OVER the centuries many women and men have been remarkable witnesses to God’s mercy.
Because of their faith in God, their untiring, preferential commitment to God’s most vulnerable ones, and their courage in the face of cruel, uninformed criticism, they continue to serve us as models of full-hearted Gospel living.
One such person is the Irish woman Catherine McAuley (1778-1841) who founded the Sisters of Mercy in 1831.
She was declared “Venerable” by Pope John Paul II in 1990.
From young adulthood she gave herself completely, in the name of God’s mercy, to caring for the people of Dublin who suffered chronic effects of generational oppression resulting from British rule.
Their suffering was grinding poverty with its consequential ignorance, illness, social dysfunction, despair and helplessness.
As a true agent of God’s mercy, Catherine McAuley responded to human need in a threefold way: she gave generous, practical support wherever she could; she fearlessly raised awareness in Church and society of the unjust causes of entrenched poverty and its related deprivations; and she initiated simple ways of social and spiritual reform, such as visiting sick, bereaved and troubled people in their homes and establishing a system of education which could enable its graduates, also agents of God’s mercy, to work for an inclusive, just society.
Because of the sacredness of her life and her radical commitment to Gospel works of Mercy, and the fact that, since her death she continues to influence the faith and ministry of countless women and men world-wide, Catherine’s sisters, their ministry partners and associates pray that she will be beatified soon.
Frequently Pope Francis teaches us about God’s mercy with its redemptive gifts of love, restorative justice, freedom, healing and hope
It seems that, like Venerable Catherine, God’s universal mercy is at the heart of Francis’ faith and his pastoral outreach to all people, especially those who are most vulnerable to death-dealing powers such as poverty, displacement and homelessness, violence and oppressive ideologies.
With the forthcoming Year of Mercy, Francis is urging believers to contemplate what it means for our own time and place that Jesus “made mercy an ideal of life and a criterion for the credibility of our faith”.
And he is inviting us to experience mercy as “the force that reawakens us to new life and instills in us the courage to look to the future with hope”.
Francis’ deep desires for the Year of Mercy are those which animated Catherine’s whole being.
If he were to beatify her during this holy period, he would be giving a compelling gift to the Church and, at least, to the 44 countries where her salvivic story is known and her memory revered. Let us pray.