INSIGHT - Roger Malenfant: I dare to say "our founders"

Fraternity that furthers the development of life in dignity arouses the joy of being somebody for others by enabling each one to take his or her place in their family and in society. Being erect along the path of one’s humanity so as to continue building a People that creates love of God.

I am writing these lines, not as an expert, but as a lay believer who has been moved to the depths of his faith. I dare to take up the challenge of interpreting the thought of Etienne Pernet and of understanding the gift that Antoinette Fage made of herself, of understanding them in their perceptions, taking account of the realities of their time, going to the depths of their heart and their privacy, examining the experiences that shaped them. 
I take the risk of going so far as to build a bridge between yesterday and today so as to show the liveliness of their intuitions, that passion and breath that animated them and which inspires us, in a solidarity that will go even further. This solidarity will be rooted in a fellowship bearing in itself love for the other in a concern for support and dignity towards one another. This spirit of a large family will be expressed through a common action: "Little Sisters and Laity’. The inspiration in the heart of the founders becomes an inescapable response, braking the compartmentalization of the social classes, abolishing brazen borders, breaking the chains that hinder the freedom that is needed in order to build a better world. Whether we are rich or poor, Etienne places us before the demands of our Christian life, promoting encounter in the gestures that open a heart to heart dialogue between human beings. In that, the vision of Etienne and the actions of Antoinette make this congregation unique. 
It used to be said, at the beginning of the foundation, that it was a little undertaking that would respond to the needs of sick persons who were poor and in need, "the first domiciliary nurses of the poor". A considerable social challenge: to enter into the intimacy of the family in its home. Go where you may be at the heart of needs. Being with them, among them, going towards them – attitudes that we find in Jesus throughout his life that was marked by encountering others, by looking at them, by touching them, by attentiveness. It is more than a medical intervention: it means stopping to hear the suffering and the need of the other. It means wishing to place the tenderness of the Father in the midst of distress. This initiative – the foundation in 1865 – was to be only the beginning of a response. The action of taking care of the body, of helping with the housework, was to highlight the need concerning what would come next, an "anxiety about tomorrow". It became clear that there was something at a deeper level that was contaminating the whole meaning of the life of the most deprived, a feeling that was degrading individuals, giving them the impression that they counted for nothing, that they were nothing, lost in the mass of human beings in the service of the powerful. The deep loss of human dignity – "the affliction of the workers" Etienne used to say – corresponds to the unease in our present-day societies. The situation has changed in some countries: care in the home is being seen to by the social services, but the unease is still well anchored in the daily life of several parts of our world. 
Today, if we wish to continue the mission that was begun 150 years ago, then we have to give full value to fellowship. If human beings, here or elsewhere, are of concern to me – in their life, their needs, their sufferings, their poverty, their loneliness and their development – then the path that Etienne and Antoinette took, that of the Gospel, becomes mine: "Love one another" (Jn 13:34). "Be humble in heart and in action" (1 Co 4:5). Following the path of a similar desire, with the same passion, distributing this same remedy in action. The ability to understand suffering from within enabled our founders, by the gift they were to make of themselves, to become a tangible sign of hope. This charism, the fruit of the Spirit, brings a response to those who are most deprived and makes them discover a meaning in their deprivation, through being listened, an outstretched hand that offers to the neglected hearts a new healing in which their tears may at last find some consolation. 
For Etienne, life needs a cradle in order to bloom, and this cradle is the family, the setting for growth that enables each person to live, to grow, to stand up and walk among brothers and sisters. That is where the feelings that will be expressed in the course of our life are born. It is there that the heart learns to express love by drawing inspiration from the examples of commitment that can be seen, that can be felt. The values, the faith, the traditions and the culture that has been transmitted are added to the weave of the social fabric and give birth to the world. In our present world, the family is changing. We can see many forms of it appearing, new challenges that question it. How do we emerge from our difficult experiences so as to make them into something that will help us to construct ourselves? How can our relational deficiencies become seeds of life for today? Once again, the response is to be found in a wider family, "the fraternity", this group becoming a means that makes a difference through actions done rather than through words. This welcome given to the other goes beyond blood relations to encourage overcoming social conditions, and judgements that no longer have a place. In this way the barriers of differences are rejected and love based on human and spiritual fraternity recovers its rights. 
Fraternity that furthers the development of life in dignity arouses the joy of being somebody for others by enabling each one to take his or her place in their family and in society. Being erect along the path of one’s humanity so as to continue building a People that creates love of God. 
Roger Malenfant 
Maison Orléans-Montréal-Canada
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