Living Mercy: Shaping Tomorrow's Future - A Day With Mary Reynolds rsm
On Wednesday, 26 March 2014, Sisters travelled to Sydney from Melbourne (Victoria), Bathurst and Newcastle (New South Wales) to join over one hundred Mercy Sisters, staff, Board members and Associates, from the three Congregations - ISMAPNG, North Sydney and Parramatta in the Sydney region -at the Lidcombe Catholic Club for the last of Mary Reynolds' presentations on her current Australian visit.
There was a great buzz of energy and anticipation as people gathered. Some had memories of Mary’s stimulating presentation on the life and mission of Catherine McAuley on an earlier visit to Parramatta in 2009, and news filtering through from the gatherings with Mary in other centres in Queensland, Adelaide and Canberra was very positive.
Jennie Ryan rsm from North Sydney opened the Sydney gathering with an acknowledgment of the Traditional Owners, and a welcome to all present to this day of Reflection on “Living Mercy: Shaping Tomorrow’s Future.” Following a time of prayer led by Anne Ferguson, Co ordinator of Mission Formation, Parramatta Congregation, Daphne McKeough from ISMAPNG welcomed Mary Reynolds, noting her background in Teaching, Governance and Counselling, and her current role as Director of Mercy International Centre.
Many Sisters and others present had memories of Mary’s warmth and welcome when they visited Mercy International Centre in Dublin. Daphne spoke of the inspiration Mary was offering in Mercy circles through her writings and presentations, and her vision and promotion of the global goals of Mercy. Inviting Mary to speak she noted that there was a sense that she was bringing a timely message of inspiration to us in the challenges before us.
Mary’s presentations, “Catherine and the Ministry of Mercy” and after lunch “Shapers of a Dream,” did not disappoint. Delving into the historical and social setting that was the background for Catherine’s taking up the works of Mercy in Dublin, Mary showed us what it was that called forth Mercy in Catherine’s living and works. She dwelt on the counter-cultural way in which Catherine addressed the oppressive situations for the poor of her time, how she “broke through the impossibilities of her day.” She invited us to table discussions of what we saw as “the impossibilities” of our day. She highlighted the motivating force of compassion which grew out of Catherine’s own life experience and the depthing of her faith in a loving God. She linked this with Pope Francis' naming of “Mercy as a verb” and the call to the church to be about “Mercying.”
A memorable tool for reflection and analsisis which Mary presented was the image of the tree, with all the activity and structures as leaves and branches, drawing life from the roots of identity grounded in Mercy values, releasing the potential for growth and flourishing of Mercy action.
In a final session Mary highlighted the story of Mercy International Association, and its current projects across the global Mercy World.
As the comments from participants below illustrate, the day with Mary was indeed all that the planners had hoped for and expected.
-Daphne McKeough rsm
We began the day with an invitation to look around the room and contemplate the person next to me…who is “an inexhaustible reservoir of possibilities”. I was then transported into the Dublin of Catherine’s time through the insights and reflections of Mary who reminded us that we “Live life forwards, but we understand it backwards”, and hence need to be steeped in the story of Catherine in order to look to the future of Mercy. I recognised Catherine not simply as a kindly, generous woman, who sought to alleviate need in front of her, but as a radical woman of ingenuity who challenged structures and prevailing state actions, in defence of the dignity of each person. I was challenged and encouraged to draw parallels between now and then, in order to break through “today’s impossibilities”. I heard the heart of the Mercy Charism is connecting and using our influence for those who are treated as being of no consequence; and the core of Mercy Spirituality is in the recognition that there is no dichotomy between prayer and action as we meet Christ in the suffering poor and they meet Christ in us.
-Maria Lawton rsm
It is impossible to express adequately my gratitude to Mary for sharing her knowledge with us today so skilfully, generously and passionately. Her presentation of "Catherine McAuley's World in Historical Perspective" enabled us to see with fresh eyes what Catherine achieved against terrible odds. Moreover, we could clearly see a parallel with our own times calling us to continue Catherine's work. Then Mary spoke to us about "Catherine and The Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy", which impelled her to find ways of giving loving care to the poor, sick and ignorant (oppressed) people around her.Catherine met Jesus in them, and longed to take Jesus to them. What an amazing, wonderful woman our Catherine was! Again, we could see the implications for today, and our opportunity to continue Catherine's work.. One obvious way is the formation of our lay partners in Mercy. Another is advocacy and signatures requesting changes in government policies.
After lunch, Mary unfolded for us what it means to be "Shapers of the Dream". She gently reminded us of our privilege to be important players in bringing Mercy and Compassion to others, agreeing with Einstein who said the world needs compassion more than scientific discoveries.Then Mary informed us of the history of Mercy International Association, wich is the Keeper of our Mercy Heritage, offering programmes of formation and renewal, and building networks for dealing with global issues such as fracking, dislocation of people and human trafficking. We thank Mary for alerting us to support the fund-raising of MIA.
The main thing I will carry away from today is a renewed intent to make the "Why" of Mercy a priority, kinowing it is God's mission in our hands. God can help us overcome obstacles to Mercy, and bring good out of evil, just as He did for Catherine, in whose footsteps we humbly follow.
-Lecia Coombe rsm
We thoroughly enjoyed the day! It was both informative and inspiring. We learnt a great deal about the life of Catherine McAuley and how her work today meets the needs of our time.
By looking at the history of the Story of Mercy we gleaned a greater understanding of where we are currently in the Mercy story and the part that we all have to contribute.
Catherine was a visionary and a liminal woman, who was not afraid of the impossibilities of her time. She reached out to the poor and provided what they needed: “a kind word, a compassionate look and the patient hearing of sorrows”. She was truly present to those around her.
Catherine used her experiences of life to demonstrate compassion and Mercy-ing through her work with the poor, women and children in the areas of health, education and skills training.
Catherine “connected the rich to the poor, the healthy to the sick, the educated and skilled to the unstructured, the influential to those of no consequence and the powerful to the weak”. So, in our work, here at the Edmund Rice Centre for Justice and Community Education, what Mary said about Advocacy touched us deeply. It affirmed that we can all take a stand and that Advocacy is very powerful, especially when we may be the ones that are in a position of influence.
-Marisa Brattoni and Carmel Clark
Edmund Rice Centre
Well, what a great day with a truly amazing speaker Mary Reynolds rsm capturing the spirit and work of Catherine McAuley in three inspiring sessions. The day began formally with Acknowledgement of Country followed by a beautiful prayer led by Ann Ferguson.
In the first session entitled ’Catherine McAuley and her Ministry of Mercy’ Mary Reynolds described Catherine as a ‘Radical woman’ and emphasised that we should endeavour to bring Catherine’s spirit into our world today Much of her ministry focussed on women and children who were the most disadvantaged and in absolute dire poverty. She found ways around strict systems and laws to ensure that the disadvantaged were not excluded and in many ways used her privileged position in society in advocating for those at the lowest rung of society.
Mary in the second session went onto to speak of Catherines’s spiritual & corporal works of mercy and stated that being part of the Mercy Family meant that “Spiritual & Corporal Works of Mercy are the business of our lives”. At the heart of Catherine’s spirituality was that ‘We meet Christ in the poor & suffering – we ‘Promote dignity of the person to the highest level’ and always remember that ‘It is a privilege to find Christ in the Poor’.
In the third session Mary spoke of the shapers of a dream and how charism is a ‘Gift given by the Spirit for the renewal and building of the Church’. However in our world today we must revitalise and transfer our response to the signs of the times. Mary believes that “The deep story emerges as charism when it is able to rise to the occasion, which is the contemporary world in all its concreteness”.
Mary finished by saying we are currently “In the Age of Mercy – in a World Craving Mercy”
Edmund Rice Centre
Homebush West, Sydney, Australia
For me, as for others, the strength of Mary’s presentations was in how she gave such a comprehensive outline of the causes of the social conditions of Dublin in Catherine’s time and how she embedded Catherine’s call to mercy-ing within this, not outside it.
It served to sharpen for us Catherine’s courage and determination to address the dire needs that confronted her. This was a stroke of genius, I thought!
I often wondered why there so many women roaming around Dublin at that time and the reason for this became clear to me.
• The effects of The Act of Union when the government services were moved out of Dublin to London left “women of good repute” dislodged and without work.
They were mainly from the country.
• The effects of the Penal Laws and later Catholic Emancipation and it’s impact on society and on the role of the hierarchy.
• The Poor Law Relief Bill and its terrible consequences.
• The outbreak of cholera.
These and many other developments impacted Catherine deeply. Catherine, a woman of middle to upper class, put that aside to respond to the dire conditions that the poor endured.
Mary used statistics of The Griffith Valuation 1839 to give us some insights into the state of the houses Catherine visited. Poor sanitation, hunger, poverty, overcrowding were the norm.
The G.V.states that there were 835 people living in 15 houses in one small area of Dublin.
Catherine was countercultural in her care for the poor as well as her apostolic ministry so different from the monastic style of the times. Mary sensitively contrasted the approach of the government to Catherine’s approach. This she did by using some of Clare Agnew’s sketches showing great respect and tenderness for the poor with sketches from the writings where women were huddled together by officials.
Catherine welcomed the homeless into the House of Mercy as their own home. Her power of presence was the key to that welcome, says Mary.
Some might suggest she had her priorities wrong when, during the cholera epidemic and when the Townsend Hospital had been handed over to her care, she suspended prayer from 8.00am -8.00 pm so that the sisters could meet Christ in the suffering poor.
Our world to-day is crying out for mercy. We don’t have to shape mercy into the future, says Mary. We need to discern with our Partners in Mercy the work of the Spirit moving us. The future of mercy is not for us to invent.
It is a great time to be in the Mercy Story, Mary believes.
-Johanna Conway rsm