More than once I’ve heard people joke, usually about their long-past teachers, “The Sisters of Mercy had no mercy; the Sisters of Charity had no charity.” Ouch! In the course of a lifetime we’re all guilty of many thoughtless actions, cutting words, and harsh judgments, but none of us likes to be defined by them.
But for those of us who go by the name of Sisters of Charity (or Mercy or Divine Compassion — all synonyms for God’s boundless love), and for our Associates and colleagues in ministry, too, it’s good to be reminded that our name commits us to a way of life in contrast to the way of the world. As Elizabeth Seton said, “Your admirable name must excite in you every preparation to do justice to your vocation.”
It’s the same with all of us who bear the name “Christian.” We claim to follow Jesus Christ, God’s beloved and anointed One. We seek to follow his way, God’s way, which includes those on the margins, invites but doesn’t condemn, and can make some folks more than a tad uncomfortable. As the Scriptures of Holy Week and Eastertide show us beyond a shadow of a doubt, this Jesus Christ whom we follow is the Master of Mercy.
He forgives those who arrest him on fake charges and crucify him like the worst criminal. In his dying moments he shows concern for a fellow prisoner. And in today’s Gospel he returns to his cowering friends who fled from him in his time of need. Does he scold them, tell them how disappointed he is in them, wash his hands of them? Not a bit of it. He speaks to them, looks at them, touches them, with mercy.
When have you known the touch of mercy?
- Thomas knew it when Jesus took his hand and firmly guided it to probe those wounds that Thomas remembered so well.
- The sick and those with troubled spirits who gathered in Solomon’s portico knew it when the touch of the apostle’s shadow brought them healing.
- We know it by the lump in our throats when we hear of Gabrielle Giffords, Steven McDonald, Immaculée Ilibagiza, the Amish community of Nickel Mines, PA, Malala Yousafzai, Colleen Kelly and the September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows – people who turn anger and grief at injustice into action for reconciliation and peace-building. They teach us that mercy has muscles.
When have you touched others with mercy?
- Perhaps you have reached out to someone who, years ago, spoke hurtful words to you.
- Perhaps you have made time to call or visit the relative who tells you the same stories over and over.
- Perhaps you have bit your tongue and swallowed a sarcastic answer or a rough retort.
- Perhaps you have rolled away the stone of a past hurt and reached out with a hug, a smile, a handshake of forgiveness.
Mercy in the form of forgiveness is hard work. In their 2016 Lenten letter, our Congregation’s Leadership Team spoke of places within us still waiting for “the release of forgiveness….The affirmation we feel we never received, the unjust blame we experienced from another, all need the touch of God’s mercy to make us whole.”
And so we beg to know that touch. We pray, “Lord, have mercy,” really meaning, “Christ, you who are mercy incarnate, roll away the stone from my heart so I may know and show your mercy” — to the immigrant, the trafficked person, to all living in poverty, mercy to the arrogant, the ignorant, the selfish, mercy even to myself, with all my flaws.
This Sunday of Mercy, the Second Sunday of Eastertide, glows with a special light in this Jubilee Year of Mercy. We keep learning from the humbling words and actions of a Pope who teaches us that the touch of mercy is what matters most. In the words of Sr. Melannie Svoboda, SND, we believe: “What we desperately need for ourselves and what we must generously bestow on others is mercy. Always mercy.”
With Easter boldness, let us pray that the merciful touch of the Risen Christ will bring us and our world to “a new place where mercy reigns, where new life replaces old hurts, where tenderness and mercy are the way we are in this world.” (2016 Lenten letter, SC Leadership Team)
–Sister Regina Bechtle, SC
Sr. Regina, a retreat leader, speaker, writer and spiritual director, serves as Charism Resource Director for the Sisters of Charity of New York.
We are pleased to recommend a reflection about the Emmaus story by Father Tom McKenna, CM, on famvin.org http://famvin.org/en/2016/03/30/hazy-clearer-thats-it-an-emmaus-pattern-of-discipleship/