Sun Set, Sun Rise

by Maria Mondello, Nicholls University

After I returned home after this summer of working and living with the Little Sisters of the Poor at their home in Pittsburgh, many of my close friends and family were wondering what my favorite part of the summer was, and what were the graces that I received during this time from our beloved Father in heaven. All I can say is that there is not one favorite thing, one grace, or one thing that stood out among the rest. I know that it will take time and prayer and reflection to really understand how good the Lord was to me this summer.

But yet, the truth is that my time in Pittsburgh was way more than just working with the elderly. Being with them seemed to be the backdrop of God working miracles within my heart, showing his unwearied love and mercy to my very weary and tired soul.

I landed in Pittsburgh on a beautiful May evening to a glorious sunset. The symbolism of the sun setting, I later realized, was the sun going down on my former ways of thinking, of living, of loving. I knew little of what God’s plans were going to be this summer and I ready to see them unfold, according to His will. When I was 18, the summer before college, God revealed Himself to me in a way that changed my entire outlook on pretty much everything! He revealed His love, mercy, and forgiveness to me in a way I had never realized before and I knew that I could no long keep running from Him or ignoring him, as I had in the past. But yet, I had always wondered how I was to express God’s love to others. Faith is not just something interior, silent, hidden deep within ourselves, but it should also be shown to the world that there is a God who is love with us and He desires to bestow His mercy upon us, His very own special children. But yet, I struggled living that out. I had given up running college track and left college for a little while to discern religious life, only to return to school, wondering, once again, how I am to serve God, how to love God, how God can use me, unworthy servant that I I am, to build up His Church here on earth for His kingdom. I had also started a seemingly endless search for more. I longed for love, a stronger sense of community, acceptance, belonging, security, and meaning to my otherwise meaningless existence. My search and my questions, instead of bringing me to the truth, led to me a very dark place, a place of despair, and anxiousness. I longed for light, love, and truth. All of this is the backdrop of the greatest adventure I was about the go on, working, living, and praying, at a nursing home that was run by religious sisters.

I had signed up for the spring into service internship during my Christmas break. I was really unsure of the reason at the time. I had little experience with working with the elderly and had never had any contact with a Little Sister of the Poor, so I was slightly anxious, and nervous before the summer started. I was also looking at the religious community, with prayers of hopefully receiving some clarity regarding my call to become a religious sister.

But, as the summer progressed, it became so much more than a simple yes or no to this particular religious community, but it become much more than that. It was the gateway to receiving the most beautiful love and mercy from God, our heavenly father. Through serving and being with the elderly people on a daily basis, I had the opportunity to see, touch, and know God more than I ever could on my own. I felt acceptance and a place of belonging from their simplicity and wisdom and their ability to receive me with open arms. I had always longed to serve God but my efforts never seemed good enough and there always seemed to be an emptiness within my restless heart after various times of trying.

I came to Pittsburgh with the idea that I would be leaving with more clarity and even a major life decisions with this particular religious community. Instead of making a decision with one particular community, I went on journey of knowing God more, of myself having more self- knowledge of myself, and of having my deepest wounds of rejection and abandonment better healed by God, through the elderly residents, as well as the volunteers and employees. Within the home, I found within, the most belonging and sense of “home” that I have ever encountered and I am thankful for that. With that being said, as I flew out of Pittsburgh on an early Saturday morning, the sun was just rising. Dawn was approaching. The light was changing the darkness of the night into a marvelous and glorious morning.

To all Residents (both apartment and nursing), volunteers, employees, and Sisters, thank you for this wonderful experience at your safe haven in Pittsburgh. Thank you for receiving me, loving me, praying for me, feeding me (LOL), and allowing me to grow closer to the all-powerful, loving, and merciful heart of God!

 

“We may be little, insignificant servants in the eyes of a world motivated by efficiency, control and success. But when we realize that God has chosen us from all eternity, sent us into the world as the blessed ones, handed us over to suffering, can't we, then, also trust that our little lives will multiply themselves and be able to fulfill the needs of countless people?”- Henri Nouwen: Life of the Beloved

 

 

 

Seeing Magic Things


by Danielle Medearis, University of Tulsa

 

 

The Irish poet W.B. Yeats once wrote:

“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”

As my time working here at the Jeanne Jugan Residence through the Spring Into Service program comes to a close, I’ve reflected on my time here and this quote has often come to mind. Although some of their more conventional senses may be dulled and muffled a tad, I believe the Residents here possess this sharpened ability to see magic things.

I’ve seen it in small instances; in a Resident marveling at the beauty of the flowers in the garden outside which I had overlooked for so long, in the thoughtful far-off gaze of a woman as she waits so patiently in perfect contentment for her breakfast to be brought to her, or the quiet smiles of those I’ve helped to accompany on a group outing to the beach as they look out at the waves. There are flashing moments when it seems to me the Residents here are viewing a world completely separate from the world I am accustomed to taking in, and this world seems to indeed be much more magical than the one my foggy eyesight beholds.

Now, this is not to say everyone living here floats around all day in a cloud of ancient wisdom feeling nothing but harmony and peace and occasionally deigning to pass along snippets of sage advice to the lowly young ones around them; just like all normal people, Residents have good days and bad days.

But I’ve seen on their good days instances of an offhand comment or contemplative glance that convey this incredible awareness of life that they possess. After a full life, their sense of the world has grown sharper, and they see the world plainly for the magical place it is.

I think being young can muddle vision very easily and quite often. I have one thousand distractions bouncing around my mind that aren’t inherently negative, but they create a sort of static that easily blurs the world around me. My picture of what is real, what I should be doing, and most importantly, who I should be living for, often lacks clarity. The chance to work with the Residents and serve them and simply be around them has provided me with the opportunity to observe the clarity they possess. Their vision is clear, their priorities are not being constantly and frantically rearranged, and they know themselves.

I wish I could say this clarity of understanding the world and one’s place in it rubbed off totally onto me while I’ve been here this summer, but alas, it has not. I have a hunch it takes a few years to acquire. But, it has made me aware of my own need to start attempting to see the world clearly, to start improving on my life awareness.

Because once I’ve aged and am a resident in a home I hope to be like Jeanne Jugan, I’m not going to tell the story of that one time I got a 98% on my genetics midterm, or how I had really good fashion sense during my college years, or even my running personal records and times. I’m going to want to tell stories like the ones I’ve heard here, about the family I raised, the people I served, and the times I recognized God’s love for me in the hands of others.

As my time with the Little Sisters of the Poor and the wonderful Residents and workers here at Jeanne Jugan comes to a close, I look forward to carrying everything I have learned and experienced out into the bigger world, where I can continue to sharpen my own senses to observe the magic of the Lord’s beautiful earth in which I live.

 

 

Napa Institute Adventure

Last weekend two of us attended the Napa Institute in Napa, California, at the invitation of the Becket Fund, a co-sponsor of the event. What a intellectually  simulating, spiritually edifying and gastronomically delicious weekend!

The Napa Institute was formed to help Catholic leaders face the challenges of what Archbishop Charles Chaput has called the “next America.” This term denotes today’s emerging secular society, which threatens the Church’s relevance and liberty to exercise her mission in the world. The Napa Institute seeks to lead Catholic leaders to a deeper understanding of the truth behind the faith with “a peaceful confidence that is borne out of solid formation, fellowship and spiritual enrichment.” Although it sponsors a number of events, the cornerstone of the Napa Institute is its annual summer conference, held at the Meritage Resort in the heart of Napa’s wine country. This year’s conference welcomed 450 participants from around the U.S. and abroad.

We flew into San Francisco and set off for Napa before sunrise on Thursday, July 30 in a car borrowed from our Little Sisters there. From the Golden Gate Bridge, which was just emerging from the darkness of night, we headed northeast along scenic roads, taking in the vistas of rolling hills before us. After about an hour we found ourselves in wine country, where vineyards broke up the dry, scorched landscape with neatly arranged green stripes. The vineyards are watered by elaborate irrigation systems, so they remain green and fruit-filled despite California’s drought.

There were several west coast bishops in attendance at the conference, along with numerous members of the clergy and several women’s and men’s religious communities. The Carmelite Sisters of the Sacred Heart from Alhambra helped assure the music for liturgies. We also spent time with the Nashville Dominicans and met the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Church, a new community from Spokane, Washington.

The conference schedule was packed with interesting and edifying talks, breakout sessions and several Masses each day, celebrated in various styles, giving us our first experience of the Latin extraordinary form. The resort’s underground wine cave, usually used for weddings and other events, had been transformed into a chapel for the weekend and there is a permanent chapel just inside the hotel lobby. There were also recreational and cultural activities in the evening, including previews of several soon-to-be released movies.

Among a host of prominent theologians, evangelizers and ethicists, Vienna’s Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, O.P. stood us and touched us all with his gentle fatherly manner and sense of humor. He gave us an hour-long tour of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in the writing of which he played a key role, highlighting twenty of its key articles.

 

Rev. Robert Spitzer, S.J., the Napa Institute’s president, was also very impressive. Although suffering from progressive blindness, Father Spitzer gave several presentations and served as emcee, summarizing each speech in a most joyful, compliment-filled manner.

We were thoroughly energized by the weekend and headed back to San Francisco remembering something that George Weigel had suggested during one of his presentations: “Mission territory begins here!” (meaning everywhere!), and “It is no longer permitted to anyone to be mediocre” (Pope Pius XI)!

 

Bottom photo: With Cardinal Schonborn and our Becket Fund hosts, Julie Riggs and Montserrat Alvarado.

 

 

Judging the faith of nuns

The following editorial was published in the Baltimore Sun newspaper.

By Josiah Kollmeyer

A group of appellate judges recently decided to take up theology while writing a legal opinion. As might be expected, they got into trouble.

The case concerns the Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of nuns dedicated to caring for the elderly poor for 175 years. Their Christian faith undergirds their work and leads them to serve elderly men and women of all faiths. As Catholics, the group resisted a federal regulation in the Affordable Care Act — known as the HHS Mandate — that forced them to either pay massive fines or include contraceptives and what they viewed as abortion-causing drugs and devices known as "abortifacients" in the health coverage that they provide to their employees. The nuns sought an exemption from the mandate in order to continue their charitable work without violating their faith, filing a federal lawsuit with the lead plaintiffs being their houses in Baltimore and Denver.


The dispute between the Little Sisters and the government reached the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit — one level below the Supreme Court — just over a year ago, when the Little Sisters requested temporary protection from the fines while their case progressed through the courts. When the 10th Circuit failed to extend this emergency relief, the Supreme Court stepped in to grant protection.

Then the Supreme Court sent the case back down for argument on the merits. But once again, last month, the 10th Circuit ruled against the nuns. On what grounds? No one questioned the sincerity of their faith. The court did not even address whether the government had an extremely good reason to force the Little Sisters to provide access to the contraceptives and abortifacients (it doesn't), or whether there were any other ways to deliver those things to the Sisters' employees who actually want them (there are). The judges instead said that the nuns would not truly violate any tenets of their faith by signing off on the contraceptive mandate. That bears repeating: Federal judges ruled that the Little Sisters would not be sinning if they complied with the mandate. In essence, the judges claimed that their interpretation of Catholic moral teaching was better than that of the nuns. In doing so, they attacked an element of Catholic theology strongly supported by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, well-established Catholic teaching and numerous other authorities within the church.

This is a very dangerous ruling. The judges embraced a view of their own role that, in the words of another federal judge, renders religious freedom "exceedingly shallow — perhaps nonexistent." If courts may define what actions constitute sin, religious freedom will be gone for anyone whose theology does not fall in line with that of the judge. If a believer objects, she could be told that the offending law does not force her to violate the "properly understood" tenets of her religion. But that's not a legal determination, and it results in a court battle that amounts to a theological debate over the interpretation of scripture. This is precisely the inquiry in which judges and governments may not engage in any society that values religious freedom.

The way courts normally consider religious liberty claims is through a carefully calibrated approach designed to balance freedom with other very important interests. In the first step in this approach, a believer identifies a sincere belief threatened by the government and shows that the government is exerting significant pressure to violate that belief. In the next step, the government can override that sincere religious objection if it can show that the law serves a compelling interest and that no alternative means could achieve that interest without infringing on religious liberty. Here, the court erred on the first step. The judges told the Sisters what actions violate, or do not violate, the Sisters' own faith.

The Little Sisters of the Poor have now asked the Supreme Court to step in again, this time to bring the discussion to the real merits of the case. The proper legal question here isn't whether the government or judges agree with the Sisters' Catholic theology. It's whether the government's interest in providing contraceptives and abortifacients through the Sisters' own employer-provided health insurance justifies forcing the Little Sisters to either violate their faith or face crippling fines. By redefining Catholic beliefs, the 10th Circuit judges never gave the nuns a chance. The Supreme Court should not follow the same path.

Josiah Kollmeyer is a student at Harvard Law School and a summer associate with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents the Little Sisters of the Poor. His email is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

Philly Paint Day

On July 20th Little Sisters, Residents, staff and friends of Holy Family Home in Philadelphia participated in the creation of a mural that will be erected as a memorial to the Holy Father’s Visit to Philadelphia.

The Mural Arts Program of the City of Philadelphia strives to create art that transform places, individuals, communities and institutions; it believes that “Art Ignites Change.” All throughout Philadelphia one can see different murals that have been painted by artists and the residents of the area. A “Mural Tour” attracts 12,000 visitors each year.

The new mural that will honor Pope Francis’ visit is called “The Sacred Now: Faith and Family in the 21st Century.” It will be installed on the external walls of St Malachy’s School, in North Philadelphia. The 4,239-square-foot mural, by Cesar Viveros, is to be created from 153 5’ x 5’ panels, to be installed across three sections of the school building. Some of the panels are being painted by Philadelphians (like us) and others will be painted by participants in the World Meeting of Families in September. The completed mural will be erected in November.

Our Little Sisters in Philly reported, “We worked on several of these panels in a “paint-by-number” system. It was great to see how the members from the Mural Arts Program patiently showed the Residents where to paint (and where not to paint). And then the intensity with which the Residents painted was extraordinary.”

“You could a real seriousness, as everyone was aware that their art work would last for decades. And then there was the excitement of knowing that the Holy Father would see the panels during his visit to Philadelphia! But even more so, the Residents were awed that they were going to leave a legacy of beauty for the children to play in where there had been only drab bricks and mortar. Admittedly, our contribution was small, but nothing is small in life when it is done with great love, as our foundress Jeanne Jugan would say. And the Residents were certainly filled with love during this project.”

The Little Sisters concluded, “Some of the Residents stayed for the whole afternoon, patiently changing colors and brushes as needed. We also had invited volunteers and staff members to participate, and so the project became truly ‘collaboration,’ a work done by many hands. We may not have completed all the panels (we got about four or five finished), but we did our part, so that the young may have some beauty in their lives as they learn and play.”

 

Watch our slideshow to see what the finished mural will look like!

 

 

 

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