September 05, 2003

Mercy As Fire

For us as Mercies the fire must have something to do with 'Mercy', with that unerring nose for pain and practical capacity to alleviate suffering and free the captive. The content of the word Mercy is inexhaustible....we know the biblical connotations of hesed and rachamim; we know the etymology of misericordia; we know the story of Our Lady of Ransom whose feast on the 24th September gave identity to our congregation - the exchange with slaves; we are familiar with compassion, loving kindness, forgiveness, enablement and so on. Our Trocaire'81 statement says: Mercy is God's powerful word...spoken in Jesus. His life was Mercy incarnate. John Paul, in his encyclical Dives in Misericordia, tells us Mercy is another name for God, that it is love's second name, that it signifies a special power of love which prevails over sin and infidelity, that it is the constitutive power of Christ's mission. It is an awesome word, disclosing the wonderful, arresting potential of our charismed way of life.

Mercy is the fire that grasps us, the power, the internal energy which transforms, restores, mobilises, consumes, enthuses and missions us. Its fire generates light, heat, love, and makes us effective and bold, courageous and faithful like the martyrs. Through it in the words of Catherine: 'God can bend and change, form and reform us for His purposes.

What kills this fire/power? If there is no fuel, no oxygen only ashes remain. If we throw stones or cold water at it, it goes out, and we are left with despondency and turned off inactive members. Mediocrity, apathy, blandness, lifeless, self-centredness result; 'because you are neither this nor that, I will vomit you out of my mouth'.

Take the two disciples on road to Emmaus - their fire is gone out. They are cold and despondent. Their faith and hope is gone - we had hoped...! The stranger walks with them, teases out their experience, shows them a new meaning, and finally breaks bread with them. Suddenly their memory is restored, they speak of their hearts burning on the way; they return to the gathering and eventually are sent forth with new fire.

The renewal of the Fire for mission has to be the restoration of memory, of meaning, of Eucharist, all in the context of a coming together in misericordia. A rekindling of the fire evokes passion, commitment, creativity, ingenuity, and faith in the faithfulness of God to further the coming of the kingdom through our small personal and communal efforts.

How are we affected by that fire? Are we burned at all? Scorched or even singed? Were we at some time in our story? and perhaps things have got a bit dim now. Are we, as Joan Chittister suggests living in ashes? If so the good news may be that there is fire in these ashes! Today is a coming together...the impetus is still alive?

What ignites me? Us? Chapter directions?
Can we find and name the 'coals' under the ashes?

"Crack open the cinders of every day and find him glowing within" (Patrick Kavanagh)

Helena O'Donoghue RSM

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