By Sister Constance Veit, l.s.p.
It has been a rough few months for the Church. We are told that disagreeing with the dominant culture by affirming age-old truths is discriminatory and bigoted. Are this summer’s legal decisions harbingers of dark days ahead for those committed to expressing their religious convictions in their daily lives?
Yes, storm clouds seem to be gathering on the horizon – but there are still reasons for hope. In a few weeks, thousands will gather in Philadelphia to celebrate traditional marriage and family. Pope Francis will soon be among us. At year’s end, we begin celebrating the Jubilee of Mercy.
The following words of St. Augustine come to mind: “Bad times, hard times – this is what people keep saying; but let us live well, and times shall be good. We are the times: Such as we are, such are the times.”
How are we to live well in these tough times? Our foundress, St. Jeanne Jugan, can help answer this question. Like us, Jeanne Jugan lived in harsh times for the Church. Born at the height of the French Revolution, our future saint faced challenges on many levels. She was catechized clandestinely by a group of consecrated laywomen euphemistically known as “trotting sisters.”
Jeanne’s father, a fisherman, was lost at sea when she was four years old, leaving her mother alone to provide for her young family. Life was austere, but neighbor helped neighbor and Jeanne learned firsthand about the corporal works of mercy. A woman of few words, she would let these works of mercy define her life.
After opening her heart and her home to an elderly woman in need, Jeanne Jugan quickly gained a reputation as someone who would never turn a needy person away. Many of her early residents had led unfortunate lives; some were quite unsavory characters. Nevertheless, Jeanne saw Christ in each of them and treated them with such love and respect that they were transformed – so much so that the townspeople no longer recognized them!
A visitor from England, later identified as Charles Dickens, wrote the following after witnessing Jeanne Jugan in action: “There is something so calm, so holy about this woman that, seeing her, I felt as though I were in the presence of a higher being, and her words went so much to my heart that my eyes – I do not know why – filled with tears.”
I think that St. Jeanne Jugan would have agreed with St. Francis of Assisi’s famous counsel, “Preach the Gospel at all times; when necessary use words.” And I think this is the advice she would give us today: “Respect others, no matter how they treat you … Show everyone, especially the poor, the same kindness and compassion you would show Christ himself … Lead others to the Truth not through the eloquence of your words, but through the beauty of your example … Let the charity of Christ work through you – for only Love can melt hardened hearts and bring them back to God.”
St. Jeanne Jugan would likely give us one more piece of advice on how to live well in tough times. If she were with us today, I think she would beg us not to give in to discouragement.
Sister Constance Veit, l.s.p., is the director of communications for the Little Sisters of the Poor in the United States.