Catherine McAuley wrote these words, (part of her long letter on the Mercy Ideal or Spirit of the Institute), in the last six months of her life to the community at Bermondsey. In them, she delineates her most important insights into what it means to be a Sister of Mercy. She sees growth in Mercy as a spiritual path, a lifetime’s task; we are always to be seeking that enlargement of our hearts which will reflect the boundless loving- kindness-the Mercy- of God. Mercy gives life and frees both the giver and the receiver.
More importantly, Catherine sees that we are always on this Mercy pilgrimage in companionship with those to whom we minister, called to live in right relationship with God, each other and the earth in which we live. Living in right relationship is the Biblical definition of justice; not a cold and punative concept, but one that lies at the heart of the command to love God and neighbour. Justice in scripture is never simply about gaining equality; it is always about what builds up true community. Relationships are not static but develop, changing and growing. Mercy and justice are inseparable in scripture and in our lives as Mercy sisters.
We serve the poor, sick and uneducated in response to his command to love one another as he has loved us but, as Catherine points out, it is they, equally gifted and precious in God’s eyes, who give to us. They ask uncomfortable questions of us about the unjust structures which create poverty. They reveal the violence to the dignity of the person which lies under the lack of opportunities for those marginalized. They make us look at how living by the dictates of a consumer society means people are divided into the have nots and the have lots and the planet is seen simply as a source of raw materials open to whoever has the biggest economic muscle, the most military might, rather than as a place we share with everyone, for the good of all.
On this spiritual path, we are called each day to look at every situation with the eyes of Mercy and Justice.
How can we let God’s desire for the fullness of life for all people break into this particular situation with this particular person?
How can we act to change structures, which diminish or hold people captive?
How particularly can we do this in relation to those with least power in society?
In 2001, the International Mercy Justice Conference in South Africa, called all Mercy sisters to deeper understandings of the structures which oppress, and solidarity with those who were being crushed by such structures. The focus was particularly on the severing of right relationships epitomised by violence against women and children, and racism.
Our Institute Chapter in 2003 echoed this statement and developed it by challenging sisters to look at the injustices experienced by women and children as well seeing our relationship to and care for the earth as paramount to our calling.
We continue to explore the ways in which we can help each other walk this path so that Mercy and Justice can continue to meet (Psalm 85).