St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney
December 18, 2011
It is of great interest to me in reading about the history of the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy to discover that it was never the intention of Venerable Catherine McAuley to become a sister. She didn’t want to be a religious. But luckily she met a nice bishop who helped her and this is a good turn of events I can tell you. Given the history that I belong to it’s really something.
But Dr Murray was of great help to her because he understood exactly what she wanted to do and he knew why she had the opinion that she had and he helped her to create a new way of being religious so that the Sisters of Mercy known as the walking sisters, the walking nuns, able to do their work about bringing the mercy of God to the people of Ireland and very quickly then to England and to the rest of the world.
It’s very appropriate that we celebrate this Foundation Eucharist today as the new Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of Australia and Papua New Guinea is being founded by its members. The Gospel of today reminds us that we live in a Church that began at a moment when Mary, a woman, was able to be open to God and provided a space for Jesus to take flesh within her womb and for the work of God’s redemption and re-creation then was able to take place. This moment when Mary, the Holy Spirit and Jesus were together, was a moment of rebirth, of re-creation, a moment as we say in the liturgy of the foundation of the life of the Church, an ecclesial moment.
But what we endeavour to do in our discipleship is to re-live those moments or to re-live that moment in the moments that we live in our lives to allow the power of the Holy Spirit to take place in our lives; to give us the opportunity to bring new birth into the life of the Church.
And today we commemorate one of those moments where a group of women re-dedicate themselves to the life of the Church and the Gospel of the Lord within the specific charism that was established by Catherine McAuley. And this is a moment of re-generation, of re-birth and opportunity, a moment for new and wonderful things to happen. Not without its challenges and I’m sure not without its difficulties. But we have to understand the nature of this moment and how we can depend upon the power of God that comes to us in our lives to help us to do the things we need to do to give glory to God’s name.
So this moment of foundation as we celebrate the Eucharist is an ecclesial moment where we are joined together around Jesus, in union with Mary, empowered by the Holy Spirit and I’m sure accompanied by the presence of Venerable Catherine McAuley today. There are two points about her life and the experiences that she had and her manifestation of faith that I’d like to share with you today as we set the scene for this Eucharistic celebration.
There are two indications through Catherine’s life about the nature of the charism of mercy that she wanted to have brought into life in a new way in the life of this Institute. The first is I read that when she was a little girl that she participated in a devotion that was current at the time called “The Psalter of Jesus”. And in fact, as a little girl, she actually copied “The Psalter of Jesus” in her own hand. The pattern of this prayer was that after each part of the prayer you would call upon the name of Jesus imploring him to come and to fulfil the request that you make in the prayer.
Some years ago when Sister Mary Carmel Bourke RSM wrote a life of Catherine McAuley she said these words:
“In the psalter of the name of Jesus, a refrain is formed at the end of each section of the prayer by calling upon the name of Jesus. And Catherine McAuley found comfort in the saying of his holy name and Jesus would have filled her heart with his presence and love. Already the Lord was calling her and this was her way of saying ‘here I am Lord’. This awareness of the presence of Jesus and union with him in going about his work and doing his work in the world and trying to personify his mercy in the life of the Institute in the way in which the sisters lived out their lives and did their work”.
The second moment that I think is very important in our reflections about Catherine McAuley and the legacy that she left to the Church came with the moment of her death when she said this to the sisters:
“My legacy to the Institute is charity. If you preserve the peace and union which has never been violated among us you will feel even in this world a happiness that will surprise you the foretaste of heaven.”
Her legacy of charity of course is at the very centre of all of the aims and endeavours that the Sisters of Mercy make in the world and this work of this foundation today is part of the way of making that reality more concrete in the life of the Church in Australia and Papua New Guinea for which we should be most grateful.
So we’ve read in the readings today and we now go on to make our response in the Eucharist to what the Lord has said to us. And I think that today we can take on something of the prayer that was so important to Catherine when she was a young girl – this Jesus psalter.
We ask Jesus to be with us in our lives and our endeavours. We ask Jesus to be present to us in our celebration of the Eucharist today in a special way, because as we bring our gifts of bread and wine to the altar, we understand that we place our lives on the altar as well. And we ask that our lives and our endeavours will be taken into the centre of the mystery of our Lord’s suffering, death and resurrection that enables us today to live in the power of the Holy Spirit and to be his people as we live in the world; to be his Church; to live out the reality of the Church in the specific and particular ways in which the Lord has called us to be his disciples in the world today.
So I pray:
Jesus, be present at our foundation and beginning;
Jesus, sustain our daily efforts;
Jesus, heal our limitations;
Jesus, bring everything to fulfilment in the glory of the Trinity.