I grew up Catholic without ever hearing about the Divine Mercy devotion, which the church celebrates annually on the Sunday after Easter. Even after I had learned about it, I didn’t understand it. A few sisters in my community placed great confidence in the Divine Mercy image and chaplet, but it never really appealed to me. “Why focus on the sorrowful passion and wounds of Christ when we should be singing our Easter alleluias?” I wondered.
Even when St. John Paul II proclaimed that the whole church would celebrate the Second Sunday of Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday, I didn’t grasp the beauty and relevance of this devotion — or how much I needed it. It took a few more years and several bumps in life’s “school of hard knocks” to bring me to an understanding of just how precious the Divine Mercy devotion is.
Thanks to some very compelling words of Pope Francis, I began to turn to God’s unfailing love as Divine Mercy. In front of the well-known image of the risen Jesus with one hand raised in blessing and the other pointing to his heart, I prayed, “Lord, in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace.” (Evangelii Gaudium 3)
Since I turned to Divine Mercy as a life force, I’ve learned that the devotion includes two primary elements — to trust in God’s merciful love and to practice acts of mercy. It’s that simple — trust in mercy and be merciful. Our foundress, St. Jeanne Jugan, based her life on these two pillars even though she passed away more than 50 years before Our Lord revealed the Divine Mercy message to a young Polish nun named Sister Faustina.
In our congregation we tend to speak of trust in terms of confidence in Divine Providence, but St. Jeanne Jugan’s trust extended well beyond the provision of material goods. She entrusted her whole life to God, whom she encountered as Love in the tabernacle, in the poor and in her own heart. The following bit of advice to the young Little Sisters testifies to her complete trust in God:
“Jesus is waiting for you in the chapel. Go and find him when your strength and patience are giving out, when you feel lonely and helpless. Say to him: ‘You know well what is happening, my dear Jesus. I have only you. Come to my aid.’ And then go your way. And don’t worry about knowing how you are going to manage. It is enough to have told our good Lord. He has an excellent memory.”
Another lesser known saying of St. Jeanne Jugan also testifies to her confidence in God’s merciful love, especially in moments of difficulty: “We should have no more strength against temptation than a little bird has to resist the hawk, were God not to give us his help — but that should increase our trust, since by God’s power we can triumph.”
Many quotes from St. Jeanne Jugan demonstrate how she practiced merciful love toward the elderly poor. The following words are especially clear: “Be kind, especially with the infirm; be a mother to them. … Treat the poor compassionately and God will treat you kindly until your last day.”
These words of our foundress have inspired generations of Little Sisters and they continue to speak to us today as we prepare to celebrate 150 years of service to the elderly in the United States.
The late Cardinal Francis George once remarked that our homes for the elderly are much-needed icons of mercy in today’s world. Father Eloi LeClerc, a well-known French author who died recently in one of our homes, wrote that the Little Sisters are an epiphany of God’s tenderness for the poor.
As we prepare for the opening of our sesquicentennial later this year, please pray that we Little Sisters of the Poor will always be faithful to our vocation of Mercy.
Sister Constance Veit is communications director for the Little Sisters of the Poor.