An Advent Dialogue with the Sick

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a reflection written over thirty years ago, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI expressed a remarkable solidarity with the sick and those who suffer. We offer some highlights of An Advent Dialogue with the Sick as a meditation during this time of preparation for Christ’s coming…  

“When the quiet joy of the period before Christmas makes itself felt on every side, many factors can make it especially hard to be sick. The burden of sickness prevents us from truly sharing in the joy others feel. But perhaps Advent can nevertheless become a medicine of the soul that makes it easier to bear the enforced inaction and the pain of your illness. Indeed, perhaps Advent can help us discover the unobtrusive grace that can lie in the very fact of being sick.…

Just like a great joy, so too illness and suffering can be a very personal Advent of one’s own—a visit by the God who enters my life and wants to encounter me personally. Even when it is difficult for us, we should at least try to understand the days of our illness in this way: The Lord has interrupted my activity for a time in order to let me be still.…

May it now be the case that God is waiting for me in this stillness? May it not be the case that he is doing here what Jesus says in the parable of the vine: “Every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (Jn I 5:2). If I learn to accept myself in these days of stillness, if I accept the pain, because the Lord is using it to purify me—does this not make me richer than if I had earned a lot of money? Has not something happened to me that is more durable and fruitful than all those things that can be counted and calculated?

A visit by the Lord—perhaps illness can present itself in a new light when we see it as a part of Advent … It can be a moment in our life that belongs to God, a time when we are open to him and thus learn to rediscover our own selves … The Lord is here. This Christian certainty is meant to help us look at the world with new eyes and to understand the “visitation” as a visit, as one way in which he can come to us and be close to us.”

 

 

 

 

The Spirit of Thanksgiving

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even though Thanksgiving is a thoroughly American holiday and our Congregation was founded in France, it’s a celebration that has deep resonance with our community’s spirit. How so? If you look closely at the painting above of an early community of Little Sisters, you’ll see that it’s quite a bit like images of the first Thanksgiving.

So what does this have to do with the Little Sisters of the Poor and this painting? The first Thanksgiving was all about thanking God for his Providence and sharing the goods of the earth with others. These concepts are central to the spirit of Saint Jeanne Jugan, as exemplified in this painting by James Collinson. The image portrays our first Little Sisters in England as they served  the elderly and sorted the goods that Providence had provided for them through the collecting. If you look closely through the window you can see the collecting Sisters returning from their rounds in their horse-drawn wagon.

Except for one, all the first Little Sisters in London were French. Like the pilgrims, they had heard a call from God and fearlessly set off for an unknown, potentially hostile foreign land. The voyage between Brittany and England wasn’t quite as long as that of the pilgrims on the Mayflower, but both groups put out into the deep not knowing what lie ahead. They relied on God to provide. And he did, sometimes in dramatic ways. They were grateful to Providence and they expressed this as a community. But that is not all!

That first Thanksgiving was also about sharing. This virtue is central to our spirit. God entered into our world through the Incarnation—he shared our human nature—and he continues to touch us through human means. That’s why he manifests his Providence through the generosity of other people rather than letting manna fall directly from heaven. Today we call this sharing solidarity. Saint Jeanne Jugan had a profound sense of the reality of the great human family where all men are treated as brothers, sharing the world’s goods according to the law of justice which is inseparable from the law of charity.

Jeanne and the first Little Sisters were grateful for all they received through the generosity of others. They prayed very sincerely for their benefactors and shared everything with the elderly, saving the best for the most infirm. Like the pilgrims, the first Little Sisters knew how to thank God for his Providence, and they knew how to share. We continue this spirit today, sharing with our sister homes and with others in the local community when Providence provides more than we need.

Saint Jeanne Jugan often told the Sisters, “We must always say, ‘Blessed be God, thank you, my God, or glory be to God!” I’m sure the pilgrims’ prayer sounded something like this back in 1621; may we each have the same sentiments in our hearts this Thanksgiving!

 

Old age is not the decline of life, but its fulfillment

Today the Vatican Information Service published an article quoting a message of Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, president of the Pontifical Council or Health Care Workers, entitled “The value of the life of the elderly." The archbishop's message is very much in harmony with the recent reflections of Pope Francis on the elderly, as the following excerpts from his message demonstrate.

"We are all called to collaborate everywhere, Christians and persons of good will, in the pursuit of a more just and equitable society, enriched also by the effective participation of those who are at times considered 'not useful' or even as a 'burden', but who may instead offer a contribution based on the experience and wisdom acquired throughout life."

“In many societies in so-called 'rich' countries, ensuring that the elderly are and remain 'co-protagonists' in social life means, in addition, facing the reality of increasing longevity, due to various factors including the growth of knowledge in medical and scientific fields. This longevity cannot, therefore, simply be a question of greater survival time, but should rather be accorded its due value in a respectful and appropriate manner, starting with the wishes and characteristics of the elderly and considering the context to which they belong.”

"Solidarity between the young and the elderly leads to the understanding that “the Church is effectively the family of all generations, in which everyone must feel at home, which must not be guided by the logic of profit and of 'having', but rather by that of gratuitousness and love. When during old age life becomes fragile, it never loses its value nor its dignity; everyone is wanted and loved by God, everyone is important and necessary. … In this way there enters the value of a specific pastoral care, which includes first and foremost the fundamental element of communion between generations. … It regards the promotion of a culture of unity: unity between generations, which must not regard each other as detached or indeed opposed; a vision of life that allows new generations to grow, immersed daily in this culture of unity, to which each person brings an indispensable contribution.”

“From a Christian perspective, indeed, old age is not the decline of life, but rather its fulfillment: the synthesis of what one has learned and lived, the synthesis of how much one has suffered, rejoiced, and withstood.”

 

 

A new image of Saint Jeanne Jugan

Today, as we celebrate the fourth anniversary of the canonization of Saint Jeanne Jugan, we share a new image of her, created by our good friend Dan Paulos director of the St. Bernadette Institute of Sacred Art. Below the image Dan explains its significance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SAINT JEANNE JUGAN

In this simple silhouette, Saint Jeanne Jugan bows her head in prayer, in preparation for a life-long journey as a servant of the Poor. Her basket is empty, representing the ceaseless “call” to take care of the elderly who live in poverty. Yes, her basket is empty, representing her gift of selflessness, “emptying” herself for those in need. The lower ribbon not only announces the name of the newly canonized saint, but also petitions her humble prayers. This banner also symbolizes our prayers ascending up one side of her, while her responses flow down from the other. The stars remind us that Jeanne Jugan is forever in the midst of God.  Her halo, formed of a flying ribbon, remains without words, representing her silence — never once whispering that she, herself was foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor. And the rosary, which is one of the most simple, but powerful prayers of the Church, continues to be recited by all her Sisters throughout the world. 

 – Dan Paulos

 

 

Take care of the two ends of life

 

All attention these days is on our Holy Father's ground-breaking interview, but we have been impressed on how often he has spoken about the elderly, and the link between the old and the young, in recent weeks. He even talked about the elderly at World Youth Day! Below are excerpts from three of his recent talks...

“I ask the elderly, from my heart: do not cease to be the cultural storehouse of our people, a storehouse that hands on justice, hands on history, hands on values, hands on the memory of the people. And the rest of you, please, do not oppose the elderly: let them speak, listen to them and go forward. But know this, know that at this moment, you young people and you elderly people are condemned to the same destiny: exclusion. Don’t allow yourselves to be excluded … Make yourselves heard; take care of the two ends of life, the two ends of the history of peoples: the elderly and the young; and do not water down the faith.…” (July 25, 2013)

“Children and the elderly build the future of peoples: children because they lead history forward, the elderly because they transmit the experience and wisdom of their lives. This relationship and this dialogue between generations is a treasure to be preserved and strengthened!” (July 26, 2013)

 

“Hope and future presuppose memory. The memory of our elderly people is the support to go forward on the way. The future of society … is rooted in the elderly and in young people: the latter because they have the strength and age to carry the history forward, the former, because they are the living memory. A nation that does not take care of the elderly, of children and of young people has no future, because it mistreats the memory and the promise.” (September 11, 2013)

 

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