Pope Francis speaks of elderly again in his weekly audience

On March 11 the Pope spoke about the elderly for a second time in his weekly audience.

"In a society which overlooks and discards the elderly, may the Church acknowledge their contributions and gifts, and help them to foster a fruitful dialogue between the generations." CLICK HERE TO READ MORE.












If one member suffers, all suffer together

In our ongoing Lenten reflection we are considering Pope Francis’ theme of combatting indifference as it relates to end-of-life issues. This week let’s look at the first of three Biblical texts proposed by our Holy Father:

‘If one member suffers, all suffer together’ (1 Cor 12:26)

“The love of God breaks through that fatal withdrawal into ourselves which is indifference. The Church offers us this love of God by her teaching and especially by her witness. But we can only bear witness to what we ourselves have experienced. Christians are those who let God clothe them with goodness and mercy, with Christ, so as to become, like Christ, servants of God and others. This is clearly seen in the liturgy of Holy Thursday, with its rite of the washing of feet. Peter did not want Jesus to wash his feet, but he came to realize that Jesus does not wish to be just an example of how we should wash one another’s feet. Only those who have first allowed Jesus to wash their own feet can then offer this service to others. Only they have “a part” with him (Jn 13:8) and thus can serve others.”

 If one member suffers, all suffer together. This is what compassion is all about. Compassion means “to suffer with.” We cannot “suffer with” another if we are indifferent. The group behind the push for the legalization of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide in our country goes by the name Compassion and Choices, but this is the same group formerly known as the Hemlock Society.

For these advocates of physician-assisted suicide, compassion does not mean “suffering with another” by accompanying the terminally ill and disabled in a holistic manner until the end, the natural end, the moment when God decides to take them to himself. No, for them compassion means eliminating suffering by eliminating the person him or herself. Ending pain and suffering by ending a life.

Quite different from this attitude, Saint John Paul II once wrote, “is the way of love and true mercy, which our common humanity calls for, and upon which faith in Christ the Redeemer, who died and rose again, sheds ever new light. The request which arises from the human heart in the supreme confrontation with suffering and death, especially when faced with the temptation to give up in utter desperation, is above all a request for companionship, sympathy and support in the time of trial. It is a plea for help to keep on hoping when all human hopes fail” (Evangelium Vitae).



This is authentic compassion — suffering and journeying with another. Our foundress, Saint Jeanne Jugan, never wrote about her experiences, but she lived out this compassion through her care of the elderly poor, and especially her practice of keeping constant vigil with the dying so that they were never alone. We continue this tradition today and it is truly moving to see how the room of a dying Resident becomes at the same time a sacred space of prayer and a place of intense interpersonal encounter. Family members, Little Sisters, staff members from all departments, volunteers, other Residents … all find profound meaning in “suffering with” the dying person until the moment when God calls them home. These are defining moments for our mission, and moments that bring out the best in each of us.


Suffering Unleashes Love

Obviously we don’t enjoy the suffering of others, but it does bring out something extraordinary and even beautiful in us as caregivers. In 1984 Saint John Paul II made the stunning claim that suffering is present in the world to unleash love in those who care for the sufferer. His words are no less stunning today than they were then:

“We could say that suffering, which is present under so many different forms in our human world, is also present in order to unleash love in the human person, that unselfish gift of one's ‘I’ on behalf of other people, especially those who suffer. The world of human suffering unceasingly calls for, so to speak, another world: the world of human love; and in a certain sense man owes to suffering that unselfish love which stirs in his heart and actions. The person who is a ‘neighbor’ cannot indifferently pass by the suffering of another: this in the name of fundamental human solidarity, still more in the name of love of neighbor. He must ‘stop,’ ‘sympathize,’ just like the Samaritan of the Gospel parable.”



Sacred Heart of Jesus,
Make my heart like yours:
Free me from indifference
and give me mercy
and compassion for others.
Give me eyes to see their needs
And empathy to share in their suffering.
Unleash your love in me.


To read Pope Francis’ 2015 Lenten message click here.









We Love First Because He First Loved Us

Our Holy Father began his Lenten message with a reference from the First Letter of St. John: “We love because he first loved us” (4:19). He then reflects on God’s personal love for each of us, saying that he is interested in each of us, that each of us has a place in his heart. St. John suggests that our realization of this divine personal love should inspire us, motivate or compel us to share that love with others.

But “when we are healthy and comfortable, we forget about others (something God the Father never does): we are unconcerned with their problems, their sufferings and the injustices they endure…” our Holy Father wrote. “Our heart grows cold. As long as I am relatively healthy and comfortable, I don’t think about those less well off.”

This indifference often manifests itself in the face of the serious illness or death of a loved one. “I don’t have time” … “I can’t visit Grandma in the nursing home; it’s too depressing” … “I didn’t go to his wake because I didn’t know what to say to the family,” we hear. But those experienced in end of life work tell us that for those who are suffering, what we say is not what matters — what they will remember is that we came.



I felt that I had to be here

When he visited typhoon Yolanda survivors in the Philippines during his January visit to that country, Pope Francis showed us what it means to be present to others in their suffering, even when we don’t know what to say. Standing before thousands of survivors in the midst of torrential rains, he threw away his prepared homily and spoke from his heart:

Let me tell you something personal — when I witnessed this disaster from Rome, I felt that I had to be here. That is when I decided to come here. I wanted to come to be with you. Maybe you will tell me that I came a little late; that is true, but here I am!

I am here to tell you that Jesus is Lord; that Jesus does not disappoint. “Father,” one of you may tell me, “he disappointed me because I lost my house, I lost my family, I lost everything I had, I am sick.” What you say is true and I respect your feelings, but I see him there, nailed to the cross, and from there he does not disappoint us. He was consecrated Lord on that throne, and there he experienced all the disasters we experience. Jesus is Lord! And he is Lord from the cross, from there he reigned. That is why, as we heard in the first reading, he can understand us: he became like us in every way. So we have a Lord who is able to weep with us, who can be at our side through life’s most difficult moments.

So many of you have lost everything. I do not know what to tell you. But surely he knows what to tell you! So many of you have lost members of your family. I can only be silent; I accompany you silently, with my heart… Many of you looked to Christ and asked: Why, Lord? To each of you the Lord responds from his heart. I have no other words to say to you. Let us look to Christ: he is the Lord, and he understands us, for he experienced all the troubles we experience.


Before leaving the crowd, Pope Francis uttered this prayer, which we can share with those we know who are suffering and to whom we are called to reach out this Lent, even if we don’t know what to say:

Thank you, Lord, for being with us here today. Thank you, Lord, for sharing our sorrows. Thank you, Lord, for giving us hope. Thank you, Lord, for your great mercy. Thank you, Lord, because you wanted to be like one of us. Thank you, Lord, because you keep ever close to us, even when we carry our crosses. Thank you, Lord, for giving us hope. Lord, may no one rob us of hope! Thank you, Lord, because in the darkest moment of your own life, on the cross, you thought of us and you left us a mother, your mother. Thank you Lord for not leaving us orphans!

Click here for a pdf version of this prayer.

To read To Live Each Day with Dignity, the U.S. Bishops’ pastoral letter on physician-assisted suicide, click here

Click here for Pope Francis’ Lenten message.



Pope Francis' General Audience on Grandparents

March 4, 2015

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today’s catechesis and that of next Wednesday will be dedicated to the elderly who, in the realm of the family, are the grandparents. Today we will reflect on the present problematic condition of the elderly and, next time, more positively, on the vocation contained in this age of life.

Thanks to the progress in medicine, life has lengthened: society, however, has not “enlarged” to life! The number of elderly has multiplied, but our societies have not organized themselves sufficiently to give them a place, with just respect and concrete consideration for their fragility and dignity. While we are young, we are induced to ignore old age, as if it were a sickness to avoid. Then, when we become old, especially if we are poor, sick or alone, we experience the lacunae of a society planned for efficiency that, consequently, ignores the elderly. And the elderly are richness; they cannot be ignored.











From Indifference to Compassion


Each year our Holy Father writes a message for Lent, giving a theme for reflection during our journey to Easter. This year’s message addresses our modern tendency to indifference to the needs of others. This theme could not be more timely, since the Culture of Death has roared its ugly head in this new year in the form of efforts to legalize physician assisted suicide in as many U.S. states as possible.

Assisted suicide is obviously an important and troubling issue to us Little Sisters of the Poor. As we begin Lent we beg you to join us in praying that euthanasia and assisted suicide will not gain a foothold in our country.

Each week during Lent we will be sending a reflection on this theme of indifference, especially as it relates to caring for the sick and infirm. We hope that these passages will help to inform your mind and form your heart to be more like Christ’s, a heart which is merciful, attentive and generous, a heart which is not closed or indifferent, but open and compassionate toward those less fortunate.


God is not indifferent to us           
(excerpt from Pope Francis’ Lenten message)

God does not ask of us anything that he himself has not first given us. “We love because he first has loved us” (1 Jn 4:19). He is not aloof from us. Each one of us has a place in his heart. He knows us by name, he cares for us and he seeks us out whenever we turn away from him. He is interested in each of us; his love does not allow him to be indifferent to what happens to us…. God is not indifferent to our world; he so loves it that he gave his Son for our salvation. In the Incarnation, in the earthly life, death, and resurrection of the Son of God, the gate between God and man, between heaven and earth, opens once for all.

Do you believe that God calls you by name, that he cares for you and seeks you out?

Do you believe that you have a place in his heart?

It is natural to fear illness and death, but believing that our lives are in God’s hands, no matter what happens, can lessen our fears and give us hope.


A Prayer to Calm Our Fears

When the signs of age begin to make my body
and still more, when they touch my mind,
when the ill that is to diminish me and
carry me off, strikes from without,
or is born within me,
When the painful moment comes in which
I suddenly awaken to the fact that I am ill,
or growing old, and above all,
at that last moment
when I feel I am losing hold of myself
and I am absolutely passive
within the hands of the great unknown forces
that have formed me,
In all those dark moments, O God,
grant that I may understand that it is You
(provided only that my faith is strong enough).
You are painfully parting the fibers of my being
in order to penetrate
to the very marrow of my substance
and bear me away within Yourself.

–      Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J.

(Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881 – 1955) was a French philosopher and Jesuit priest. His sister was a Little Sister of the Poor who died as a missionary in China in 1911 at the age of 32.)


To read the complete text of Pope Francis’ Lenten message, click here.