Every year the Feast of St. Jeanne Jugan, celebrated on August 30th, is anticipated with much excitement. It is a family celebration of the recognition of the Church of the love and devotedness of Saint Jeanne. For those who do not know her, I guess it is a mystery – but to those of us who know and love her- it is a love story. Saint Jeanne was passionate about her life in Christ and it overflowed into her love for others – especially those in need. So strong was her love for those in need, that it emblazoned a family from a group of strangers. Today, that family stretches across the continents…where love of Christ and neighbor is the witness to the beauty of Saint Jeanne’s legacy.
The following is the homily given by Fr. Joe Rigali, O.F.M. on August 30th as we celebrated Saint Jeanne. Obviously, Fr. Joe has penetrated the message of Saint Jeanne:There’s a beautiful story in the life of St. Jeanne Jugan I’d like to share with you.
One day she was showing a novice the wild rose bushes in the novitiate courtyard, and said to her: “You see those roses? They are growing wild. You too are like a wild flower, but if you let yourself be well formed, you will become a beautiful flower transformed by God’s love.”
Roses do not bloom in the desert. Yet there is the desert of a life lived mostly in the dryness of pure faith, stripped of everything, everything but God, Jeanne Jugan let herself be transformed and blossom into a beautiful flower – a life of great sanctity.
Jeanne Jugan had an overwhelming sense that God loved her from childhood and had special plans in mind for her life. Even in her darkest moments she held onto that belief. Already as a young girl she told her mother, “God wants me for Himself, He is keeping me for a work as yet unknown.”
“God wants me for Himself.” This awareness of God’s personal love for her led Jeanne Jugan to a life of total abandonment to God’s providential love and care. Later she would tell her sisters, “when you feel lonely and helpless, say to Jesus, “You know well what is happening, my dear Jesus. I have only you. Come to my aide’…and then go your way…and don’t worry. It’s enough to have told our good Lord. He has an excellent memory.”
Hers was a life of childlike simplicity. She would often say, “Little, very little, be very little before God.” Yet paradoxically, in her littleness before God Jeanne Jugan became a woman of great strength. Hers was also a life of joy and gratitude. “God has blessed me,” she would say, “because I have always greatly thanked his Providence.” “We must always say, ‘Blessed be God. Thank you, my God. Glory be to God.’”
There are times in our lives, when like St. Jeanne Jugan, we are taken into the desert…the desert of sickness…the desert of loneliness…of fear…of rejection…time when we feel abandoned by God. Those are times when we too must walk by pure faith alone.
As it happened for Jeanne Jugan, it is here in the desert that each one of us can be transformed and blossom into a beautiful flower…a life of great holiness.
In those times we must not turn inward, retreat into oneself, give way to hopelessness and despair or self-pity. Rather it is then that like St. Jeanne Jugan we must trust in God’s personal love and surrender our lives to Him in total abandonment…trusting with the simplicity of a little child in God’s providential love and care for us…and always with a grateful heart.
The rest of the story we all know… Jeanne lived in faith, in the desert in her life to found a religious family and to welcome many elderly poor into her dwellings. Jeanne’s faith in God blossomed and love of her neighbor was the fruit of that faith…