The Poor One

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René Voillaume, who helped to start the Little Brothers of Jesus, once gave a series of conferences about religious life. These were compiled in a book, and our founder, Sr. Mary Elizabeth, had the following passage underlined:

“We must again consider what is implied by the notion of the ‘poor one.’ The poor person is one who has nothing but his human dignity. He has nothing which can hide this essential dignity, nothing that can create an illusion, nothing that others can love in him except himself. Seldom, if ever, do we have occasion to love in others that which they would be in reality, if stripped of all they have acquired.”

Voillaume went on to say:

“Here we grasp the mystery of the human person and understand that really and truly we do not love men; we love what they give, what they appear. How often we say that someone is grand, wonderful, delightful and cultured! But do we say we love the poor person who has no charm, nothing to say because he is too much taken up with his work and the countless worries that beset him in daily life?”

God gave Sr. Mary Elizabeth the grace to love the poor, and she nurtured this grace throughout her life. She never hesitated to love people in their naked humanity. Sister wrote about one experience she had, when she went to visit a young man serving time in prison.

“He turned his face from me in the penitentiary visiting room. He was very young, tall and filled with hate, especially towards white ‘honkies.’ His face was hard and defensive in every aspect. I looked at him and loved him because he needed love so badly. ‘You need not talk to me if you choose not to. I just want to tell you I have seen the Warden and have gotten your friend out of solitary, I hope all goes well. If anything else bothers you or goes wrong just let me know. Goodbye.’

“As I rose to go and he realized I wanted nothing from him — not even recognition — that I had helped to bring about something he wanted very much, he reached across and shook my hand. Our eyes met. ‘Lady, this is the first time in my life I ever touched white skin without getting the creeps.’ I smiled — gave him the black brotherhood handshake — and departed.

“As I turned in leaving he stood with the first smile I had ever seen on his face. At that moment I shared with him the great degradation he had suffered from whites, and I flew to the car in tears.”

Sr. Mary Elizabeth and members of the Prison Program at the House of Corrections in Jessup, Maryland.
Sr. Mary Elizabeth and members of the Prison Program at the House of Corrections in Jessup, Maryland.

Sources:

Voillaume, René. Vita Evangelica 4: Religious Life in Today’s World. Translated by Catherine Ann MacDonald, C.N.D. Ottawa: Canadian Religious Conference, 1970.

Archives of the Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary.

A Prayer for Holy Week

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The following was written by Rene Voillaume on Good Friday, 1948. It is part of his meditations on the “Way of the Cross.”

With the Cross, Christ Jesus, You have taken into Your charge the whole of mankind, with all the weight of its weaknesses and woes and sins and death. Such is Your love for us; such is Your obedience to Your Father.

To have accepted this suffering and this death was alone a mysterious and terrible agony, so great was the contradiction of it with the wholeness and purity of Your nature.

For us, it should be different. But, in the name of Your courage and in the name of Your love, we can only beg for the light by which to discern and face our cross, the cross prepared for us by You, the cross You have fitted to each one’s very being, woven into the fabric and movement of each of our lives.

Teach us to see it as an instrument of redemption, and show us how to take hold of it.


Rene Voillaume (1905-2003) was one of the first disciples of Charles de Foucauld. In 1933, with four companions he founded the Little Brothers of Jesus.

The picture shows Sr. Mary Elizabeth Gintling on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, the traditional path that Jesus walked on the way to His crucifixion. Sister and members of her community made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1985.