Notre Dame and The Little Sisters of the Poor

Notre Dame and The Little Sisters of the Poor December 13, 2014


I thank you Father … that you have hidden these things from the wise 
and the learned, and revealed them to the little ones.

 Jesus Christ

“CCChristian people, I am come hither to die for the faith of Christ’s holy catholic church; and, I thank God, hitherto my stomach hath served me very well thereunto, so that yet I have not feared death; wherefore I desire you all to help and assist with your prayers, that, at the very point and instant of death’s stroke, I may in that very moment stand steadfast without fainting in any one point of the catholic faith, free from any fear. And I beseech Almighty God of his infinite goodness to save the king and this realm, and that it may please him to hold his holy hand over it, and send the king a good council.”

St John Fisher, at his execution

God’s warriors have always been the most unlikely people.

He sent Moses who stuttered to speak to Pharaoh and Gideon who was a coward to fight a war. He chose Deborah — a woman in an ancient middle-eastern country — as commander in chief during another war, and He was Himself born in a manger and raised by a carpenter.

God likes the little people, the unlikely people. Jesus’ disciples, who would ultimately change the world, were fishermen and disreputable tax collectors and such.

Jesus Himself once thanked His Father for revealing the truth of the Kingdom to the “little ones.”

We see this lived out in our world every single day. How often do we see the powerful and puffed up professional followers of Christ who have done quite well for themselves, thank you very much, cut and run when trouble comes? How often do we see those who claim that they speak for God and we must honor and respect them for that reason, collude with the world and do its bidding rather than Our Lord’s?

The leadership in a good many of our Catholic universities is a case in point. Many of these universities are institutions that were built by priests, jesuits in particular, and which are still headed by priests.

Education has become a primary means of brainwashing young people into turning their back on Christ. This is a magnificent opportunity for those who run our Catholic universities to make a positive difference for the Kingdom. They could, if they were committed to  Christ themselves, make their institutions a primary means of converting the culture.

Instead, many of them have chosen to convert their schools to fit the culture. When push comes to shove, as it has with the HHS Mandate, they bend the knee and kiss Ceasar’s ring without embarrassment. And they continue to wear the Roman collar while they are doing it.

As I said, in another post, enter the Little Sisters of the Poor, stage left. The sisters are, as Jesus said, “little ones.” The word “little” is even in their name. They were, before they decided to make a courtroom stand for Christ, almost anonymous. Their work isn’t the kind of thing that allows them to hobnob with presidents and kings. They spend their days caring for the least of these, for the very people that a good many in our society are pushing to euthanize for their costliness and the massive inconvenience they create. The Little Sister of the Poor care for the frail elderly,

The Little Sisters fit Jesus’ description of “the little ones” pretty well. They serve a Church which is administered by men who do sit down to sup with presidents and kings and many of whom have clearly forgotten that they are servants, not masters.

One of Public Catholic’s readers inspired this post with the comment that they wished the Little Sisters of the Poor would be more like the priests of Notre Dame and just do what the government tells them to do: Accept the HHS Mandate and follow the government instead of Christ.

The reader didn’t put that last bit about following the government instead of Christ in there. That was all me. But I honestly think it reflects the choice that the leadership at many of our Catholic universities have made, and not just in the HHS Mandate.

What the reader was saying, of course, is that they preferred Christians who follow the world rather than Christ; they like cowardly Christian leadership that will lead their people into betraying Our Lord so that the Church becomes a meaningless cypher in today’s world. This reader — and I imagine a good many other people — prefers the priests of Notre Dame to the Little Sisters of the Poor precisely because the priests are so willing to sell out Jesus and the Little Sisters are, however reluctantly, willing to fight for Him.

I wonder if this embarrasses these priests at all. I would take a look at myself if those who have as their outspoken goal the destruction of religion in general and Christianity in particular praised me for not following the Church. Do they consider, even for a moment, the implications in this?

These are difficult times, and difficult times are when the sunshine soldiers who joined to participate in the parades and fanfare lay down their arms and cross over to what looks like the winning side. How many of the English bishops acceded to Henry VIII? I know of one. Cardinal John Fisher was martyred for his faith and is now Saint John Fisher.

I’ve read letters from the bishops, encouraging the laity to consider St Thomas More when thinking about the HHS Mandate. St Thomas More is special to me. When I was in the process of converting, I thought about him a lot. I’ve always thought that he was there with me, aiding me in that time. St Thomas More is my namesake. During my years in office I wore his medal, all day, every day.

St Thomas More refused to repudiate the Church at the King’s command. St Thomas is precious to me because he had many failings and he did not want to die. He was not aiming for sainthood. He tried his best to live, to avoid his martyrdom. But in the end, when the choice of Christ or King was put before him, he chose Christ.

St Thomas More is a marvelous example, especially for politicians, writers and attorneys. St John Fisher is an equally important example for priests and bishops. I wish there was a St John Fisher Society to promote sacrificial followership among priests and bishops. I wish they could find fellowship and strength in one another. It is not easy to lead people in these times. It takes consistency and courage.

Leadership in the name of Christ is always servant leadership. It is a giving of oneself, rather than a getting for oneself. The people of God are hungry for leadership. Even most of those who criticize and try to bully the Church into acceding to the world would respond to leadership if they saw it. In fact, a good many of these people behave this way because they don’t have leadership. They are, as Jesus put it, like sheep without a shepherd.

The single best way to lead is by example, by inspiration. Do you want people to stand for Christ? Then stand for Christ yourself. Do you want people to sacrifice for Jesus because He is worth any sacrifice? Then, sacrifice yourself. The Church is built on the blood of the martyrs, not the crisp linens and fine serving ware of dining with presidents and kings.

The prominent priests of Notre Dame are a fine example of how not to do priestly leadership. Being the big dog and aping the world are not examples of servant leadership or even Christly leadership. They are examples of betrayal.

I thank You Father … that you have … revealed these things to the little ones. 

Enter the Little Sisters of the Poor, stage left.

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14 responses to “Notre Dame and The Little Sisters of the Poor”

  1. Rebecca,

    I am honored that you gave my comment such a well thought out and informative response. I attended Catholic Elhi (1-12) and my wife went to a Catholic College. They prepared us to make it in this world. I think it is unfair to try to make the comparison you did. Notre Dame does not aspire to be like the Little Sisters and visa versa. They each play an important role in society in their own way. What they do have in common is they take on all comers and I’m assuming both employ and serve people of all faiths for whom it is not fair to require compliance with Catholic rules.

    • Thanks for making me think about it ScirHmnst. I guess we’re going to have to just disagree about this. I think much of Catholic education is failing in its mission just now, and the pity is, it has an incredible opportunity, because of the hostility in the larger world, to make a real difference for Christ.

      • I think that almost from their inception, universities were to dispense and acquire worldly knowledge. I think spiritual knowledge wa a given back then and universities were never a substitute for seminaries.

        • Catholic universities are not replacements for seminaries, but they should be faithful to the Church. As I said, we are just going to disagree about this.

    • Notre Dame was founded with a distinctly Catholic vision of the world. At the time many universities in the US were Protestant and even those state universities had a vision of converting the unwashed, heathen, immigrant Catholics. That is also where public schools came from, to convert all those papist immigrants. They were decidedly not worldly.
      Notre Dame was very proud that it had “made it” and become just as secular as the eastern, secularized universities like Harvard, which used to be Protestant.
      Catholic schools did the same thing. Instead of being uniquely Catholic, most are now just secular private schools.
      So, I think your pov is a little off and colored by a secularized education.
      Why can’t a group like Little Sisters serve as they always have?
      If you would read 2 Maccabees you might see the problem of sacrificing incense to the false god of government. Then, we can talk.

      • “They were decidedly not worldly.”

        How can one not be “worldly” and get anywhere in life? Catholic schools always dispensed worldly knowledge along with religious instruction that was also made available to the infamous “public school kids”.

  2. I love the lines in A man for all Seasons when the Duke asks Thomas More if he will just come along with them and sign the King’s oath and More replies, “then when you go to heaven for following your conscience and I go to hell for not following mine, will you come with me for fellowship’s sake?”

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