Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh, 7.00pm, 24 September 2016
Sister Consilio of Cuan Mhuire and Éamonn Meehan of Trócaire receive Saint Patrick medals for those who show mercy to others
The poor man Lazarus lay at the rich man’s gate, longing to fill himself even with the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. But no one reached out to him. No one showed him mercy.
This evening’s powerful Gospel reading reminds us of that other parable written in Saint Matthews’s gospel (chapter 25 42ff) where Jesus speaks of the fate of those who do not do mercy: “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me”. To those who ask him, ‘Lord when did this all happen’, he will answer, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.”
A key theme of Pope Francis’ “Jubilee Year of Mercy” has been his call on all of us to ‘be merciful’, as God, our Heavenly Father, is merciful. Earlier this month, in the canonisation of Mother Teresa, the Church offered us a modern day ‘model of holiness’ or ‘icon of mercy’ – someone we can look to as an example and an encouragement for ourselves to ‘do mercy’, to ‘be mercy’, especially for those who are most rejected or forgotten in our world. At that time, I invited people in the diocese and beyond to think about the corporal and spiritual works of mercy and to let me know about those who are inspired by the life and teaching of Jesus to do works of mercy in the world today.
I have been overwhelmed by the stories and examples of goodness, kindness and mercy that I have heard. I have been told about people all ages who are reaching out in love and charity, for example, to the poor and needy, to the sick and elderly, to the anxious and the troubled. I’ve heard about groups in the parishes of this diocese and beyond who provide food banks, soup kitchens and other help for the homeless and those who are struggling with financial hardship and worries; I learned about those who work with adults and children with intellectual and physical disabilities and special needs; there are so many people in our homes and nursing facilities who give time to the elderly, women and men with alzheimers or other forms of dementia – I’ve heard mention of addiction services to those who struggle with alcohol, drugs, gambling or other addictions; people have shared stories with me about carers, nurses and doctors whose daily work is not just a job or profession, but an act of love and compassion – a work of mercy. Several people spoke about how they and their families have been supported at moments of tragedy or sudden bereavement; others mentioned the counselling and helpline services that are available to those who are struggling mentally, even to the point of considering taking their own lives – and we have individuals and groups who reach out to families and loved ones of those who have died by suicide.
I’ve also learned that there are many good people among us who are doing spiritual works of mercy – praying for others in prayer groups and in Eucharistic adoration; teaching their children and grandchildren about the faith – sometimes having to challenge their behaviour, but advising and instructing them in a loving and compassionate manner. The work of teachers in our Catholic schools who support parents in handing on the faith was highlighted to me. Some of you wrote about people who are there to comfort and console you at a time of loss or bereavement; others told me about the work of counsellors who have helped them heal the wounds of relationships in their marriage or family. It was reassuring for me that so many priests and religious were mentioned – many people simply wanted to nominate their own parish priest or parish sister as an example of someone they know who is merciful, as our Father is merciful.
I was honoured to be joined in the entrance procession this evening by women and men from all over the Archdiocese who have consecrated their lives to God as members of various religious congregations in the Archdiocese. They belong to fifteen female, and nine male religious congregations, some of which have been ministering here for hundreds of years. Their particular apostolates and charisms include education, healthcare, prison chaplaincy, working with the marginalised and forgotten, inter-Church work, care of the elderly and helping those with special needs. Many of our religious are actively engaged in pastoral ministry; others dedicate their days to prayer and contemplation.
Among all the examples of the works of mercy I’ve been given in recent weeks, it was heartening to notice people mentioning their family members. One man simply responded to my request for people who do mercy by writing back just two words: ‘my wife’; a mother told me about her teenage son who helps her monitor her injections and sugar levels every day as she has severe diabetes; two young children told me about their granny who helps them with their homework and teaches them their prayers; I’ve read about people giving up their work to take care of their elderly parents and of a woman who sends a card or letter of encouragement every month from America to her cousin whose husband died three years ago.
A startling feature of so many of the examples I’ve been given is that most people do their works of mercy without wanting any recognition or reward – they care gently behind the scenes, bringing the merciful love of Christ and the joy of the Gospel to those who need it most. In particular I am struck by the generosity of spirit which characterizes the voluntarism amongst our young people, our mothers and fathers who every day, within our very own communities, give of their personal time in order to manage schools, sporting clubs, youth associations as well as the Church at parish level. It reminds me again of those in the parable of the Last Judgement who seemed surprised to be singled out – ‘Lord when did we see you hungry and feed you?’ they asked. ‘When did we see you a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison?’
Let me read you one extract from one letter I received:
‘I want to nominate a teacher who retired early from her job due to ill health. She is simply a wonderful person. We only know some of her many kind acts of mercy and compassion. She radiates happiness and joy everywhere she goes, working quietly in the background visiting lonely people, bereaved and anywhere else there is a need. Nothing is a problem! She takes special interest in our local nursing home where there are many lonely and disabled, mostly elderly people, chatting to them and ‘slipping them a wee bit of chocolate’!
When he canonised Mother Teresa, Pope Francis offered her to us as a model of holiness, “an eloquent witness to God’s closeness to the poorest of the poor”. He passes her on to us so that we can understand better that love ought to be at the heart of everything we do – gratuitous love which is “free from every ideology and all obligations, offered freely to everyone without distinction of language, culture, race or religion”. Mother Teresa loved to say, “Perhaps I don’t speak their language, but I can smile”. Pope Francis invites us to carry her smile in our hearts and give it to those whom we meet along our journey, especially those who suffer.”
Like so many people I’ve heard about over the past few weeks, Mother Teresa was inspired to ‘do something beautiful for God’. ‘I do it for Him’, she often said. She opened herself up completely to what God wanted of her, describing herself “like a little pencil in God’s hands’ allowing God to ‘write mercy’ into the world through her. In return, Mother Teresa was able to ‘see the face of Jesus’ in those to whom she ministered – in the poorest of the poor, those with AIDS, those with terrible disfigurements and disease, those abandoned and dying on the streets from malnutrition. She once said, “When I wash the face of lepers, I am washing the face of Jesus himself”. It did not matter to her if the person in need was Catholic or other Christian or Hindu or Muslim. For her Calcutta was everywhere – she even joked that if there are poor people on the moon, ‘we will go to the moon too’!
At our Mass this evening we give thanks to God that there are hundreds, thousands even, of people living and working among us who are doing something beautiful for God, allowing God to write his mercy into the world through them and in return, seeing the face of God in the people they serve. This evening we acknowledge and celebrate the work of mercy among us, bringing to prayer those individuals and groups we know who are ‘icons of mercy’, models of holiness, living witnesses that the love and compassion of Jesus is alive and well among us.
Two people have kindly agreed to come forward and receive the Saint Patrick’s medal from me on behalf of all those who are ‘doing mercy’ in Ireland today. One is Sister Consilio, a Mercy Sister, who has herself shown such powerful leadership in the work of mercy through her teams at Cuan Mhuire centres all over the country (many representatives are here this evening). They reach out to women and men with addictions, particularly to alcohol and drugs – it is truly a work of God’s mercy. By being merciful and loving to those who have lost control of their lives and their addiction, Cuan Mhuire provides a space where people can humbly admit their need for help and support and for grace outside of themselves to put their lives back together again.
I am also delighted to welcome Mr Éamonn Meehan, Director, and volunteers from Trócaire, the Catholic development agency, which for more than forty years has been doing the work of mercy and justice on our behalf all around the world, helping those who like Lazarus would long to fill themselves with the scraps from the rich man’s table. “Trócaire” means “mercy”. The agency helps to restore dignity to those who have to flee their homes and villages because of war, persecution and violence. Trócaire is there in the aftermath of natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis or hurricanes to help people pick up the pieces and begin again. This is indeed the work of mercy.
But Sister Consilio and Éamonn are not receiving the medal for themselves, or even for their organisations. They are receiving it on behalf of the hundreds, thousands of people who are doing the work of mercy among us every day, often without any recognition or praise – people that you and I know who are angels of mercy, bringing love, joy, compassion and hope into our broken world.
May God continue to bless them all and their marvellous work. Amen.
- Archbishop Eamon Martin is Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland @archbishopeamon #BeMercy
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