Health Care

Mercy - The Business of our Lives

The Ministry of Healthcare

Mercy-the principal path marked out by Jesus Christ for those who desire to follow Him has, in all ages of the Church, excited the faithful in a particular manner to instruct and comfort the sick and dying poor- as in them they regarded the person of our divine Master, who has said:' Amen, 1 say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren you did to me. Let those whom Jesus Christ has graciously permitted to assist Him in the persons of His suffering Poor, have their hearts animated with gratitude and love....

Catherine McAuley: Chapter III- Of the visitation of the Sick from the Rule and Constitutions of the Sisters of Mercy 1840.

With these words from the chapter in the Rule on visitation of the Sick, Catherine McAuley, the Foundress of the Sisters of Mercy, set out the inspiration for the care of the sick enshrined in our vow of service to the poor, sick and uneducated. The Sisters are at all times to see the person of Jesus in those to whom they minister. Catherine implies that this is an extra ordinary privilege; she has confidence that anyone working with the sick will receive the necessary graces from God to perform their service with deep compassion, recognising the uniqueness and humanity of the person served. She goes on in the Chapter to describe how sisters should prepare for this work- they should be ready to act quickly, and offer the service to God. They should make discreet enquiries about the whereabouts of those needing care, always respecting their dignity. Typically down to earth in her approach, Catherine counsels the sisters that `They should act with great tenderness, and when there is no immediate danger of death, it will be well, first, to relieve distress and to endeavour in every practical way to promote the cleanliness ease and comfort of the sick person.' Her emphasis on the practicalities of sick care and the manner in which it is to be done are inspiring. Cold, functional care was anathema to her- the sick person was always central, an image of the incarnate God who was her mainspring for action.

Catherine's insights continue to inspire Mercy sisters today to dedicate their lives to the compassion service of the sick. There are sisters working in hospitals and hospices, in nursing and residential homes. Some work in the area of supporting carers who have sick relatives, others in the setting up and running of healthcare services in places which have little provision such as Peru, Romania and Kenya. This is particularly so in Kenya, were HIV services have been set up and run by sisters. Others work in the field of mental health care, as nurses, psychotherapists and counsellors and, continuing Catherine McAuley's vision of a holistic approach to sickness, some sisters are involved in complimentary therapies such as reflexology.

Noted Mercy historian Sister Mary C. Sullivan RSM, has pointed out that our vow of service to the poor sick and uneducated should not be divided up into separate ministries. All Sisters are vowed to be of service to the sick, not just those who work in healthcare' As we enter the 21st century with all its conflicting messages about the value and worth of those who are sick, often seeing them as burdens or drains on resources, the Good News that they are central to the concerns of those following Jesus, who spent his life in healing ministry, continues to challenge and inspire.

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