“Refuse God nothing.”
These are the words of the saint we are celebrating today — St. Jeanne Jugan. She’s a special patroness of mine, and her feast happens to fall on my birthday!
Jeanne Jugan is remembered today as the foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor — a congregation whose mission is to care for and accompany the elderly poor. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting one of their homes, you’ll know that the Little Sisters bring a profound sense of dignity and peace to their work. You can tell that they truly believe they are serving Christ Himself when they serve their residents. They have truly taken up their foundress’ inspiring message: “Refuse God nothing.”
But even Jeanne Jugan herself had to learn this lesson the hard way. As the Little Sisters of the Poor began to gain popularity and more and more women wanted to become Little Sisters themselves, a colleague and chaplain, named Fr Lepailleur, basically took credit for founding the congregation. He blocked the re-election of Jeanne Jugan as superior, took control himself, and then sent Jeanne Jugan away to beg for alms. Before long, everyone had forgotten her. She would go on to live the rest of her life in total obscurity, living hidden away in the Mother House. There, she had the opportunity to humbly form the young novices, who were totally oblivious that this kind old woman was actually Jeanne Jugan… the original Little Sister of the Poor!
Can you imagine? Here was her life’s work, stolen from her! Her calling, highjacked! Her vocation… snatched away. It would have been so easy — perhaps even understandable — for her to collapse into bitterness. Our sense of justice leaps at this story crying out — “But that’s not fair! This is horrible!” And certainly it wasn’t fair. But instead of giving into anger and retaliation, she responded with heroic charity and generosity. She responded with Christ-like strength and serenity, willing to sacrifice even her rightful position within the congregation she founded, so that she might not refuse God anything.
Jeanne Jugan was able to do this, because she believed and trusted that she was intimately known, recognized, and loved by the Lord. And that was enough for her. She didn’t need to be in the spotlight, because God already loved her perfectly. Listen again to our responsorial psalm this morning: “You have searched me and you know me, Lord. Where can I go from your spirit? From your presence where can I flee?” How consoling those words are if we are open and honest with the Lord, if we refuse God nothing. How how unsettling those words are, if we try to hide from Him… if we ultimately refuse to give Him our heart.
So today, let’s learn from Jeanne Jugan what it means to give everything over to the Lord — to refuse God nothing. The Holy Spirit will enable us to let go of even the things we most cherish, that we might draw closer to God, to rely entirely on Him, and so become the saints he so desperately desires us to be.
Saint Jeanne Jugan, Pray for us.