Fr. Jean Delbee a French priest and author once wrote of the time he visited the Motherhouse of the Little Sisters of the Poor. This famous worldwide order was founded by St. Jeanne Jugan back in the early half of the 19th c. The order began when St. Jeanne brought an old blind woman into her home. The woman had no one to look after her. So Jeanne brought her in and gave her, her own bed. That was the beginning of the Little Sisters of the Poor. The Little Sisters, who are all over the world now give great care and comfort to the aged, poor and infirm.
While there on his visit the mother superior led Fr. Delbee to the cemetery. And there in the center was a magnificent tomb with a beautiful cross of sculptured stone. Fr. Delbee mistakenly thought that it was the tomb of the St. Jeanne Jugan the foundress. “No,” the mother said, “that’s the tomb of our 2nd superior general.” Out of envy St. Jeanne was forced out of her leadership position. In an effort to suppress her true role as foundress she was assigned to do the most menial of tasks, cooking, cleaning and begging on the streets for food and supplies for the order. It was a common site to see her going door to door with her basket asking for donations for her poor. She did this for 27 years until she was sent into retirement. They say this pained her interiorly but she never uttered a single word of complaint. At the time of her death in 1879, most of the Little Sisters did not know she was the one who had founded their congregation. She died mostly forgotten and was buried in a grave with a simple wooden cross marker. It would be 11 more years after her death before she was recognized as foundress.
To Fr. Delbee the mother superior then went on to say, “Today, if we wish to receive favors, if we wish to obtain a miracle, it is not the beautiful stone tomb to which we go to pray; we go to the little tomb of Jeanne.” A little tomb, lost among the others, with its wooden cross planted in the earth. Jeanne Jugan, in her little hidden way, did more for the foundation of the Little Sisters of the Poor by her humble acceptance of being cast aside and by her humility than by any other great works which she might have accomplished as a superior. With her small acts of love, she was the seed buried and hidden which bore great fruit.
The Beatitudes describe perfectly St. Jeanne Jugan, she was a poor sorrowful beggar pushed aside by hateful envy. But she continued to love in her little ways. She once said, “We are grafted into the cross and we must carry it joyfully unto death.” Charles Dickens after meeting her said, “There is in this woman something so calm, and so holy, that in seeing her I know myself to be in the presence of a superior being. Her words went straight to my heart, so that my eyes, I know not how, filled with tears.”
With the Beatitudes our Lord is warning us against self-sufficiency, he’s warning us not to trust in our wealth, our strength, or our power. They will not save us, only our Lord can save us. We are to trust in Him alone. He is to be our Trusted One in all things and at all times.
How can we live the Beatitudes? Maybe a simple way to live them is to, like St. Jeanne; consciously try to do little things with love. Do them for the love of our Lord, our family, and our neighbor. And there are so many opportunities throughout our day, to do little things intentionally with charity. Little things for our children, our spouses, our co-workers, our neighbors, our bosses. Not done with impatience or begrudgingly but with intentional conscious charity. Doing those things we do every day cooking, cleaning, carpooling, going to work, doing them with intentional conscious charity. Maybe even saying to ourselves, “I do this for you Lord. I don’t want to do it, but I do it for love of you.”
I just received a letter from my prayer-sister, Sr. Maria Francisco. I’ve spoken of her before; I pray for her and she prays for me. She’s a Dominican sister of Mary Mother of the Eucharist. In two years she will make her final profession of poverty, chastity, and obedience. In this letter Sr. M.F. speaks of doing little things out of love. She quotes a book she had been reading. She writes, “I just finished reading Alice Von Hildebrand’s book “By Love Refined – Letters to a young Bride.” They are a series of letters she wrote to her god-daughter giving her advice. It is beautiful and so applicable to a soon to be professed sister. I wanted to share a little section of it with you.”
(From the von Hildebrand book) “You say that true lovers are concerned with ‘great things, beautiful things’ and should not let themselves be troubled by small things. Roy wouldn’t agree. He and my friend Evelyn have been married 35 years. She’s sloppy and he’s meticulous. During their honeymoon, Roy noticed that she always left the toothpaste tube open. He asked Evelyn to put the cap on, but she laughed at him, claiming he had the habits of an old maid. Time and again, Roy has asked her to change. After 35 years, the cap still remains off and Roy has resigned himself to it.
Compare this to my own husband’s attitude. Early in our marriage, I noticed he would always leave the soap swimming in a pool of water. It would slowly disintegrate into unattractive, slimy goo, something I found unappealing. I drew it to his attention. From that day on, he made it a point of drying the soap after each use, to such an extent that I couldn’t tell from the ‘soap testimony’ whether he had washed himself or not. (Moreover this was typical of him; he too developed a strong dislike for sticky soap). I was so moved by this, that to this day I feel a wave of loving gratitude for this small but significant gesture of love. My husband was a great lover. And because he was one, he managed to relate the smallest things to love and was willing to change to please his beloved in all legitimate things. This characteristic is typical of great love.”
Sr. Maria Francisco goes onto to write: “That is how I want to love my Beloved. With a readiness to change in all things to please Him. I think that the smaller the things the more they please Him for if you can be faithful in the little things the big ones will come easier. For love makes everything easy.” And then she signs it, In Jesus through Mary, Sr. Maria Francisco
Let us be great Saints,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley