March 29, 2010

Soup and Substance: Let’s Live Lent!

A Reflection by Miriam Thérèse O’ Loughlin rsm

This year’s Lenten observance was something of a watershed in my life. Mercy International Association sent out an invitation entitled: ‘Soup and Substance: Let’s Live Lent!’ The title intrigued me. ‘Sounds good,’ I said. ‘I’ll be there.’

Was I duly informed about global poverty? Was I inspired by the content of this Lenten luncheon effort? Was I challenged to think and reflect beyond the confines of my own small country? To all three questions, I most certainly strike a strong ‘yes’ note.

Prior to my attendance at Mercy International, my knowledge of world poverty was based on hearsay. What I have seen on a big screen this Lent has opened my eyes to the prevalence and degradation of poverty world-wide. Also, I have been inspired by the compassionate presence and engagement of Mercy sisters, in places of appalling living conditions, throughout the world. Not alone do the Sisters empower poor women to a greater dignity, by sharing their own skills with them; they also draw on the expertise of other good lay teachers, social workers, and health care personnel, for the greater improvement of women, downtrodden, in dire situations of oppression and domestic violence.

I found it very exciting to hear, at this time, that a group of Sisters in the States had recently completed a very intense course on learning about other cultures. It always seemed to me that missionaries of former times applied their own experiences to those to whom they went out to minister. That approach does not seem acceptable in to-day’s ‘Teach all Nations.’ How much more beneficial it would seem, to first of all get an understanding of the mindset and behaviour of those with whom you were going to work. I myself never forgot the maxim of an excellent school principal who once said to me: ‘The content is never heard unless the contact is right.’

It was more the discrimination among the various groups in Guyana that really pained me. Listening to a speaker who had a lot of business dealings with people in Northern Ireland has given me some understanding of the powerlessness of the Guyanese, be they Afro-Guyanese or Asian-Guyanese. Discrimination is a terrible experience for any human being. In Northern Ireland, it finally led to a thirty-year war.

There’s widespread ‘Mé Féinery,’ that is ‘I, Myself and Me,’ in our own country to-day. Global injustice and global poverty have been highlighted for me, as never before, through these Lenten luncheon events. What do I do about these less than human conditions of the poor? I now refer to the little booklet, that we were presented with, the content of which acted as a kind of spiritual renewal for myself. Beautifully illustrated, it contained relevant passages from Scripture for each day of the weekly course, quotations or extracts from Catherine Mc Auley’s letters or her Familiar Instructions. As well as referring me back to our Mercy Tradition, the booklet also challenged me to take positive action, in seeking further small ways of making a contribution to the well-being of others, especially the poor.

Our foundress Catherine must indeed be proud of her daughters to-day. It is quite evident, from what I’ve picked up in the Lenten effort, that our Sisters are engaging with the poverty of our age, in a way that will be more life-giving to those who suffer and who are victims of great injustices. For those of us who won’t be pioneering new projects in developing countries, I personally will endeavour in my situation to live simply so that others may simply live.

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