June 22, 2003

Edmund Hillary and a tradition of Mercy

Where were you fifty years ago when you heard the news that Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay had "conquered" Mt Everest? For all but the last 5-10 youngest sisters of each Mercy Congregation in Aotearoa New Zealand, the date 29 May 1953, is within living memory. Since it is such a shared memory I believe it can offer us all food for thought as we continue our journey to becoming one, to articulating a Mercy spirituality for those of us who call this land our home. In earlier articles I have discussed: the effect of the landscape on our spirituality; how traditional Mercy symbols may be reinterpreted; what the mountain scenes in Matthew's Gospel may be calling us to; and why camping can be an appropriate image to celebrate the incarnation here. In this article I have chosen a person upon whom to reflect. Why Edmund Hillary? Simply because he's there and he's there at this particular time. So what does today, 29 May 2003, the fiftieth anniversary of his ascent of Mount Everest offer us?

Today's fiftieth anniversary of Edmund Hillary's achievement is significant for us as Sisters of Mercy. First of all Hillary's remarkable feat has left an indelible mark on the psyche of all New Zealanders and has contributed enormously to our national identity. As Catherine McAuley's face graces the Irish five pound note (or used to until the advent of the Euro) so too does Edmund Hillary's face adorn our five dollar note. Their faces represent for us the best of Irish values and the best of ANZ values lived to the full by a woman and a man. What a gift we have been given! We as ANZ Sisters of Mercy are influenced by both of these fiercely determined and pioneering risk-takers with their compassionate love for the poor. Second, perhaps more importantly, Hillary's continuing involvement with the lives of the Sherpas in Nepal is both a testimony to the profound effect that his mountain experience had on him and a future challenge for us. Hillary achieved his goal of reaching the top of the world but didn't stop there -countless schools, hospitals, clinics and other projects bear testimony to that. We too as Sisters of Mercy will probably conquer our Everest, reach our goal of becoming one, but what will happen then? What will our new reality say to ANZ? What will it do for ANZ? What difference will it make to the lives of the poor, sick and uneducated in 2005? As far as I know Hillary had no blueprint to follow, but the poor, sick and uneducated continue to be the focus of his life. We have a blueprint -the Gospel and a rich tradition of Mercy. Hillary's journey to the top of the world gave him a different perspective. When he came down from the mountain it was no longer business as usual. When we come down as one from our Everest will it be business as usual? Will we be changed -changed so profoundly that we will allow our new reality to call us to heights we cannot yet imagine?

Today's fiftieth anniversary celebration is also significant in that it is Ascension Thursday. Although we don't celebrate it here until Sunday it is appropriate to recall it today because I believe the feast speaks to Hillary's ascension of Mt Everest and the ascension our journey to becoming one is calling us to. Liturgically, the feast of the Ascension marks an in between time in the Easter season. We've begun the journey but we haven't yet arrived. The risen Christ is now in heaven but the Spirit is yet to come. We too, as Sisters of Mercy, have begun our journey to becoming one but we haven't yet arrived. Perhaps we need to sing along the way. The Psalms of Ascent (Pss 120-134) offer much richness here. Probably sung by pilgrims as they made their way up to Jerusalem for the major feasts, these psalms are generally concerned with the ordinary and everyday -those things that fill up our lives. With the psalmist perhaps we can pray "I lift my eyes to the mountains, from where will my help come?" (Ps 121) or "the Lord will guard your coming and your going and both now and forever (Ps 121).

In today's Markan account of the Ascension (Mark 16:15-20) we hear the challenge Jesus issued to his disciples before his departure: "Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation." Edmund Hillary's his life of service has indeed been such a proclamation. His tireless efforts on behalf of countless community groups in ANZ and the poor Nepal, graphically illustrates Francis of Assisi's mandate: "Preach the Gospel always -sometimes use words."

Our Everest will have been conquered/befriended when we become one throughout ANZ and Catherine will have embraced Ed. Our response to our achievement may not be as earthy as Hillary's "We've knocked the bastard off" but nevertheless I'm sure our shout of gladness and gratitude will have a genuine Kiwi ring.

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