, Mr. Adubato! There’s a little old lady trying to get into the church. We should help her.”

 “That’s nice of you to want to do that, but we’re already late…and besides, she looks like she’s fine!”

Clearly missing the theme of obedience, this student went to help the woman anyway, while the rest of us were waiting across the street. Hoping to get the show on the road, I ran over to help them, and quickly realized that the woman was not “fine”: she could barely stand up straight and had dementia. On top of that, the main entrance to the church was closed, so we were going to have to bring her around to the side entrance. I decided to take the lady into the church on my own, and sent the student back with his classmates and told him to start making their way to the Cloisters so that we wouldn’t be too late. I would catch up with them after. 

As we walk into the church, the lady takes her time rubbing each of the statues, as I roll my eyes. Ten minutes later, I’m sprinting up the path in Fort Tryon Park toward the Cloisters. Finally I arrive, only to find my students aren’t there. I call one of them, panting out “where are you guys?”

“We took a wrong turn and now are trying to find our way to the Cloisters.” So I sent them to leave without me so that they could make it there earlier…and then they end up arriving 15 minutes after me…How does this make any sense?!

As I was sitting there waiting, I pulled out the guide I printed for them and read over the intro to the trip. It looked like I fell into that very modern trap of exalting efficiency and productivity over the belief that every moment, every little detail has value because it is given to us by God. Once the kids arrived, I said, “It looks like Mother Cabrini sent me a gift today in that old lady. She wanted me to ask myself if I really believe in what I’m proposing to you all today. Do I really believe that obedience to God’s plan, God’s measurements is greater than mine? Do I really believe that the goal of life is to seek Him in each and every detail in front of me, rather than to breeze through life quickly and productively?” 

We closed the trip looking at a 16th century Netherlandish wooden rosary bead, which consisted of extremely finely detailed carvings of the Crucifixion and Adoration of the Magi. I asked the students to meditate on those little details.

“Think about how much attention they had to give to each of the tedious details of carving out these little figures. It makes you wonder what they saw in those details and what made them believe that each of them are so valuable, so precious. As you’re working on the ‘tedious details’ of your school work, your Common App, the FAFSA, I want you to think, ‘what do these little details have to do with the Infinite? What do they have to do with my journey toward Truth and finding meaning in life?’” 

I intend to carry these questions with me as I continue accompanying my students during this phase of their journey.

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