Father James Martin, SJ: Thank You Religious!

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Editor’s note: The National Religious Retirement Collection will be taken up in parishes the weekend of Dec. 8-9. If you want to know why it is important, consider the following: The U.S. Social Security system projects that it needs four wage earners for every retired beneficiary in order to keep the system solvent.  By 2022 religious institutes will have one wage earner for every four retired – the exact inverse. If you want a worthy collection, this one is it. Check out www.retiredreligious.org. This week, the USCCB is running a wonderful series of guest posts by people whose lives were touched by religious. We are very happy to share these and encourage you to prayerfully support this weekend’s collection. LMH

Father James Martin, SJ: Thank You Religious!

Father James Martin, SJ: Thank You Religious!

It’s hard to sum up in a few words what men and women religious have meant to me.  But let me use two words that I’ll bet you’d use too:Thank you.

Thank you to Sister Janice, a Religious of Jesus and Mary, who was my church history professor during graduate theology studies, and who has become a close friend to my whole family. Ten years ago, when my father was first diagnosed with cancer, Janice was one of the first people to telephone him to offer support and prayers. And in the last week of his life, she took a train from Boston to Philadelphia (that’s about a six-hour trip) to visit him while he was in the hospital. Like all Catholic sisters, Janice has taken a vow of poverty and lives on a limited budget. So to visit my father, she took the cheapest train she could find and stayed at a local convent. The next day she got back on the train and returned to Boston, another six-hour trip. I don’t think I can ever thank her enough.

Thank you to Sister Maddy, a Sister of St. Joseph I met when I was working in East Africa and she was helping, with two other Sisters of St. Joseph, to run a girls school in a remote village in Tanzania (That meant no water, no electricity, no phones.) Today, she is a retreat director at a Jesuit retreat house, beloved by people from all over the country, whom she helps with wise spiritual guidance. During one retreat, she led me through a particularly tough time, balancing our friendship and her professional role as a director. Lately we’ve directed weekend retreats together, and I always learn something new about God when I listen to her. I can never thank her enough either.

Thank you to Sisters Claire and Eileen, Maryknoll Sisters who lived across the street from our Jesuit community in Nairobi, while I was there for two years. Both had spent years working in the most difficult settings imaginable in East Africa, and these two elderly sisters provided me with a model of indomitable religious fervor. Often, when I was homesick, I would pop by their house for a cup of tea and some cheering up. “Oh you’ll be fine!” both would say. And they were right.

Thank you, too, to all the Jesuits who have helped me in life, and who are too numerous to name. But I’ll give you a few! Thanks to David, my first-ever spiritual director, who helped me discover what it means to be loved by God as you are. Thanks to John, one of the true saints I have known, who showed me what it means to live with an open heart, a generous spirit and a love of simplicity. Thanks to George, who helped to support my vocation during a difficult time with his patient spiritual counsel.

I’m sure you’d like to say “Thank you” to the men and women religious who have made a difference in your life. And I’ll bet you’ve probably dropped them a line word or told them in person. But did you know that their religious orders are facing a severe financial crisis, and are finding it hard to care for these great men and women in their declining years?

Men and women religious – particularly the women – typically worked for very little (sometimes a literal pittance); they lived exceedingly simply; and many of their communities were not able to save much at all, thanks to these historically low salaries. Also, there are fewer young people entering religious life, which means that fewer religious men and women are earning salaries, which means that the older religious are having a difficult time making ends meet.

This is where you can really say thank you! Why not give to the Retirement Fund for Religious? I know they would appreciate it. I’ll bet God would, too.

James Martin, SJ, is a Jesuit priest, contributing editor to America and author of many books, including My Life with the Saints, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything and Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor and Laughter are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life.

Editor’s Note: To contribute to the Retirement Fund for Religious, visit: http://www.usccb.org/about/national-religious-retirement-office/ or www.retiredreligious.org

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About Author

Lisa M. Hendey is the founder and editor of CatholicMom.com and the bestselling author of the Chime Travelers children's fiction series, The Grace of Yes, The Handbook for Catholic Moms and A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms. As a board member and frequent host on KNXT Catholic Television, Lisa has produced and hosted multiple programs and has appeared on EWTN and CatholicTV. Hendey hosted “Catholic Moments” on Radio Maria and is the technology contributor for EWTN’s SonRise Morning Show. Lisa's articles have appeared in Catholic Digest, National Catholic Register, and Our Sunday Visitor. Hendey travels internationally giving workshops on faith, family, and Catholic technology and communications topics. She was selected as an Elizabeth Egan Journalism Fellow, attended the Vatican Bloggers Meeting, the “Bishops and Bloggers” meeting and has written internationally on the work of Catholic Relief Services and Unbound. Hendey lives with her family in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Visit Lisa at www.LisaHendey.com for information on her speaking schedule or to invite her to visit your group, parish or organization.

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