By Lynne Alice Keating
“I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the little ones.” (Matthew 11:25)
By God’s grace, I have outlived my parents; both were gone before ever officially becoming seniors and my siblings and I have all, subconsciously, been preparing ourselves for early deaths. But we are all still here and, in our own ways, living joyfully in the delicate balance between life and death.
Joy, it has been said, is the conscious perception of good. A life lived in such a state of gratitude is filled with wonder. When one’s own poverty is acknowledged and embraced, nothing is taken for granted, and everything— everything—becomes “gift.”
With evolving science and medicine, most of us have the possibility of living longer than our ancestors and facing the adventure of entering into a great expanse of time not available to those who came before us.
Growing old, however, is not for the faint of heart. It is the return to a life which is not as independent as it once was. We have been there before—when we were little children. Still, the territory feels unfamiliar and unwelcoming. But, with both eyes on God, when we stare into our own mortality, a surprising exuberance emerges. Letting go of the illusions of control and independence with which we surrounded ourselves in middle age is in fact restful and welcomed. Life becomes little once again.
“Anawim,” is a Hebrew word from the Old Testament referring to those with little or no earthly powers, the little ones—the vulnerable, the marginalized, the poor. The literal translation is “those who are bowed down.”
I thought I understood what that meant, but my eyes were opened considerably when I recently came to live here in the Jeanne Jugan Residence of the Little Sisters of the Poor, a happy little home of happy little souls. I’m not just talking about the sisters, though they are the driving force and inspiration which sets the tone for all of us here—the elderly poor—whom they welcome and serve, and for whom they pray fervently every single day.
Here I have met the most courageous people I have ever known, each carrying the crosses associated with old age. Of course. I expected that. But I was not prepared to come face to face with the astounding grace and formidable strength with which these men and women live their lives—little in every sense of the word. It is the most powerful witness of faith and trust in God that I have ever seen: dependent on others for most needs, struggling every day with the loss of one ability after the other, yet genuinely joyful and incredibly generous, with a faith that rivals the martyrs!
What a surprise it was to find a place where every life is not only valued, but treasured—where the poor and the weak help one another, visit one another, watch over one another, and pray for one another.
“How can this be possible?” I asked myself.
It did not take long to realize that the residents here have learned, and strive to embrace, this way of life from the example of the Little Sisters of the Poor who courageously and selflessly lay down their lives each day for each one of us.
I have heard theologians try to describe a state of existence which is possible to attain while still on earth, called, “heaven already but not yet.” I invite them to come here, so that they may experience it first-hand.
“Little, very little, be very little before God.” (Saint Jeanne Jugan, Foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor)
About the Author:
Author and blogger, Lynne Keating also lectors and teaches the Bible to CCD students at Saint John the Beloved Parish in Wilmington, Delaware. Convinced that this is one of the most exciting and important times in salvation history, her writing encourages all people to recognize and rejoice in Godâ€™s self-offering love, revealed more and more through the actions of His people. Fellowshipofthelamb.com
Photo courtesy of Lynne Keating. Used with permission. All rights reserved.