Were you to visit any of our three Little Sisters of the Poor homes around the state of Pennsylvania, you would find them full of Christmas cheer. The season of Advent is a favorite of our residents, a time that we wait together in anticipation of celebrating the birth of baby Jesus.
The men and women we have pledged our lives to care for, the elderly poor, can relate in a particular way to the story of the Nativity. Like the Holy Family, they are men and women that society has cast aside. They know all too well the meaning of the words no room in the inn; many might otherwise be homeless. With us, they have found a new home and a new family, one that will stay with them through the very end of their lives. It brings us great joy to accompany them on this sacred journey home to God.
But our joy is once again overshadowed by renewed efforts to force us to violate our most deeply held religious beliefs, this time from the state of Pennsylvania. The state attorney general is attempting to pick up where the prior federal administration left off, demanding that we provide services in our health-care plans that violate our religious beliefs and our very reason for existence.
At the core of what we believe is that every human life has value and dignity, even the ones society has deemed worthless. We live this out in our daily work, and the joy it brings to our lives and the lives of those we serve is humbling. To comply with the demand that we provide life-ending drugs would be to forfeit our life’s purpose and to betray our consciences. To refuse to comply would come with an annual $2.5 million fine from the government.
Thankfully, Becket has defended us every step of the way. A unanimous ruling from the Supreme Court last year and a new rule from the Department of Health and Human Services clarified what the First Amendment already ensured: The government cannot force us to choose between serving others and going bankrupt. And yet the fate of our homes in Scranton, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia once again hangs in the balance.
This is because Pennsylvania has filed a new lawsuit that would once again place us back in the same dilemma: Violate our faith and have our health-care plans turned into vehicles for services we object to on deeply religious grounds, or face punishment from the government. That lawsuit was heard in court Thursday.
Pope Francis stated that his prayer intention for the month of December this year is for the elderly. A people that does not “treat them well,” he said, “has no future.” The “elderly have wisdom, they are entrusted with a great responsibility: to transmit their life experience, their family history, the history of a community, of a people.” We believe that includes all of the elderly, regardless of race, religion, or socioeconomic status. No government threat will change that belief or our commitment to living it out.
And so this Advent, I am full of anticipation, but I am also anxious. I am anxious when I look at the joyful faces of our residents, basking in the peaceful happiness they have found in their final earthly home. Anxious that their happiness is jeopardized by a lawsuit that takes direct aim at our freedom to serve them. My hope then this Christmas is that my fellow sisters and I might once and for all enjoy the freedom that God has given us, that we might in turn serve him.
Sister Loraine Marie Maguire is mother provincial of the Little Sisters of the Poor. email@example.com