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 director of communications for the Little Sisters of the Poor.