Getting organized for love

Sister Constance Veit

Little Sisters of the Poor
By Sister Constance Veit, l.s.p.
I began the new year with 8,000 college students at the Student Leadership Summit (SLS18) of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS). It was an inspiring event that enabled us Little Sisters to engage with hundreds of enthusiastic young people on fire for their Catholic faith.
As exciting as the whole event was, the most moving moment for me was completely unexpected. During Eucharistic adoration, Jesus Christ present in the monstrance started moving through the crowd, carried by a team of bishops and priests. An entourage of altar servers led the procession with candles and incense.
What caught my eye was one of the white robed altar servers walking backwards, swinging a thurible from which billowed sweetly scented smoke, his attention firmly fixed on Christ in the Eucharist. The only thing that kept him from stumbling into the crowd of young people was a second altar server who kept his hand firmly planted on the first man’s shoulder to direct his every move.
It was a highly choreographed and striking scene – this entourage of clergy and altar servers walking together in perfect unity, leading one another, supporting each other’s efforts to carry Christ! I was profoundly struck by this “holy teamwork,” which must have required significant practice and single-minded focus.
This Eucharistic procession was a fitting metaphor for the ideals of solidarity and union of hearts and minds in continuing our Lord’s mission on earth. Imagine the wonderful things we could do for Jesus if each Catholic apostolate, religious community or lay movement were this well ordered and united around a common purpose! In his encyclical on love, Pope Benedict XVI said, “As a community, the Church must practice love. Love thus needs to be organized if it is to be an ordered service to the community.”
As we head into Lent this month, we first celebrate the World Day of the Sick on Feb. 11. Just as the procession I witnessed at SLS18 kept Our Eucharistic Lord at the center as it moved through the crowd of young people – a veritable field hospital of souls – Catholic health care is called to place the human person at the center of all its activities, projects and goals.
In his message for this year’s World Day of the Sick Pope Francis wrote, “Wise organization and charity demand that the sick person be respected in his or her dignity, and constantly kept at the center of the therapeutic process.”
Our Holy Father continued, “Jesus bestowed upon the Church his healing power … The Church’s mission is a response to Jesus’ gift, for she knows that she must bring to the sick the Lord’s own gaze, full of tenderness and compassion. Health care ministry will always be a necessary and fundamental task, to be carried out with renewed enthusiasm by all, from parish communities to the largest healthcare institutions.”
Pope Francis recognized the invaluable contribution of families, “The care given within families is an extraordinary witness of love for the human person; it needs to be fittingly acknowledged and supported by suitable policies.”
He also speaks of healthcare as a shared ministry: “Doctors and nurses, priests, consecrated men and women, volunteers, families and all those who care for the sick, take part in this ecclesial mission. It is a shared responsibility that enriches the value of the daily service given by each.”
As we observe the World Day of the Sick and then begin our Lenten practices of prayer, penance and almsgiving, let’s resolve to keep Jesus Christ and the human person at the center of our spiritual efforts and works of mercy.
And let’s endeavor to give the world a striking witness of the unity of Christ’s disciples. May the world be able to say of us, “The believers are of one heart and mind … sharing everything they have” (cf. Acts 4:32). May our united efforts to serve the poor, the sick and the most vulnerable among us lead others to believe in the power of God’s love at work in the world!

(Sister Constance Veit is director of communications for the Little Sisters of the Poor.)

Sick, suffering, our everyday heroes

Guest Column
By Sister Constance Veit, lsp
sr_constance_veit-head-shotOver Christmas, two of my family members were talking about a mutual friend who, though chronically ill, routinely does heroic acts of kindness for others. Though they get exasperated with her when she overextends herself, they realize that caring for others is what makes life meaningful. I thanked God that these women are kind enough to support their friend through both good times and bad, helping her to live a full life.
This incident came to mind as I read Pope Francis’ message for the World Day of the Sick, in which he reflects on St. Bernadette’s relationship to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Our Lady spoke to Bernadette “as one person to another,” he says, treating her with great respect, even though she was poor and sickly.
“This reminds us that every person is, and always remains, a human being, and is to be treated as such. The sick and those who are disabled, even severely, have their own inalienable dignity and mission in life.”
In light of the expanding legalization of assisted suicide, Pope Francis’ insights are invaluable. Studies have shown that the majority of people who support assisted suicide do so because they fear the loss of personal autonomy and dignity in their final days. Suffering, they say, is meaningless and should have no place in the human experience. It seems that the thought of having to go on living when faced with serious disability or illness is becoming unacceptable in our post-Christian society.
What I find most tragic in this exaltation of independence and personal choice is that this attitude denies the beautiful reality that we are made for community. Created in the image and likeness of God, who is a Trinity of Persons, we are inherently relational, not autonomous.
Mutual dependence, rather than independence, is the true Gospel value, and so we should not be ashamed when we need the assistance of others. Our weakness or infirmity can be a graced opportunity for those who help us, as well as for ourselves, for as Saint John Paul II so often repeated, we can only find fulfillment through the sincere gift of self to others.
This is why Pope Francis is asking us to honor the sick by helping them to share their gifts and abilities. “Let us ask Mary Immaculate for the grace always to relate to the sick as persons who certainly need assistance,” he writes, “but who have a gift of their own to share with others.”
St. Bernadette turned her frailty into strength by serving the sick and offering her life for the salvation of humanity. The fact that Mary asked her to pray for sinners, the pope writes, “reminds us that the infirm and the suffering desire not only to be healed, but also to live a truly Christian life.”
Social media has allowed me to become acquainted with numerous heroes who go on giving in the midst of tremendous suffering. If you are looking for inspiration just google Zach Sobiech or Lauren Hill, young adults who made a difference in the world while dying of cancer; J.J. Hanson, president of the Patients Rights Action League, who triumphed over a brain tumor; or O.J. Brigance, a former professional football player who inspires thousands though he is completely paralyzed by Lou Gehrig’s disease.
I am sure that you have unsung heroes in your midst in the person of sick, disabled or elderly persons who enrich your life despite their own trials. This year as we celebrate the World Day of the Sick, let’s honor these everyday heroes by letting them know that we admire them and are there for them in their moments of need, and by asking them to pray for us!
(Sister Constance Veit, lsp, is director of communications for the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Guest Column: At life’s end, your best gift

By Sister Constance Veit, l.s.p.
As a resident of Washington, D.C., I have been closely following the campaign to legalize assisted suicide in our nation’s capital.
At the same time, my siblings and I have spent the last two weeks at my mother’s bedside in a hospital intensive care unit in my hometown. For days, I’ve been watching the physicians and nurses tending, with incredible focus and professionalism, to my mother, who is unconscious. No clinical sign has been left unexamined; no potential treatment option left undiscussed. Witnessing all of this has given me a lot to think about.
Such attention to detail; so many resources spent on a single life – and the lives of each of the other critically ill patients in this and so many other hospitals – how can we explain such an intense level of financial and human investment in the sick and elderly?
For me the answer to this question is obvious: Each human life is worth our care and attention because every person has been created in God’s image and likeness and is thus endowed with inviolable dignity and worth. As Pope Benedict XVI often said, “Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary” in God’s plan.
Every human life is sacred, even when the individual is unaware or no longer values life.

Sr. Viet

Sr. Viet

To those who are advocating for the ability to cut short the lives of the sick and elderly, and to those who express the desire to end life on their own terms, we must offer a heartfelt response: Even if you no longer value your own life, we do. We value your life because you are inherently worthy of love and reverence. There is no need to prove your usefulness or your personal worth; you are valuable simply because you are, and because you are a fellow child of God.
The sick, disabled and elderly play an essential role in our human community, in part, because they draw us together and teach us, through their state of dependence, how to be more loving. This was highlighted by Tracy Grant of The Washington Post, whose reflection about caring for her terminally ill husband went viral several weeks ago.
Grant referred to the time she spent caring for her husband as the best months of her life. Prior to her husband’s illness, she wrote, “I had yet to discover the reason I was put on this earth. During those seven months, I came to understand that whatever else I did in my life, nothing would matter more than this. Even though I really didn’t know how this would end.”
“Some days were more difficult than others,” Grant recalled, “but there were moments of joy, laughter, tenderness in every day – if I was willing to look hard enough. I found I could train myself to see more beauty than bother, to set my internal barometer to be more compassionate than callous. But I also discovered that with each day, my heart and soul grew more open to seeing this beauty than at any other time in my life.”
Grant believes that she “will never again be as good a person” as she was when she cared for her husband. “I am a better person for having been [his] caregiver,” she concluded. “It was his last, best gift to me.”
My siblings and I returned home to share a home-cooked meal dropped off by an old friend. We watched the World Series and talked about all we’ve been through with my mother so far, as well as our own wishes and intentions in such a situation. If my mother had chosen to check out early, we, her children, would not have these weeks together to shower her with our love and grow up a little more, together. This may be her last, best gift to us.
As you consider your end of life wishes think twice before you deprive your family members and friends of your last, best gift.
(Sister Constance Veit, l.s.p., is director of communications for the Little Sisters of the Poor.)