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1st Oct 2023 - A Reflection from Sr. Assumpta

FEAST OF OUR LADY OF MERCY - 24th September 2023

I have just returned from a Family Visit and a six-day Retreat at Knock Shrine, where I was surrounded by hundreds of people every day praying quietly as well as in attendance at many Masses and nightly Adoration. The Basilica was full daily at 3pm for Mass with the Anointing of the Sick. People have the opportunity for Confession from 11.00 am to 4.30 pm. Of course, Knock is a place like Lourdes where people of all nationalities visit. I assure you that I did pray for you and your families especially at Night Adoration from 7pm to 9pm.

Now that I am back in full swing apart from the continual noise of the rewiring of the house, it is good to be home and connect with the Hospital Chaplaincy and other Mercy Ministries. I hope that you all had a good summer and enjoyed the sun, especially earlier in the season.

I am aware that Our Patronal Feast of our Lady of Mercy is around the corner on Sunday, and I am sending you a short meditation to help you connect with the Feast and the gift of Mercy.

Catherine McAuley, our Foundress, was born in Dublin into a happy home and had a wonderfully caring father who provided well for the family and taught them the elements of the Catholic faith until he died, leaving a young family and an inexperienced wife, who managed the family resources badly which meant that the children had to be fostered out.

Catherine was adopted by a wealthy man and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. O’Callaghan who were Protestants but loved Catherine dearly and left her their whole estate and a huge sum of money on their death.

At the age of 40+ Catherine was a very wealthy woman. Having experienced great poverty before her adoption she was familiar with the pangs of hunger owing to her mother’s inability to manage money etc, Catherine was very sensitive to the needs of the poor in the inner city of Dublin, and she decided to spend her fortune in the alleviation of poverty, the education of poor children and rescuing young women form the plight of prostitution. Thus began the Congregation of THE SISTERS OF MERCY adopting the 24th of September, Feast of Our Lady of Mercy as our Patronal Feast.

Catherine’s work as a Sister of Mercy spread all over Ireland and in 1939 at the invitation of the Archbishop of Southwark, Catherine made her first Foundation outside Ireland, here in Bermondsey on 19th November. The purpose of the Foundation was for the Educational Needs of the children of the Irish Dockers together with their Spiritual Formation. When time permitted the Sisters visited the sick poor in their own homes and the annals tell us that Mill Street was a terrible slum. Today one would need a million pounds in one’s pocket to buy a one bedroomed flat in that street!

How times change!

The early Sisters were also known to have visited the sick in Guys and St Thomas’ Hospitals, which later led them to the Crimea with Florence Nightingale. Historical evidence tells us that the situation that awaited Florence and the Sisters in Scutari in the 1850’s was daunting beyond belief. Lack of food, medication, bed linen, together with hygiene facilities led to the deaths of thousands of soldiers and their demise was less than comfortable. The letters written home by the Sisters makes challenging reading. “I had two rats in my bed last night or maybe it was the same rat twice”.

I suppose every age in history presents its set of challenges and the inability to address new and different illnesses gives rise to more questions than answers. I was blessed to have had the opportunity to work in Kenya when the Aids pandemic was out of all proportion and over 1,000 people died every day, with parents leaving nine year old children to bring up their younger siblings. For the poor there was no way to address this problem. The rich could fly to America or Europe for treatment. God did not forget His people as the then President, George Bush, released the drugs to Africa through The Catholic Aid Agency in the USA. The Mater Hospital, Nairobi, owned and run by the Sisters of Mercy was chosen to facilitate the Programme in the hospital and in two local slums. Admission to the Programme was by self-referral with a step-by-step process which included a nutritional facility. This opportunity has saved hundreds of lives and has given mothers the strength to rear their children beyond teenage years.

In one of his addresses during his Pontificate, the late Pope Benedict referred to the “WISDOM OF WEAKNESS” No doubt he was feeling his own weakness at that time. At some time in our lives, we all face weakness in ourselves and others . St Paul refers to the fact that the weakest are indispensable to the body. Those are challenging and uncomfortable words. If you are like me you might want to FIX things that you are uncomfortable with, but it is not always a question of DOING, it is often about meeting or accompanying or listening. We can see the ugly, the disability, the smelly, the uncomfortable as the enemy, but Jesus said LOVE YOUR ENEMY, because the enemy is telling us something about our own fears, our capacity to be angry, to reject the unsightly and to walk away. It tells us about our fear of getting too close. In some cultures, people with disabilities are kept out of the public eye to save people like me from getting embarrassed and feeling uncomfortable. Behind the wounds of a person in a sick bed is a man, a woman or a child , someone who has something to say about being human.

St Francis had three conversions.

  • 1st When he met the lepers

  • 2nd When he was with the bandits in the forest

  • 3rd When he met the Sultan and he discovered that Muslims were men and women seeking God.

Have you ever met someone in your life who has had a profound experience of God for you? I know I have, and such situations called on me not to respond with words but with staying alongside in silence and just being present and offering nothing but silence. We cannot solve everything, but we can help by our presence.

In the Eucharist Jesus says nothing and we understand Him as the REAL PRESENCE. His Real Presence to us is such a comfort in times of anxiety. We feel understood, safe , accepted and not judged. Time is a precious commodity, and it costs nothing and as ministers of the Lord’s work it is the most precious gift we have to offer another human being whether in the confines of a hospital or a person who is housebound.

All illness has a mental aspect which is not possible to touch , but our empathy , understanding and tenderness will make another human being feel accepted and fully human. JESUS LOVES ME AS I AM and we can say that we are OK just as we are , because we are loved by God and He is calling us to be present to each other. We can listen to the cry of the poor so that we can give hope and be a sign that God is present in the world.

I think that is what Catherine McAuley did when she spent her fortune on the poverty and suffering she saw around her. I pray that ,we her followers, would strive every day to make life a little brighter and better for another human being and that each encounter with our brothers and sisters would assure them of their uniqueness as children of God and that they are unconditionally loved by Him.

May this Mercy Day bring you many blessings as we here in the Community include you in our Celebration of the Eucharist and our Prayer together as we remember and give thanks for all that has been and will be into the future.

Sister Assumpta Walsh 21/9/2023



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