True Love for the Poor
Sarah Phillips, Crosswalk.com Family Editor
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
Lent is a time when believers not only meditate on Christ’s suffering, but they reach out to those in need. In light of this practice, I want to share an experience my husband and I had this weekend with a special group of Christians who understand the command to love one another at the deepest level. My husband and I spent a recent Sunday afternoon at a home run by The Little Sisters of the Poor.
The Little Sisters of the Poor are a religious order dedicated to the care of the elderly. St. Jeanne Jugan founded the order in revolutionary-era France. Like so many other founders and foundresses of religious communities, she didn't set out to start an order. She simply saw a need in her community and answered God's call to meet that need through her own life.
St. Jeanne Jugan's work with the elderly began in her teens when she would beg on behalf of the elderly poor. As a young woman, she rejected a sailor's proposal, sensing God had consecrated life in mind for her even though she did not know all the details yet of how it would play out. After years of living a life of prayer and service, she realized God wanted her to serve the elderly in particular. As more and more aging and poor came to her doorstep, young women joined her in service and the order began.
Today, the Little Sisters have homes all over the world. My husband's grandmother now lives in one. This is what brought us to our local Little Sisters.
I am not an expert on caring for the elderly, but I've certainly visited nursing homes before. My most memorable experiences occurred during my own grandmother's stays in several local nursing homes. I know how dismal these places can feel.
Our visit to the Little Sisters was anything but dismal. Everything was so peaceful and well-kept. The nuns, in full habit, were eager to meet me and the rest of the extended family. My husband’s grandmother, already settled in to her new place, used her new walker to give us a tour of the place. It was neat to see her walking faster than I'd ever seen her walk.
We saw the handicap accessible chapel where a service is offered every single day - and the sisters will even wheel your bed in if need be. As we stood outside the chapel, another resident zipped by in her walker. A nun smiled and mentioned how she is always visiting the chapel to pray for her many grandchildren. We saw the calendar filled with events and visitors. We saw the handrails, wheeled chairs, and even the salon - every detail of the place’s design was focused on allowing life to be lived to the fullest.
Beyond the practical details that make life easier for the elderly, the attitude that each human being has inherent dignity and worth permeated the place. The nuns were attentive to everyone, young and old, no matter how healthy or sick. As mentioned above, the residents were bright-eyed and social. Nobody was a burden or a lost cause (or a cause at all, for that matter). A small sign at the front desk showed a smiling picture of one of their residents who had recently passed, expressing gratitude for her and asking for prayers.
The Little Sisters of the Poor are immersed in the realities and complexities of aging day in and day out. And they are just one of many unsung organizations that reach out to those in need, not just once during Lent, but every single day for as long as they are needed.
It's true that the Little Sisters' lives are not glamorous. They receive no earthly reward - not even a high-paying salary - and yet they are happy, beautiful women and interesting conversationalists. These women have created an environment of love and expert care that so many other facilities struggle to achieve, and it's precisely because of their love for Christ.
Intersecting Faith & Life: Is God calling you to increase your service to others? Pray about ways you can reach out to others in need this Lent.