An appeal to your inner nobility

The other day, a friend of mine shared this extraordinary quotation by one of my heroes – Fr. Alfred Delp:

A community that gets rid of someone—a community that is allowed to, and can, and wants to get rid of someone when he no longer is able to run around as the same attractive or useful member—has thoroughly misunderstood itself. Even if all of a person’s organs have given out, and he no longer can speak for himself, he nevertheless remains a human being. Moreover, to those who live around him, he remains an ongoing appeal to their inner nobility, to their inner capacity to love, and to their sacrificial strength. Take away people’s capacity to care for their sick and to heal them, and you make the human being into a predator, an egotistical predator that really only thinks of his own nice existence.

Fr. Delp was a German Jesuit and those words were his response upon viewing a 1941 Nazi propaganda film.

Who, in our lives, is appealing to our inner nobility?

Who is drawing us out of ourselves and our “own nice existence”?

To whom do we let ourselves to explode our inner capacity to love?

For whom do we let our sacrificial strength be tested?

These may not be the most natural questions to ask ourselves, which is why luminaries like Fr. Delp are so important.

Photo: My mom visiting her brother-in-law’s mother Mrs. Hall. My mom’s care for Mrs. Hall in her final years is one example among many of my mom’s inner nobility and sacrificial strength.

Not for a million dollars

As I reflect on the elderly who are, far too often, subjected to our cruel and dehumanizing throwaway culture, I recall an oft-repeated story about Mother Teresa.

She was tending to the poorest of the poor and the sickest of the sick when someone exclaimed, “I wouldn’t do that for a million dollars!”

To this, Mother Teresa replied, “Neither would I.”

It is important for caregivers to be well compensated for their deeply important and meaningful work of accompanying persons in their vulnerability, particularly as they near the end of their lives.

But do we understand that this kind of work cannot be reduced to being a means to a paycheque without creating a crisis in the hearts and minds of those who come face to face every day with human suffering, weakness, and fragility?

Mother Teresa, of course, saw herself as capable of doing the work that she did insofar as she could see God in His “distressing disguises.”

What is it that will enable caregivers today to do the necessary service about which many would say, “I wouldn’t do that for a million dollars?”

Caregiving as a school in humanity

This evening I read a short book written by my friend and colleague’s grandmother.

In the brief memoir, Walk with Me: growing rich through relationships, author Judy Rae reflects on the experience of caring for her husband Joe while he developed Alzheimer’s.

Presented with honesty and infused with a faith, Rae offers a window into how caregiving can be a school in humanity.

Judy recounts the pain and sorrow of watching her husband lose his memory and she does not skirt the undeniably tragic dimensions of this disease.

“I have been told that when a person is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, he is introduced to a world of loneliness, rejection, terror, confusion, misinformation, and termination. Can this tragedy bring with it any victory into our lives?” she asks.

Rae speaks about how Joe became embarrassed and humiliated by what he could no longer do or remember. Despite the continual accompaniment, affection, and affirmation of his wife, Joe’s feelings of uselessness regularly caused him to get frustrated with himself and even to cry.

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