Lighting a Candle in the Darkness: Becket Fund Gala

As Little Sisters of the Poor we don’t often find ourselves frequenting luxury hotels or attending black tie social events, but that is exactly what we did last Thursday, May 15. A group of ten Little Sisters representing the Brooklyn and Baltimore provinces attended the Becket Fund’s 19th annual Canterbury Medal Dinner at the famous Pierre Hotel in Manhattan. We were special guests of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing us in our lawsuit against the Federal Government dealing with the HHS Contraceptive Mandate.

As sumptuous as the food and ambiance were, what really captivated us throughout the evening was the positive energy generated by so many truly outstanding, edifying people who have devoted their resources and energies — if not their entire lives — to the defense of religious liberty for all people of all faiths, beginning with the Becket Fund attorneys and staff. A New York journalist covering the event wrote, “Perhaps only the Becket Fund could pull off such an event, a glittering evening where men and women of strong (and conflicting) beliefs find common ground without watering down their principles.”

We had been invited to the Gala as the recipients of “special client recognition” and were treated like celebrities by the many guests we had the privilege of encountering. Countless people greeted us and thanked us for our courage in confronting the Federal Government over the HHS Mandate. These accolades were all the more striking as we reflected on the inspiring activities of the other guests, who represented an array of faiths and cultures, but who all support and/or work for religious liberty. It was very humbling to be treated this way — one person even called us rock stars! — since we had never dreamt that our efforts to defend the Gospel of Life and to ensure the continuation of our mission to the elderly poor in the face of the obstacles imposed by the HHS Mandate would gain us such notoriety. We had never really thought of our decision to bring a lawsuit against the government as an act of courage, but rather as a necessity in the face of the burdensome fines we could be required to pay if we do not win an exemption from the Mandate. As many of you know, our case is still pending.

The recipient of the Canterbury Medal this year was Rabbi Lord Jonathon Sacks, emeritus chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, the spiritual leader of Great Britain’s Jewish community. Rabbi Sacks began his keynote address with the following analogy: “Every faith is a candle we light in the public domain. A little light drives away much darkness and no one else’s candle diminishes my own. But if we all light our candles together we can turn a dark world into one full of light. That is why working for religious liberty is so fundamental.”

Rabbi Sacks, who is British, went on to give a rousing challenge to us as Americans to stand up for religious liberty, since, he said, “America’s great achievement has been to turn religion into a force for freedom.” The tree of liberty in America, he said, “has religious roots,” and it cannot survive without them. America needs to stand tall, he concluded, and assert its unique history so that moral relativism and individualism will not prevail in our modern world. “A free God seeks the free worship of free human beings,” Rabbi Sacks concluded. “God has faith in us — this is what Freedom tells us.”

We departed the Canterbury Medal Dinner more aware of all that unites us to so many other people of faith, and of all those who support us, and inspired to continue in our own struggle for religious liberty in the pursuit of our mission of hospitality to needy elderly persons.

CLICK HERE for complete coverage on the Becket Fund website.



 

 

 

 

A wonderful weekend in Washington

April 26–27, 2014

With our home in Washington situated next to the Blessed John Paul II Shrine and across the street from the National Shrine of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, our Little Sisters and a few hardy Residents were able to fully participate in the April 26–27 festivities marking Divine Mercy Sunday  and the canonization of John XXIII and John Paul II.

Subtle changes took place in the neighborhood during the week leading up to the canonization, as the signs in front of the Shrine and the nearby John Paul II Seminary were altered, huge banners were erected on the façade of the Basilica and the JP II Shrine, and technical crews gathered on the property next door.

The Little Sisters and a few Residents joined in the Shrine’s program Saturday evening in preparation for the next day’s main event. After viewing several videos on the life of John Paul in what will eventually become the Shrine’s main worship space, at 9 p.m. we set off with a good sized crowd — in a light rain — for a three-mile Eucharistic procession in the footsteps of John Paul II. Rev. Gregory Gresko, the Shrine’s chaplain, carried the monstrance along the entire route, accompanied by acolytes and Knights of Columbus of various ages and ranks.

The procession began by crossing Harewood Road and winding its way onto the Catholic University campus and around the back of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. We stopped to pray at altars under the east portico of the Basilica and outside McGivney Hall, and then continued on to the chapel of Caldwell Hall. At each stop a meditation was read on a well-chosen theme related to John Paul II (Mary, the family, communications, Divine Mercy, etc.) and a hymn was sung by the seminary schola. One of these was based on the words of Pope John Paul himself, with the refrain repeating “Be not afraid, open wide the doors to Christ.” The sight of the Blessed Sacrament crossing the university campus on such a peaceful spring night was deeply moving.

From the CUA campus the procession headed north on Harewood Road, past our home, around the corner to the Blessed John Paul II Seminary, where an altar was set up outside the main entrance of the building. By then it was almost 11 p.m. and the rain was falling more heavily, so we headed home for the night. The next day we learned that two Residents had spent the whole night in the John Paul II Shrine, praying and singing with the faithful gathered there, among them many young adults. The program, which continued until the live broadcast of the canonization at 4 a.m., included adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Confessions, veneration of the relic of John Paul II, a midnight Mass and an all-night coffee house animated by the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal.

Back home, a few of the Little Sisters rose at 3:30 a.m. to watch the ceremony in Rome live. Several members of the community headed back to the John Paul II Shrine for the 9:30 a.m. renaming ceremony, which took place in front of the large sign on Harewood Road. Several officials of the Knights of Columbus spoke and unveiled the new signage bearing the name, Saint John Paul II National Shrine. A Mass of Thanksgiving was then celebrated by Rev. Gregory Gresko and a number of priest concelebrants.

In his homily Father Gresko spoke eloquently of John Paul II’s teaching on Divine Mercy, “We encounter in the message of Divine Mercy the meaning of Saint John Paul II’s entire pontificate. As the message of Divine Mercy is one of respecting truthfully the inherent dignity and value of the human being, each person is precious in the eyes of God, Who gave His life for each one. As John Paul II would explain, ‘This consoling message is addressed above all to those who, afflicted by a particularly harsh trial or crushed by the weight of the sins they committed, have lost all confidence in life and are tempted to give in to despair. To them the gentle face of Christ is offered; those rays from his heart touch them and shine upon them, warm them, show them the way and fill them with hope.’”

He concluded by evoking the blood of the new saint, which was exposed for veneration in a beautifully designed reliquary in the Shrine’s original chapel. “Saint John Paul II has left us yet another sign to help us along our journey in faith so that we might more readily reach the House of the Father — his liquid blood,” he explained. “This blood testifies to the life of Saint John Paul II, reminding us of the loving encounters he always would seek with other people not in order to receive from them, but rather in order to make a complete gift of himself to them. This blood stands as testimony to the heart of John Paul II, who sought always to be united to the Heart of Jesus through the Heart of Mary.… This blood also brings to mind the assassination attempt made on his life on 13 May 1981, the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, where Saint John Paul II would demonstrate to the world a powerful example both of what it means to pursue holiness in our world even to the point of shedding blood in service to the Christian Faith, but also of the power of Divine Mercy, which he embraced in his own life so deeply that he could share such mercy even with his attempted assassin, calling the man who had tried to take his life ‘brother’ and forgiving him for what he had done.”

Father Gresko concluded his homily by quoting John Paul II, who saw a link between the attempt on his life in 1981 and his devotion to Divine Mercy, “Right from the beginning of my ministry in the See of Saint Peter in Rome, I considered this message my special task. Providence has assigned it to me in the present situation of man, the Church and the world. It could be said that precisely this situation assigned that message to me as my task before God.”

In the afternoon several Little Sisters attended the Mass for Divine Mercy Sunday at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa, O.F.M. Cap., preacher for the papal household, was the main celebrant and homilist. He compared the Basilica to the cenacle described in the day’s Gospel, saying that just like the evening when Thomas encountered the risen Lord, so Christ was present among us, eager to give us his peace and his Spirit. He also emphasized that divine mercy is more than a love of forgiveness — although it is that — it is a visceral, passionate love that must be lived by believers or it will die. The liturgy was reverently animated by a choir made up of seminarians for the Legionaries of Christ who had made the trip from Chesire, Connecticut, by bus. A large image of Divine Mercy hung above the main doors of the Basilica; the same image was adorned with flowers at the foot of the sanctuary.

A display in the crypt included photos of John XXIII and John Paul II visiting the Basilica as archbishops, as well as original portraits of the new saints done by a local Sulpician, and vestments and chairs used during the papal visits of John Paul II to the United States.

As the day came to a close we thanked God for the grace of participating in so many of the weekend’s events, and with the National Shrine of John Paul II next door, for the grace of living in the shadow of a saint. CLICK HERE FOR PICTURES FROM THE WEEKEND.

 

 

 

Save me once again, Lord!

On this Good Friday the words of Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium cannot be more encouraging, no matter where we are in our relationship with Christ:

I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord”.1 The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. Now is the time to say to Jesus: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace”. How good it feels to come back to him whenev­er we are lost! Let me say this once more: God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy. Christ, who told us to forgive one another “seventy times seven” (Mt 18:22) has given us his example: he has forgiven us seventy times seven. Time and time again he bears us on his shoulders. No one can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by this boundless and unfailing love. With a tenderness which nev­er disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, he makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew. Let us not flee from the resurrection of Jesus, let us never give up, come what will. May nothing inspire more than his life, which impels us onwards!

On Holy Thursday the Pope washed the feet of residents of a skilled nursing facility in Rome. Watch here to see the beautiful and touching scene (or watch the whole Mass here). Note how he makes eye contact with each person after washing their feet. What a grace for the elderly and infirm whom he bent down to serve!

 

 

 

A missionary joy this Easter

During the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday Pope Francis spoke about priestly joy. While he was obviously addressing those ordained to the ministerial priesthood, the essence of his words can also be applied to others consecrated to the Lord’s service. One point was especially relevant to our vocation as Little Sisters of the Poor.

The Holy Father first spoke of joy which anoints the priest through the laying on of hands. He then spoke of joy which is imperishable, since the Lord himself promised believers a joy which no one can take away. Third, Pope Francis spoke about missionary joy, since the priest’s joy is deeply bound up with God’s holy people. This missionary joy, he said, “springs up when the shepherd is in the midst of his flock,” for even in the silence of prayer the shepherd is with his people. This joy is “guarded,” he said, or “watched over by the flock itself.” Even in moments of discouragement or gloom, God’s people are able to guard the shepherd’s joy, to protect him, to embrace him and to help open his heart to find renewed joy.

“There is no identity — and consequently joy of life,” said Pope Francis, “without an active and unwavering sense of belonging to God’s faithful people.” One who searches for his identity by introspection and soul-searching, the Pope said, will encounter “exit” signs that say “exit from yourself, exit to seek God in adoration, go out and give your people what was entrusted to you, for your people will make you feel and taste who you are, what your name is, what your identity is, and they will make you rejoice in that hundredfold which the Lord has promised to those who serve him.”

This missionary joy as described by Pope Francis is at the center of our lives as Little Sisters. For it is our elderly brothers and sisters in whose midst we find ourselves each day, and who define us. Without the Residents, we would not be Little Sisters! We seek and find God in the poor; service to the poor defines our vocation and gives it concrete expression through our vow of hospitality.

As Little Sisters we cannot imagine any greater joy than that which we experience in the midst of our Residents — just like the quiet joy on the face of Saint Jeanne Jugan in the midst of her poor, as depicted in this image. Each Little Sister can recount innumerable times when the elderly — by their prayers, their smiles or their example of courage in the face of many losses — have lifted her out of a moment of gloom or fatigue. Yes, the elderly make us feel and taste who we are as Little Sisters of the Poor! Alleluia!

 

 

Making the elderly happy this Christmas

Christmas can sometimes be sad for older persons whose families live far away, for those who have outlived their loved ones, or for those who have been forced to give up the comforts of home to enter a long-term care facility. For many, being home for Christmas is, as the song goes, only in their dreams.

But there is a gift that the rest of us can give. If you have an elderly relative, friend or neighbor to whom you usually send a card or gift, this year give them the gift of yourself instead. Plan on spending some quality time with them around the holidays.

Bring them something homemade; share your kids’ latest photos or artwork. Tell them about your personal struggles and ask them how they handled similar challenges in their day. If they are able to get out, offer to take them to church. Even better, make room for them at your holiday table.

You won’t regret this gift of yourself to another. You might actually be surprised at how much you receive in return – a valuable bit of wisdom, a childhood memory rekindled, a tip on how to bake a better pie, or perhaps a word of faith and encouragement to lift your own spirits during a dark time.

In his last year as Pope, Benedict XVI visited a home for the elderly in Rome. He encouraged the seniors to never let themselves be imprisoned by sorrow. “At every phase of life, it is necessary to be able to discover the presence and blessing of the Lord and the riches they bring,” he told them. “Living is beautiful even at our age … In our faces may there always be the joy of feeling loved by God and not sadness.”

Turning to the younger people in the assembly, Benedict said, “The quality of a society, I mean of a civilization, is also judged by how it treats elderly people and by the place it gives them in community life.” This Christmas, why not give an elderly person the place of honor at your Christmas celebration?

 

 

 

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