By Sister Constance Veit, l.s.p.
The month of October is a real bonanza for us Little Sisters of the Poor. During October we celebrate the anniversaries of the birth, beatification and canonization of our foundress, Saint Jeanne Jugan. Along with Catholics all over the United States, we also observe Respect Life Month. Rereading Pope Benedict’s canonization homily recently, I realized how appropriate it is to simultaneously celebrate Saint Jeanne Jugan and respect for life.
Inspired by Pope Francis’ greeting for England’s 2013 Day for Life, the theme chosen for our U.S. Respect Life observances this year is Each of Us is a Masterpiece of God’s Creation.
“Even the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn and the poor are masterpieces of God’s creation, made in his own image, destined to live forever, and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect,” he said. Time and time again we see Pope Francis demonstrating the truth of these words in his humility, warmth and compassion for each person he encounters.
“We want to be part of a society that makes affirmation and protection of human rights its primary objective and its boast,” Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley, O.F.M. Cap., chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities, wrote in his message for Respect Life Month. “Our mission is to show each person the love of Christ. As uniquely created individuals, we each have unique gifts which we are called to use to share Christ’s love.” This is exactly what Saint Jeanne Jugan did as she devoted her life to elderly persons in need.
“Born in 1792 at Cancale in Brittany, France, Jeanne Jugan was concerned with the dignity of her brothers and sisters … whom age had made more vulnerable, recognizing in them the Person of Christ himself,” Pope Benedict XVI said at her canonization. “‘Look upon the poor with compassion,’ she would say, ‘and Jesus will look kindly upon you on your last day.’
Jeanne Jugan focused upon the elderly a compassionate gaze drawn from her profound communion with God in her joyful, disinterested service, which she carried out with gentleness and humility of heart, desiring herself to be poor among the poor.”
Pope Benedict rightly attributed Saint Jeanne’s compassionate love to her profound union with God, which she achieved through many years of prayer and an active sacramental life. Cardinal O’Malley suggests that we pursue the same course – to draw close to Jesus in prayer and the sacraments – asking God for the grace to see ourselves and others as he sees us, as masterpieces of his creation.
“When God created each of us, he did so with precision and purpose, and he looks on each of us with love that cannot be outdone in intensity or tenderness.” If we wish to help build the Culture of Life, we should reflect on these words of Cardinal O’Malley until they are assimilated into the deep recesses of our minds and our hearts. From there they will give birth to deep convictions: “We must look at ourselves and at others in light of this truth and treat all people with the reverence and respect which is due.”
This was Jeanne Jugan’s secret. She saw in each elderly person a suffering member of the Body of Christ, and she treated them as she would have treated Christ himself. Jeanne Jugan’s canonization process involved the recognition of two miracles worked through her intercession. But our foundress hasn’t stopped working miracles now that she is a Saint!
During this Respect Life Month, pray through her intercession for the miracle of a conversion of our society’s values to those of the Culture of Life. And ask Saint Jeanne Jugan to help you realize your own dignity, and the dignity of all those with whom you share your life, as masterpieces of God’s creation.
(Sister Constance Veit is director of communications for the Little Sisters of the Poor.)