November 6, 2009

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Like the Little Sisters of the Poor, we have much hope to offer

The last Sunday of October, I had the privilege of offering a Mass in celebration of the canonization of St. Jeanne Jugan, foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor, who consecrate their lives in care for the aged poor. St. Jeanne was canonized in Rome on Oct. 11.

I was impressed to learn that a resident of every one of the Little Sisters’ homes for the aged around the world was chosen to be present for the canonization. Only one Little Sister was chosen by lot to be present from each of the local communities. The gesture symbolized the respect the consecrated religious descended from their holy foundress have for the aged residents to whom they offer loving care.

In different places in the Gospel, Jesus emphasizes our duty to love and to do so with simplicity and humility.

Perhaps one of the greatest witnesses of the simple love that is our mission of charity familiar to us is Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. Less familiar to us is the witness of St. Jeanne Jugan, foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor.

I think of St. Jeanne as someone so like Mother Teresa. They were both woman of enormous power, but that way of thinking would not even register with them.

I remember an experience described by Mother Teresa when she once visited a lovely and well kept nursing home. She noticed that, almost to a person, the elderly women and men sat facing the door toward the entrance to the home.

It dawned on her that they were waiting for someone who cared to come in. They were longing for and watching for love. St. Jeanne had done something about that way back in the 19th century when she took her first aged resident into her own home in 1839.

Her mission to lonely, elderly people extends down to us in the 21st century and in our state of Indiana. One need only visit St. Augustine Home for the Aged here in Indianapolis or in Evansville to see the mission of St. Jeanne carried on before our eyes.

In the spirit of their foundress, the love of the Little Sisters of the Poor in our archdiocese assures poor elderly folks that they are loved and cared for whether there are loved ones who come through the door or not.

The Little Sisters of the Poor offer a very special ministry to the elderly within their mission to care for them with love and a joyful spirit. I have been witness to their admirable commitment to accompany elderly residents of their home as they cross over from this life to the House of the Father.

As a resident nears death, Little Sisters are at the bedside offering compassionate comfort and prayer. St. Jeanne provided companionship for the dying as part of the mission of her sisters.

I have been visiting with the Little Sisters at St. Augustine Home for the Aged when representatives of the community would be absent because they were at the bedside of a dying resident. That is truly a special and loving ministry.

The reverence and respect and love Mother Jugan’s sisters offer the elderly residents who might otherwise have been abandoned in lonely poverty is definitely a significant gift to the mission of our Church. St. Jeanne Jugan founded the Little Sisters of the Poor with an obvious intuition about the true nature of charity.

I am thinking of Pope Benedict XVI’s teaching in his first encyclical “God is Love” (“Deus Caritas Est”) about the fundamental nature of our Church as it is expressed in three essential tasks: proclaiming the Word of God and handing on the teaching of Jesus; the celebration of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist; and the ministry of charity.

Like every mission of charity in the Church, that of the Little Sisters of the Poor flows from the Eucharist which is central in their spirituality and that of their homes for the aged. It is the same for the Missionaries of Charity founded by Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.

We baptized Catholics share the fundamental vocation to love that is so very important. I think we would agree that we don’t see enough authentic, generous love in our culture, especially for the aged.

Life is about simple and generous love; sometimes, maybe often, sacrificial love. We do well to pray for the grace to look out for those watching at that door for someone who cares. Sometimes that may be us watching at that door.

As Catholics with the vocation to love, like the Little Sisters of the Poor and the Missionaries of Charity, we have much to offer to God and lonely people of God. Our Church offers Christ our hope.

I invite you to help us be that hope. †

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