On April 9th Mother Loraine Marie Clare, provincial of our Baltimore province, received Notre Dame University’s Center for Ethics and Culture Evangelium Vitae Award. Read more about the award here. or here.
The following are Mother Loraine’s remarks after receiving the medal.
Good Evening Bishop Rhoades,
Professor Carter Snead, Director of the Center for Ethics and Culture,
Members of the Center’s Executive Advisory Committee,
The University of Notre Dame
Priests, Religious, Friends and Benefactors:
Thank you for your presence and a special thank you to our Residents, without whom we would not be here.
It is no secret that we, Little Sisters of the Poor, recently walked down the white marble steps of the Supreme Court of the United States after presenting our case hoping to protect our Religious Freedom and the right to remain faithful to the teachings of the Church, most especially those teachings that uphold the sanctity of human life.
Although this is a situation with many challenges — ones we could never have envisioned — it has brought us to a new level of faith and trust in God’s Providence over us. We have received many graces and an outpouring of love and support and have worked with some incredible people on our legal team, for which we will be forever grateful.
Tonight, we Little Sisters are honored to receive the Evangelium Vitae Award. I am very aware that each and every person in this room is deeply committed to the protection of life. Your presence gives witness to the respect and dignity of which each human person is worthy. Our society, now more than ever, needs witnesses to the truth that every human person, at each stage of life, is made in the image and likeness of God and therefore is deserving of their “Right to Life”!
The existence of an award such as the Evangelium Vitae is an opportunity for all of us to stop, reflect, and celebrate the meaning of the gift of life. I am grateful to be here along with many other Little Sisters of the Poor. We need occasions like this evening which help us witness to the two greatest gifts that our Heavenly Father could possibly give us; life here on earth, and the gift of eternal life that His Son, Jesus merited for us by becoming one of us.
Everyone here this evening has strong convictions for the sanctity of life and has embraced this commitment as the people of God.
I would like to reflect on our common commitment to the Gospel of Life in this “Year of Mercy,” proclaimed by our Holy Father who encourages us to gaze even more attentively on mercy so that
we may become a more effective sign of the Father’s action in our lives.”
There are two aspects to mercy from the Holy Father that I find meaningful and would like to share with you. Mercy is a “divine attitude which embraces” and it is “God’s identity card.”
Together let us just ponder a minute what this expression could mean for each of us.
What is our identity card? How during this Year of Mercy do we embrace others? How can our gaze reflect the tenderness of God to others, whoever the “other” may be for us in our everyday life?
As Little Sisters of the Poor, we take a fourth vow of hospitality to care for the elderly poor, regardless of race or religion, receiving them as Christ, offering them a home, caring for them as our family and as
sisting them with dignity until God calls them home to himself.
Our Rule of Life tells us that our consecrated hospitality is, in the midst of the world, a witness to the mercy of the Father and the compassionate love of the Heart of Jesus.
I am very grateful to God for the many opportunities that our vocation offers us to be instruments of his mercy in our charism of hospitality.
For me personally my vow of hospitality is keenly felt when I care for the sick and the dying, assuring that they are clean and comfortable, that their sheets are fresh, creating an environment where the experience of death for our Residents and families is one of a dignified and prayerful preparation.
I feel that we are almost securing them a place in heaven in case they can’t make it there on their own. One never knows the state of a soul, and while much of our work is providing good health care for the elderly, their spiritual needs are also a priority for us.
It can be our actions, however so small, that will win hearts over even when we least expect it. If I may I would like to tell you a story how this became very real for me in my own vocation.
I was the local superior in one of our homes, and a new Resident, (we will give him the name of John just for this story) moved into the apartments. I don’t think he was ever accepted very well by his peers and at a young age he enlisted in the army, became very fluent in foreign languages, and never came back to live in the USA. He remained single and was hired to teach English to businessmen in another country.
Well, John came to visit his brother in the states and while here he fell and broke his hip. After his rehab John’s brother convinced him to stay in the United States, thus he needed a home. His brother and sister-in-law brought him to us and after a short visit he moved into the home.
John had been somewhat rejected by society, yet there was an innocence about him and the Little Sisters and Residents in the home just accepted him for who he was.
After a while I was transferred to Baltimore to become Provincial and about a year after my leaving that home we gave hospitality to a family who knew of John’s story and his family. It was recounted to me that John’s brother, who initially brought him to the home and after many years being away from the Church, returned to the sacraments because of the witness of love and acceptance by the Residents and Little Sisters for his brother John.
No one was doing anything extraordinary. The Little Sisters — simply living our vow of hospitality as family with our Residents, being kind and accepting — brought about a significant change in someone’s life. By overcoming our human tendencies to push people away and make the effort to be present to them, we become witnesses of God’s love and it bears fruit when we least expect it.
Pope Francis is making it easy for us to make deposits into our identity card. This Year of Mercy offers many opportunities to practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy and Jesus’ words are the core message of the Year of Mercy:
“Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you? And when did we see you sick and in prison and visit you? And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”
Jesus was all about life and living it in love for the Father. His example of feeding the hungry and healing the sick during his short time on this earth speaks for itself; it speaks of life. Some may not always have the opportunity to physically give someone a drink, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned or bury the dead. So let us not forget the spiritual works of mercy: to counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish sinners, comfort the afflicted, forgive offences, bear patiently those who do us ill, and pray for the living and the dead.
So how can we, in our everyday lives, give a simple witness to God’s mercy in meaningful ways?
There is in each human person a freedom and an inherent instinct to reverence life, but sometimes indifference blinds us to the truth about the sacredness of life and the love and tolerance we should have for others.
St. Francis of Assisi said to his new Religious Community: Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary, use words!”
There are some simple yet significant ways to be effective witnesses of mercy and to share in the sufferings of others.
When we cast a gaze of love, God’s gaze of love upon our brothers and sisters by being cheerful with others, smiling when we don’t want to, listening when we feel we don’t have the time, being present when we want to be somewhere else, suppressing our judgments of others and being open to them in our everyday lives we give the witness that Sr. Francis of Assisi preached. These gestures of mercy say to someone, “I respect you, your life has worth as a person.”
Pope Paul VI said something very similar in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi: “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers and if he does listen to teachers it is because they are witnesses.”
I ask myself as we continue to work through our present situation, how can I be a witness to mercy, especially towards those who have a different belief system than I? How, in this milieu, can I show acceptance and respect for others while also witnessing to the truth, even though at times my efforts seem to fall on deaf ears? For this good to be accomplished, prayer is essential.
One of the members of Women Speak for Themselves wrote to us after our day at the Supreme Court. She says of the religious sisters who were there outside in support: “Our rally would not have been the success it was without the magnificent participation of the Sisters!”
“Their gracious movements throughout the crowd, handing out cookies (even to those who opposed them), speaking patiently with curious passers-by, even joining in an occasional cheer or chant was like a benediction on the day. It was incredible, and speaking for us and many of our friends, it was a kind of spiritual renewal which focused us as we headed into the Easter Triduum!”
We reach our highest potential when we give of ourselves and put others first. Not all take a vow of hospitality, but all are called to extend mercy which witnesses to each one’s dignity. Pope Francis says of hospitality: The rule of hospitality has always been sacred in the simplest of Christian families.
The Church would not exist without true charity in service to others. It is at the heart of her very nature. And since we are Church, the living body of Christ, we have inherited a serious responsibility to assure that all those in need have the opportunity to see what Christ’s love is about: what it means, what it entails and where is leads.
It is the means to the end, a channel through which we draw others into the life for which we were made. To quote from Pope Benedict’s encyclical, Deus Caritas Est: “We contribute to a better world only by personally doing good now, with full commitment and wherever we have the opportunity” (#31).
Many of you know that our Holy Father visited our Home in D.C. this past September. He encouraged us in our mission of Hospitality and spoke to us from his heart saying that whatever we do for our elderly Residents even the smallest gesture we do for Jesus, and that one day we will have a big surprise waiting for us in heaven!
To conclude, I would be remiss this evening while at Notre Dame University — this great institution named after our Blessed Mother and worthy of our attention — not to invoke her in some way and make her present to us as we celebrate the sacredness of life together.
Therefore, I would like to close with the words of Pope Francis as our thoughts now turn to our Mother of Mercy.
“No one has penetrated the profound mystery of the Incarnation like Mary. Her entire life was patterned after the presence of mercy made flesh. The Mother of the Crucified and Risen One has entered the sanctuary of divine mercy because she participated intimately in the mystery of His love.
“May the sweetness of her countenance watch over us in the Holy Year, so that all of us may rediscover the joy of God’s tenderness.”
Once again, thank you all for being here and celebrating this honor with us and the opportunity for the Little Sisters of the Poor to witness with you to the sacredness of life while at the same time joining our efforts and commitment for this important moral cause.