Pro-life. What reaction do you have to this term? For some, it instantly evokes a sense of pride over a worthy cause. For others, it conjures up feelings of discomfort or even disgust. It's one of the most controversial labels these days, and most associate the term with the abortion debate.
But being authentically pro-life goes beyond the abortion issue. One of the trademark characteristics of this era of pro-lifers is their love for the entire person, every person, from conception until natural death.
In light of that concept, I want to share my recent introduction to our local Little Sisters of the Poor.
Who are the Little Sisters of the Poor? They are a religious order dedicated to the care of the elderly. St. Jeanne Jugan founded the order in revolutionary-era France. Like so many other founders of religious communities, she didn't set out to start an order. She simply saw a need in her community and answered God's call to meet that need through her own life’s work.
St. Jeanne Jugan's work with the elderly began in her teens when she would beg on behalf of the elderly poor. As a young woman, she rejected a sailor's proposal, sensing God had consecrated life in mind for her even though she did not know all the details yet of how her calling would play out. After years of living a life of prayer and service, she realized God wanted her to serve the elderly in particular. As more and more aging and poor came to her doorstep, young women joined her in service and the order began.
Today, the Little Sisters have homes all over the world. My husband's grandmother now lives in one. She is the reason we have the pleasure of visiting our local Little Sisters regularly.
I am not an expert on caring for the elderly, but I've certainly visited nursing homes before. My most memorable experiences occurred during my own grandmother's stays in several local homes. I know how dismal some places can feel.
Our first visit to the Little Sisters was anything but dismal. Everything was so peaceful and well-kept. The nuns, in full habit, were eager to meet me and the rest of the extended family. My husband's grandmother, already settled in to her new place, used her new walker to give us a tour. It was neat to see her walking faster than I'd ever seen her move thanks to their well-designed walkers.
We saw the handicap accessible chapel where Mass is offered every single day. The sisters will even wheel your bed into the chapel if needed. As we stood outside the chapel, another resident zipped by in her walker. A nun smiled and mentioned how this speedy resident is always visiting the chapel to pray for her many grandchildren.
We saw the calendar filled with events and visitors. We saw the handrails, wheeled sitting chairs, and even the salon -- every detail of the place's design was focused on allowing life to be lived to the fullest. In fact, my husband's grandmother will probably be busier now than she's been in years thanks to the care she will receive there. During our tour, she even got sidelined when a new friend waved her over to chat in their native language.
Beyond the practical details that make the residents' lives easier and more exciting, the attitude that each human being has inherent dignity and worth permeates the place. As my husband's grandmother continues to age, the Little Sisters will be there to make sure she is treated with dignity every step of the way. A small sign at the front desk shows a smiling picture of one of their residents who recently passed away, expressing gratitude for her and asking for prayers. Furthermore, the nuns are attentive to everyone, young and old, no matter how healthy or sick. Everyone is bright-eyed and social. Nobody appears to be a burden or a lost cause (or a cause at all, for that matter).
So often, I see the pro-life movement accused of being impractical, idealistic, uncaring in the face of suffering or ignorant. What so many fail to understand is that being pro-life -- or better yet, being dedicated followers of Christ like the Little Sisters -- is not synonymous with being clueless to the hard realities of life, but quite the opposite. The Little Sisters of the Poor are immersed in the realities and complexities of aging day in and day out. And they are just one of many unsung organizations that reach out to those in need, not just once during Christmas, but every single day for as long as they are needed. For every scandalous headline hyping the most recent wayward priest or politician, there are countless wonderful individuals the media doesn't follow.
It's true that the Little Sisters' lives are not glamorous. They receive no earthly reward -- not even a high-paying salary -- and yet they are happy, beautiful women and interesting conversationalists (if I do say so!). These women have created an environment of love and expert care that so many other facilities struggle to achieve, and it's precisely because of their morals and religious dedication. They are the epitome of being "pro-life," and countless individuals will be forever grateful for their service.
Sarah Phillips, Crosswalk.com’s Family Editor, embraced faith in Christ at an unlikely phase in her life: as a skeptical undergraduate at Virginia Tech. She now enjoys putting her VT English degree to use at the Salem Web Network by observing and reflecting on cultural trends, marriage, family life, and the human condition through the lens of Christianity. When she’s not writing or editing, Sarah enjoys spending time with her husband, Corey.