Opening Doors, Creating Places of Welcome, and the Mystery of Love

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By Sister Kathleen Erickson

Central to Catherine McAuley’s legacy are convents, hospitals, schools, homes for women, orphanages and other places of welcome created in Mercy over time. I invite you to join me in reflection about how the world has changed since 1827, when Baggot Street was opened and the community was young and expanding.  Let’s assume Catherine’s presence with us in this reflection.

As we celebrate Mercy Day in 2021, many concerns throughout the world break our hearts and sap our energy. Take time to name some of those for yourself. Doesn’t it feel like we live in a time of extremes?

We see that climate disasters and violence have resulted in an estimated 82.4 million displaced people on the planet, people too often met with hostility rather than open doors. How do we, with fewer members, respond—both as individuals and as a community letting go of institutions, rather than creating them? And we ARE responding! 

Community members are visiting immigrants in detention, providing accompaniment and legal assistance in immigration courts, fundraising for legal fees and founding as well as supporting organizations welcoming immigrants and refugees. Many serve as volunteers in shelters, meeting practical needs as well as sharing tears and laughter with the despairing.  

Advocacy manifests in weekly witnesses on street corners and outside Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities with signs reminding the public that families are still separated, children are still in detention and countries still close borders to those who seek asylum. We contact elected officials and write letters to the editor to bring attention to U.S. policies that contribute to the suffering in Honduras, Afghanistan, Haiti and other countries.  

I grieve each time a sister tells me she feels useless since she can no longer “do anything” to help. Truthfully, we could all feel our efforts are small, even pointless in the face of so much suffering. 

Breathe deeply. If it feels like we live in a time of extreme hatred and polarization, are we not called to counter that with extreme love, the recognition that there is no “they,” that we are all one? We know that Catherine McAuley lived that realization, and that prayer was her first priority, never an afterthought. Our growing understanding that prayerful reflection nurtures the interconnectedness of everything may be a gift of these turbulent times.   

Author Barbara Holmes says: “Love is the greatest mystery of all. Not love as a warm and fuzzy feeling, but love as the animating force that holds us together. If we believe that we are loved just as we are and that everything else is equally loved, we unveil a cosmic reality that is life-giving and a Christ-like reality that affirms the goodness of all creation…” 

Maybe she didn’t articulate it in the words of today’s theologians, but I think central to Catherine McAuley’s legacy is trust in love as the greatest mystery of all. And I believe it is OUR work to intentionally explore that mystery and continue to insist on open doors, and to BE a welcoming presence in our troubled world.   

Happy Mercy Day.

As I struggled with this writing, a friend reminded me of the “Mercy Readings” section of the Mercy Prayer book (pages 876–958). It is well worth exploring to strengthen an understanding of Catherine McAuley’s spirituality.