This summer let young and old climb aboard the same canoe

Sister Constance Veit, l.s.p

By Sister Constance Veit, l.s.p.
My fondest memories of summer are the times spent with my favorite aunt at her cottage nestled in the Adirondack Mountains. As a middle school teacher, she had a gift for relating to kids in a way very different from parents, like a wise friend or a trusted confidante. My aunt patiently taught us how to knit and sew; she listened to our stories and nurtured our dreams as if each niece or nephew were the only one.
She took us on long walks in the woods, pointing out her favorite wildflowers and teaching us to recognize fresh bear tracks and other potential dangers. She also taught us how to paddle her antique canoe around the nearby lake. As we got older, my aunt would sit on the dock reading a book as we took the canoe out to explore the lily pads along the shoreline or ride the waves created by the speeding motorboats. But she always kept one eye on us in case we got into trouble.
Although she never had children of her own, my aunt took a lively interest in all her nieces and nephews until the very end of her life. She never gave us lectures, expressed disapproval or told us how things should be done, but she always kept an eye on us. She remained creative and curious long after retiring and unassumingly shared her time, her talents and herself with others.
As I read Pope Francis’ recent post-synodal letter, Christus Vivit, in which he encourages the young and the old to form strong bonds, I realized what a blessing my aunt was to our family, for she personified the ideal of elders as wisdom figures and memory keepers.
“What do I ask of the elders among whom I count myself?” our Holy Father wrote. “I call us to be memory keepers … I envision elders as a permanent choir of a great spiritual sanctuary, where prayers of supplication and songs of praise support the larger community that works and struggles in the field of life. It is a beautiful thing when “young men and maidens together, old men and children, praise the name of the Lord” (Ps 148:12- 13).
When her life was coming to an end my aunt felt she had very little to leave us, but as my siblings and cousins came from all over the country to bid her farewell, it was obvious that because she had given us so much of herself, she would live on and even blossom in us.
“What can we elderly persons give to the young?” Pope Francis asked in Christus Vivit. “We can remind today’s young people, who have their own blend of heroic ambitions and insecurities, that a life without love is an arid life…. We can tell fearful young people that anxiety about the future can be overcome…. We can teach those young people, sometimes so focused on themselves, that there is more joy in giving than in receiving, and that love is not only shown in words, but also in actions.”
This is what my aunt taught us!
The following words of our Holy Father brought her memory to life in a special way:
“During the Synod, one of the young auditors from the Samoan Islands spoke of the Church as a canoe, in which the elderly help to keep on course by judging the position of the stars, while the young keep rowing, imagining what waits for them ahead.” He concluded, “Let us all climb aboard the same canoe and together seek a better world, with the constantly renewed momentum of the Holy Spirit.”
So, this summer, be intentional about bringing the generations in your family or neighborhood together. Take time for long walks and slow canoe rides, and for sharing memories and dreams. You won’t be disappointed!
(Sister Constance Veit is director of communications for the Little Sisters of the Poor.)

I heard Jesus saying to me …

Sister Constance Veit

Guest Column
By Sister Constance Veit, LSP
Have you ever received an unexpected message from a friend, maybe a text message or a voice mail that made your day, or even led you to change your outlook on life? This happened to me last month, in the middle of SEEK 2019, the annual conference of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS).
In his homily at Mass that day, Archbishop Samuel Aquila spoke about bringing the light of Christ into the world’s darkness. He encouraged us to recapture the “sense of eternity,” which, he said, society has lost.
These words echoed in my heart – “sense of eternity” – and then just as I was about to receive Communion, I heard Jesus saying to me, “The elderly … let them teach you.”
As I made my thanksgiving after Communion, I was overcome with joy and gratitude for my vocation, which puts me in daily contact with the elderly. But at the same time I realized how often I take them for granted.
I returned home more aware of all the wisdom and experience our Residents have to share, and more intent on learning from them.
I began to ask our Residents questions – “What does heaven mean to you?” … “What’s the secret to a good life?” … “How have you faced life’s inevitable difficulties?” Their answers left me in admiration.
Mary told me that for her, heaven is everything – her true home and her reason to go on living. “If I didn’t believe in heaven,” she said, “I would be tempted to end my life because there would be no reason to go on living in my condition if it weren’t for the hope of seeing God and my family in heaven.”
Maude, a retired social worker, told me “Heaven is God’s work in us.” When I asked her what that looks like, she smiled and responded, “I just told you! It looks like us!”
Carl, who has dealt with a physical disability his whole life, gave me a pep talk about perseverance and told me that the secret to a good life is to be resolutely joyful, no matter what happens, because “God is always with us!”
It seems to me that these seniors live what Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap., the Pope’s own preacher, teaches about the sense of eternity.
“For the believer, eternity is not only a hope, it is also a presence. We have this experience every time that we make a real act of faith in Christ, because ‘you have eternal life, you believe in the name of the Son of God;’ every time we receive Communion, in which ‘we are given the pledge of future glory;’ every time we hear the words of the Gospel which are ‘words of eternal life.’ … Between the life of faith in time and eternal life there is a relationship similar to that which exists between the life of an embryo in the maternal womb and that of the baby, once he has come to the light.”
The elderly in our homes have battled through dark times – both personal and historical – and they have persevered. They really do live on the Bread and the Word of Life as their pledge of future glory.
But they don’t only hope for eternity as a future reality; I believe they experience it as a presence brightening their days and lightening the burdens of old age in a mysterious, but very real way.
They personify the words of St. Paul, “We are not discouraged; rather, although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to what is seen but to what is unseen; for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal.”
In the midst of our frenetic, polarized and materialistic world the elderly remind me of eternal values which are often unseen, but which alone give life beauty and true meaning.
This month in the liturgy we encounter the elderly prophets Simeon and Anna, who greet Jesus, Mary and Joseph in the Temple and confirm Jesus’ identity as the long – awaited Messiah.
As we celebrate the Presentation in the Temple, perhaps we could all make an effort to reach out to the seniors we know so that they will feel like a living part of the community – and so that we may be enriched by their unique gifts and their “sense of eternity!”

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

Take courage and be not afraid

Sister Constance Veit

By Sister Constance Veit, LSP
Growing up, many of my family’s summer vacations took place at the ocean. Whenever we could afford it we would head for Cape Cod, New Hampshire or Maine. As we kids splashed around in the salt water or searched for shells, my mother loved to just sit and watch the waves crashing against the rocks. “I could stay here all day,” she’d often muse. We’d cringe at these words as we quickly grew bored and looked for the next great adventure!
But as I grew older and began to progress in a life of prayer, I came to understand my mother’s fascination with the sea. Whenever I visited the ocean I’d find a good spot where I could watch the waves crashing against the rocks or rolling across the sand, pull out my Bible or my rosary and reflect on the majesty and Providence of God.
This summer I found myself thinking about the sea for a special reason, for it was 150 years ago this September that seven Little Sisters of the Poor set off from our motherhouse in Brittany, France, on a long ocean journey. The Sisters traveled across the Atlantic in an immigrant ship named Napoleon III, arriving in Brooklyn, New York on Sept. 13, 1868. The massive iron vessel had been built in 1865 expressly for transatlantic travel, but the trip must have been harrowing just the same. An etching of the Napoleon III shows the ship being tossed about by waves during one of its voyages.
Beyond the normal anxieties associated with such an undertaking, the young Little Sisters on their way to New York surely entertained a host of other fears – for they were about to begin a new life and a new mission in a foreign country, with no expectation of ever returning to their homeland.
But this little band of Sisters had been formed in the school of Saint Jeanne Jugan, whose charity and trust in God’s loving Providence had led her to establish a new religious community despite a virtual lack of resources and preparation. Our pioneering Little Sisters surely rode out many a storm, leaning on their formation and trusting in the Lord whom even the winds and the waves obey (cf. Mt 8:27).
Despite their lack of proficiency in English and their ignorance of American culture, within two days of their arrival in New York the Sisters ventured out into the city to collect alms and procure all that would be necessary for the care of the elderly. Within a week they welcomed their first residents.
By the end of September a second group of Little Sisters destined for a foundation in Cincinnati had set out on the long journey to America. A third group arrived in New Orleans in December. In just four years the Little Sisters established 13 homes for the elderly in the United States; many more would follow. All were founded in extreme poverty but with great trust in God’s Providence.
Amazed at how completely God provided for their needs, the Sisters in one home wrote to the motherhouse, “Divine goodness never disappoints us in our expectations and often surpasses them.” Father Ernest Lelièvre, a French priest who served as the Congregation’s ambassador in America, encouraged the Sisters, “The Lord is with you; that says everything … Are you not his family, his people? Has not each of your homes had proof, a hundred times over, of his predilection? … Do not things happen every day which repeat to you: ‘You are in the house of the Lord, and it is here that he delights to dwell?’”
As we prepare to launch our sesquicentennial celebrations in our homes across the country, I find peace and confidence in remembering our story and thanking God for his Providence everyday and in every undertaking.
At the same time, I am conscious of how much the barque of the Church has been subjected to violent storms this summer and I confide to Our Lord those whose faith has been shaken in recent weeks. My prayer for all of us is that each day we may hear the voice of Jesus deep in our hearts as he calms our inner storms: “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”

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

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.)

Join revolution of tenderness

Sister Constance Veit

Little Sisters
By Sister Constance Veit
TED is a media organization that posts online talks under the slogan “ideas worth spreading.” Earlier this year Pope Francis surprised the world by digitally giving his own “TED Talk” at the organization’s annual conference in Vancouver. In his nearly 20 minute talk, our Holy Father challenged his listeners to ignite a much-needed revolution of tenderness in our world.
Tenderness, the Holy Father suggested, “is the love that comes close and becomes real. It is a movement that starts from our heart and reaches the eyes, the ears and the hands. Tenderness means to use our eyes to see the other, our ears to hear the other, to listen to the children, the poor, those who are afraid of the future. To listen also to the silent cry of our common home, of our sick and polluted earth. Tenderness means to use our hands and our heart to comfort the other, to take care of those in need.”
What better time could there be to launch a revolution of tenderness than during the Advent and Christmas season? After all, the heart of Christmas is the story of God’s coming among us as a helpless baby – this is the epitome of tenderness. As Pope Francis shared, “God himself descended into Jesus to be on our level. This is the path that Jesus himself took. He lowered himself, he lived his entire human existence practicing the real, concrete language of love. Tenderness is the path of solidarity, the path of humility.”
Imagine what Christmas would be like if we opted out of the commercialism of the season in favor of tenderness! If we didn’t have to be on the lookout for the next sale or the latest decorating ideas, we could better use our eyes to see the lonely and the misfit. If we chose silence over the 24-hour Christmas carol station once in a while, we would grow more attuned to the cry of the poor and the deepest hopes and fears of our children. And if our arms weren’t so full of packages, we could more easily reach out to others with the caress of God himself.
But we can choose tenderness over materialism and consumerism this Christmas! It’s a matter of slowing down, putting Christ at the center and prioritizing people over things. Reaching out to serve those on the peripheries and cherishing those who are close to us will bring us deeper fulfillment and more precious memories than all those material gifts we don’t really need. Tenderness is its own reward!
Meeting with a group of young people last Advent, Pope Francis invited them to welcome the joy of the season as a gift and to witness to it in their families, schools and parishes. He specifically encouraged them to share it with their grandparents by talking to them, asking them questions and learning from their memories and experiences. He also told grandparents that they should make an effort to understand their grandchildren, and to listen to their aspirations and hopes.
As a Little Sister of the Poor, I can think of no better way to launch the revolution of tenderness than for families to strengthen intergenerational bonds this Christmas. If you are young, reach out to your grandparents or elder aunts and uncles. And if you are older, shower the kids in your extended family with the unconditional love and attention that only elders know how to give.
I have one last suggestion this Christmas – and it springs directly from our Holy Father’s TED Talk. “Quite a few years of life have strengthened my conviction that each and everyone’s existence is deeply tied to that of others,” Francis told his audience. And then, incredibly, he asked for a little tenderness for himself: “We all need each other. And so, please, think of me as well with tenderness, so that I can fulfill the task I have been given for the good of the other, of each and every one, of all of you, of all of us.”
So, as you help ignite the revolution of tenderness this Christmas, don’t forget to say a little prayer for the man who inspired it!

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

Be not afraid: we’re in this together

Sister Constance Veit

Guest Column
By Sister Constance Veit
A Each October we observe Respect Life Month in dioceses around the United States. This year’s theme is “Be Not Afraid,” but of what, or whom, are we supposed to not be afraid?
Pondering this question, I recalled an experience I had while attending the Convocation of Catholic Leaders in Orlando last summer. I met a young woman and her mother from my diocese. The daughter, who had an obvious disability and was using a power wheelchair, had been chosen as a delegate to the Convocation; her mother, a college professor, was there as her assistant.
As we got acquainted, we chatted about accessibility issues in the church. The young woman told me that while most parishes have remedied architectural barriers such as curbs and restrooms, the seating area designated for wheelchairs is often still found way off to the side or at the very back of the sanctuary – evidence, she believes, that handicapped individuals are still not fully embraced as an integral part of parish life.
What she said next cut right to the heart: “It’s fine to be able to get in and out of church, but it would be nice if someone smiled at me once in a while, or spoke to me as if I actually knew what was going on.” I was stunned. All too quickly we wrapped up our conversation, traded business cards – yes, my new friend has a college education and a meaningful job – and went our separate ways. But I haven’t been able to get this conversation off my mind.
When I got home I did a bit of research on attitudes toward the disabled and was shocked by a recent study in the U.K. that found that two thirds of adults are afraid of people with disabilities and feel so awkward around them that they go out of their way to avoid them. Another study indicated that 1.4 million senior citizens in the U.K. feel lonely and cut off from society, many going for over a month at a time without talking to another human being. Since these were not American studies, it would be easy to dismiss this data, but I suspect that we have a lot in common with our British brothers and sisters.
Scholars in the field of disability studies suggest that disabled people mirror a certain kind of personal loss or death. They remind us of our own limitations and mortality – and that is what frightens us. As long as we can avoid those who are handicapped or elderly, we can keep our fears about our own fragility and eventual death at bay. But we are all broken in some way – if we were honest, we would admit that we each experience areas of weakness or disability every day, and none of us is really more than one accident or illness away from losing our cherished independence.
The church proposes a different approach. In the face of suffering and death she tells us, “Be not afraid.” With words that echo through salvation history into the depths of our hearts, the Lord says to us, “Do not fear: I am with you” (Isaiah 41:10). He speaks these words not as One who merely observes our pain, but as One who experienced intense suffering and death in his own flesh before triumphing over death itself.
Reflecting on the wounds of the Risen Christ, we see that even our most difficult trials can be the place where God manifests his victory. He is always with us. Jesus promised this when he gave the disciples the same mission he gives to each of us: Go out to all the world!
So if we run toward our most vulnerable brothers and sisters rather than running away from them, marginalizing them or excluding them from our lives, we will experience the love of God in a powerful new way as we contribute to the building up of a society that witnesses to the beautiful, profound reality that God has created each of us in his own image and likeness, that he loves us infinitely, and that he has confided each person to the love of all.
(Sister Constance Veit is director of communications for the Little Sisters of the Poor.)

Standing up for religious liberty takes patience, courage

Guest Column

Sister Constance Veit

By Sister Constance Veit, LSP
In college I grew in my Catholic faith and had a strong experience of religious pluralism. I was involved in the Newman Center daily but I also had many non-Catholic friends and even frequented Hillel House, the Jewish student center.
Several of my Jewish friends worked in Hillel’s kosher dining room and since they couldn’t work on the Sabbath or religious holidays, they got me and some other non-Jewish girls jobs there where we served kosher food and did the dishes on Friday evenings and Jewish holidays.
At 19-years-old, I didn’t know much about Jewish traditions. My orthodox friends took their religious obligations seriously and faithfully observed the weekly Sabbath, or Shabbat as I learned to call it. I tried my best to respect their deeply held convictions, even when I didn’t understand them, since I didn’t want to offend either my friends or their faith. I secretly admired the courage of the orthodox Jewish students who unabashedly proclaimed their religious identity through their yarmulkes, their food choices and other observances.
Through these experiences, I learned to approach other faith traditions with reserved curiosity and respectful appreciation. As I learned more about Judaism, while at the same time examining Catholicism in depth, I came to understand that even when we are at a loss to explain the nuances of our faith experiences to skeptics and unbelievers, this does not weaken the sincerity or strength of our convictions.
Things have changed a lot since my college days. As the Little Sisters have spent the last several years in the limelight due to our Supreme Court case over the HHS contraceptive mandate, we have received valuable support and encouragement from many sources. But we have also been the object of mean-spirited hate mails, uninformed critiques and partisan judgments of our supposed hidden motives. The vitriol directed against us has been both disturbing and disheartening.
Remembering the mutual respect I experienced during my college days, I am deeply saddened to see our current culture’s disdain for traditional religious values and its apparent amnesia in relation to the intentions of our Founding Fathers. For me the most jarring moment occurred last year when a major political candidate proclaimed, referring to pro-lifers, “Deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed!”
We claim to live in a pluralistic society that defends human dignity and the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Such a society is committed to making room for everyone, including those whose convictions run counter to the mainstream, but who wish to live peaceably with others and contribute to the common good. This does not mean that every individual will find every job or social situation a perfect fit. Nor does it mean that every employer, organization or service provider will be able to satisfy the desires and aspirations of every person who walks through their doors.
In a pluralistic society, religious organizations like

Blessed Mother honors fatherhood through Fatima

Guest Column
By Sister Constance Veit, lsp

Sr. Constance Veit

Last month we watched Pope Francis travel to Fatima for the centenary of Our Lady’s apparitions to the three shepherd children, Lucia dos Santos and Jacinta and Francisco Marto. Much has been said and written about Fatima this year. I’ve learned a great deal about how the Fatima message encapsulates the essential elements of Christian life – prayer, sacrifice, redemptive suffering and holiness of life.
I also discovered is that the last apparition at Fatima, which took place on October 13, 1917, is the only approved apparition in the history of the Church in which the Holy Family appeared together. While the immense crowd that day witnessed the miracle of the sun, the children saw Our Lady standing with St. Joseph and the child Jesus, both of whom were blessing the world.
Lucia, the oldest of the visionaries, became a Carmelite and spent her life spreading the message of Fatima. She felt that through the vision of the Holy Family, God wished to remind us of the true purpose of the family in the world.
“In the message of Fatima, God calls us to turn our eyes to the Holy Family of Nazareth, into which he chose to be born and to grow in grace and stature, in order to present to us a model to imitate, as our footsteps tread the path of our pilgrimage to Heaven,” Lucia wrote in her book entitled “Calls from the message of Fatima.”
Lucia wrote that parents’ greatest mission is to instill in their children the knowledge of God and his commandments. “Nothing can dispense parents from this sublime mission,” she wrote, for God has entrusted it to them and they are answerable to God for it. “Parents are the ones who must guide their children’s first steps to the altar of God, teaching them to raise their innocent hands and to pray, helping them to discover how to find God on their way and to follow the echo of his voice.”
What remains most engraved in the hearts of children, Lucia wrote, is what they have received “in their father’s arms and on their mother’s lap.” These words touched me in a very personal way as I paused to recall the memories of my parents most deeply engraved in my heart, especially those of my dad.
As a stay-at-home mother who was outgoing and talkative by nature, my mom played the more prominent role in the life of my family, but my father was a quiet, strong and faithful presence as well. For this I am very grateful.
My father fulfilled what Pope Francis wrote in his recent apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (n. 177), “A father helps the child to perceive the limits of life, to be open to the challenges of the wider world and to see the need for hard work and strenuous effort.” These words remind me of the quiet yet consistent way my father helped me to succeed in math and science and of the efforts he made to help me explore college and career possibilities.
God sets the father in the family, Pope Francis wrote, “to be close to his children as they grow – when they play and when they work, when they are carefree and when they are distressed, when they are talkative and when they are silent, when they are daring and when they are afraid, when they stray and when they get back on the right path. To be a father who is always present.”
When I read these words I remembered the time my father showed up, silent and stern, at a cast party my sister and I were attending following our high school musical. He had come to bring us home rather than let us ride with another teen in the middle of a blizzard. Although we were quite embarrassed at the time, I later appreciated the fact that my father cared enough to inconvenience himself.
Finally, I thought of my father when I read these words from Pope Francis: “Some fathers feel they are useless or unnecessary, but the fact is that children need to find a father waiting for them when they return home with their problems. They may try hard not to admit it, not to show it, but they need it.”
How often, over the years, my siblings and I tried to assert our independence, trying hard to hide the fact that we needed dad’s help or advice, yet he was always there to share his knowledge, skills and wisdom with us.
As we continue to honor Our Lady during this centenary year of her apparitions at Fatima, let’s also thank God for St. Joseph and for our own fathers, who faithfully fulfilled their vocation in the heart of our families, whether they are still with us or have already passed on from this life to the Father’s house.
(Sister Constance Veit, LSP, is director of communications for the Little Sisters of the Poor.)

Other Persons Are a Gift

Guest Column

By Sister Constance Veit, lsp

Sr_Constance Veit

A few days ago I met a very little girl who made a big impression on me. Grace and her older brother Benedict suffer from a rare genetic disorder that has resulted in serious hearing impairment and limited physical growth. The two come to our home for the elderly each week with their mother to pray the rosary with our residents. Watching Grace and Benedict interact with the elderly, I was amazed by their maturity and graciousness. I almost felt that I was in the presence of angels – such was the radiance of these two beautiful little ones in the midst of our frail seniors.

In all likelihood, Grace and Benedict will never make an impact on the world scene, and yet I believe that they, and so many other little, hidden souls, make a huge difference in our world spiritually. This is what our Holy Father is suggesting by his Lenten message this year. The theme he has proposed for our 2017 journey through Lent is The Word Is a Gift. Other Persons Are a Gift.

Using the parable of Lazarus and the rich man from St. Luke’s Gospel, Pope Francis turns our attention to those whom we might usually ignore. He compares the anonymity of the rich man, who is never named in Scripture, with Lazarus, who appears with a specific name and a unique story. Lazarus “becomes a face, and as such, a gift, a priceless treasure, a human being whom God loves and cares for, despite his concrete condition as an outcast.”

The Holy Father continues, “Lazarus teaches us that other persons are a gift. A right relationship with people consists in gratefully recognizing their value.” Lent, he says, is a favorable season for recognizing the face of Christ in God’s little ones. “Each of us meets people like this every day,” says the pope. “Each life that we encounter is a gift deserving acceptance, respect and love. The word of God helps us to open our eyes to welcome and love life, especially when it is weak and vulnerable.”

This is what our foundress Saint Jeanne Jugan did so beautifully. Mindful of Christ’s promise that whatever we do to the least of his brothers and sisters we do to him, she opened her heart and her home definitively to the needy elderly of her day. She often counseled the young Little Sisters, “Never forget that the poor are Our Lord … When you will be near the poor give yourself wholeheartedly, for it is Jesus himself whom you care for in them.”

Jeanne Jugan looked upon each elderly person with the loving gaze of Christ and so she saw each one as a treasure worthy of reverence and loving care. She knew that despite outward appearances, each person to whom she offered hospitality was someone for whom Christ died and rose again; each one was someone worthy of the gift of her own life.

Pope Francis’ prayer this Lent is that the Holy Spirit will lead us “on a true journey of conversion, so that we can rediscover the gift of God’s word, be purified of the sin that blinds us, and serve Christ present in our brothers and sisters in need.” Let us pray for one another, he concluded, “so that by sharing in the victory of Christ, we may open our doors to the weak and the poor. Then we will be able to share to the full the joy of Easter.”

I thank God for my recent encounter with Grace and Benedict, for they opened my eyes anew to the beauty in each human person. My wish for you this Lent is that God lead might you to a similar life-changing encounter.

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