September 21, 2011

Mercy Day Message

The great feast that unites the Mercy world is Mercy Day. Its origin dates back to September 24th. 1827 when the House on Baggot Street opened as a school for the education of poor young girls and as a residence for homeless girls and women.

Anna Maria Doyle and Catherine Byrn, Catherine’s first co-workers moved in on that day but Catherine did not move in for a further eight or nine months. She was detained by other responsibilities, including the care of her ill sister, Mary. Responding to Anna Marie Doyle’s desire to begin the work she wrote to tell her that the needful preparation of the house would be complete towards the end of September and that if she pleased she could move in on the 23rd or 24th. According to the Bermondsey annals, ‘Miss Doyle, though she did not know then of the feast, fixed on the 24th, but in another note remarked that she would be particularly rejoiced to begin her labours on that day as it was dedicated to Our Lady of Mercy, suggesting at the same time that House of Mercy would be a good name for the institution.’

So the first Mercy Day seems to have been rather an unplanned co-incidence! Yet it reminds us of God’s promise to Isaiah ‘See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?’ (43:19) and of Catherine’s own words – ‘There has been a most marked Providential Guidance... and it is here that we can most clearly see the designs of God.’ (Letter to Elizabeth Moore January 13, 1839). Who could have foreseen on the 24th September 1827 that a new congregation was about to come into being and that over the next 180 years more than 55,000 women would become members of that congregation? Who could have foreseen that as the 21st century dawned, Mercy would be found in 46 countries worldwide with thousands of Sisters, Associates and Partners in Ministry continuing to minister God’s mercy to those whose lives they touch.

Sometimes, here in Baggot Street, where one has the privilege of meeting so many Mercy people from around the globe and of touching into the extraordinary energy of Mercy, I get a profound sense that God continues to do a ‘new thing’, that we are being challenged ‘to perceive it’ and to discern ‘the designs of God’. Among the glimpses that one can catch here are:

  • The hunger of lay leadership in Mercy ministries for immersion in the Mercy story. Again and again, these leaders speak of the profound impact of Catherine’s story and vision on their personal and professional lives. In the mythic story Crow and Weasel, the author Barry Lopez says ‘If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive.’ What might such an invitation mean for us who have been gifted and entrusted with the Mercy story?
  • The longing for communion. Since 1994, when Mercy International Centre became home to the Mercies of the world, Sisters, Associates, Partners and Friends in Mercy have come to visit. It is quite usual to enter the dining room any day and see people gathered at tables = men and women, religious and lay, young and old ,people of different  backgrounds, places of origin, colour of skin. As one moves around the tables, a sense of communion and community is powerfully present. Experiences are being shared, struggles are being confided, questions are being raised, and dreams are being explored. What makes for this communion? What is the  nourishment that our charism offers for the creation of community that embraces difference in its many manifestations today
  • The idealism of youth

During the Youth pilgrimage to Baggot Street this year, the voices and laughter of 150 young people echoed around Catherine’s house. Their energy and passion for life invigorated everyone making ‘the old young and the young merry’! Here are a few of their comments:

  • The energy and positive attitude the Sisters portrayed was contagious
  • I saw Catherine in every sister here.  They carried the heart that you hear so much about, Catherine’s heart, Catherine’s love.
  • The Sisters are so full of energy and joy.  I believe I have grown in my Mercy spirit
  • The passion of the sisters together at Mercy International.  We were at the crossroads of the Sisters of Mercy.
  • The pilgrimage expanded my knowledge of Catherine McAuley and made me proud to come from a Mercy institution
  • I found that this pilgrimage provided a great insight into the life of Catherine.  It showed me the true sense of caring and mercy.  Hearing from her letters made a great impression and impact.  Her encouragement and support was inspiring.  It was then easy to see why the Sisters of Mercy have such rich heritage.  They were and still are living out Catherine’s life and dreams.
  • I learnt so much more about Catherine and this is so important to carry on her work in a Mercy school
  • Being able to “see and hear” the stories and places from Catherine McAuley’s world and to feel the spirit and energy of the Mercy sisters in the 21st century has created a living history experience for me.  It greatly enhanced my personal connection with Catherine and reaffirmed how integral the core values of mercy are in my life.

How do we harvest that great goodwill, enthusiasm and commitment? How can we mutually enrich each other?

  • The power of connection.

I believe that the essence of Catherine’s charism was the connection of the rich with the poor. As Sister Joanna Regan in ‘Tender Courage’ says: She animated many to walk with her. She animated others at centres of wealth, power and influence to share in her heroic efforts. She connected the rich with the poor, the healthy to the sick, the educated and skilled to the uninstructed, the influential to those of no consequence, the powerful to the weak, to do the work of God on earth.’ I marvel at the power that there is literally at our fingertips through the wonders of technology to do this today. Think of the letters Catherine wrote, the journeys she undertook, the appeals she made, the conversations she had to accomplish her work of connecting the rich to the poor. What would she do if she had our website, our desk at the UN, the several ways in which we can affect influence?

  • The possibilities of Association

I often think that there are great possibilities in Association. It is not a canonical structure and while that has its limitations it also has its freedoms. Core to Mercy International Association are questions like:

  • What can we do better together than none of us can do apart?
  • How can the energy of our association be greater than the sum of its parts and how can that energise us all?
  • How can we ensure that Association truly means union of persons - Sisters, Associates, Partners in Ministry, supporting each other in keeping alive the founding spirit of Catherine among people of the world most in need of God’s compassion and mercy?

As we celebrate Mercy Day, may our hearts be attuned to the whisperings of the Spirit so that like Catherine we will freely respond to the call of our time?

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