This section will offer reflections on being a Mercy Sister from a very young age. The poems below were written over many years; they are direct conversations with my own long reflections on being a Mercy Sister of Newfoundland for well over fifty years.
Catherine McAuley founded the Ssiters of Mercy in 1831, in a burst of vision and grace that has brought healing attention, education and care of the poor and the sick to the whole world. These poems speak my soul connection with her in very personal ways.
The Mercy Star
(For Catherine McAuley, inspired and inspiring still)
When you found the quality of Mercy
a burning compassion shining in your heart
like a pulsing star –
you fell in love with its blinding
It became your guide.
It led you through deserts dry with
and mountains of unbearable heights
with no beaten paths for guides.
It bathed you in its shimmer
and fed you with food
not to be found in any other place.
It was the Mercy Star
that led you
unerringly through lands
as unknown as the moon. And –
against all odds and obstacles –
you followed it faithfully
from those closest to your heart
and obstacles to your own unfolding.
Later, it led you home, leaving us –
the daughters you would never know –
who also glimpsed the Mercy Star
through your eyes –
to find and follow it,
as many unknowns as you did yourself.
Not through our works
not through our education,
or our buildings or our monuments
rightly built to women
who lived their lives through
of all kinds to make this world brighter
for women and the poor –
those countless who could not and cannot
find their way alone –
but through the Mercy Star
guiding our hearts.
That’s what you plucked down
from the heavens
no less shining
even as our monuments fall down,
even as our works transform
and our numbers dwindle and disappear –
Star continues to shine
finding receptive hearts
in worlds yet to emerge.
-Brenda Peddigrew RSM(NL)
A Mercy Door*
Mercy opens a door in the heart –
just that. All else –
how, what, when, who, where and
how much – these are
frills and frames,
and when that door
these take second place
to the pulsing presence
of palpable love, flashing briefly,
flame from spark.
finds its way predictably
and often outside
solidly framed doorsills
which only provide
an ephemeral highlight,
a perceivable outline
framing the flame.
the frame doesn’t matter.
The best of Mercy traverses the door
as softly as a cloud,
as silently as prayer. It is
given and received without fanfare,
sacred mystery of mutual blessing.
For what is Mercy
but Compassion’s countenance?
an empty doorway embracing all?
Most of all, Mercy is known in a moment,
seen and sent forth
a feather on
uncontained by any door.
-Brenda Peddigrew, RSM(NL)
*(by written for
the door-openings of the Year of Mercy, 2015-16)
*Mercy is expansive,
and, to be real, reaches out. Mercy extended grows and has the power to change situations, people and lives. Mercy can enable someone to do the unexpected.”
Bowers RSM in Mercy eNews, December 7, 2015)
Coolock Window Pane
When Catherine noticed the crossed window pane
of her Coolock bedroom, no doubt staring out one
lost in the meaning of her life – she saw, as though a portal opening to God,
needed doing, what she longed to do
for the poor, the sick and the victimized women of her world.
She opened that door for thousands
calling us, through that window’s portal,
to surrender to her vision
of allowing God to use our hands and feet, our eyes and hearts and souls,
to bring into being a new way of transforming the world.
The world? One person,
one straggling group, one
long-lived institution in the world, which is, after all, a hologram:
one small thing and the whole world changes.
With Catherine standing vigil in my praying
I found my ministry of transformation.
Within and without,
while keeping my collaborating eyes
fixed on her crossed pane in the Coolock window,
I accompany people and groups
who long to bring into being
cannot yet be seen,
who accept that transformation is God’s work,
not ours alone or
and who are willing
to step out of the familiar, out of comfort,
out of security
into the dark unknown
with only God’s light.
Catherine knew she didn’t want
to live like all the other orders of her time.
She knew that something else was
being born in her
and she trusted, through all her anxiety, she trusted –
much beyond one moment at a time.
She didn’t play the double-think games or take part
the power-struggles of her time. Instead,
she acted on the elemental truth she saw
crossed pane of her Coolock window
or while sitting beneath the walnut tree
in the Coolock
The ministry of transformation involves
much “tripping about” as Catherine experienced,
and – like her – I try to keep my heart
“always in the same place” as she so lightly said:
“centred in God, for whom alone
we go forth or stay back.
Forms change, as Catherine saw. With or without us,
and even with our most careful planning, they change,
or – as Rumi said – “the lamps are all different
but the Light is the same.”
My ministry is to midwife transformation
to point out the Light
might be lost in holding on to old forms
and to dance – as Catherine did –
delight in the new.
Brenda Peddigrew, RSM(NL)
(while staring out Catherine’s Coolock window, July 2015)
Finding Fire, Casting Fire
(to Catherine MacAuley – a personal reflection)
For too many years I’ve been thinking of you too much
and relating to you too little. Lately, I’ve been brooding about you,
searching for what it was that opened your eyes to the world
and compelled you to cast your fire upon it.
You neither loved wealth, nor feared it. Rather,
you used it with confidence, trusting your own perception
of how it should be given and enjoyed.
No false poverty for you, no
and saving for the sake of it,
no bowing and scraping to authority.
You knew your own authority
and acted on it,
being personally intimate with the God whose source it was.
You wanted your women to do the same.
This is poverty.
Neither did you seriously doubt your vision,
however hard others tried
to make you do so.
Though it was previously unheard of – what you
wanted women to do
and be – and though ecclesial princes
would have you believe it impossible, scandalous –
you listened to your inner voices and trusted them.
You felt the fire of God bringing about a new thing
and that fire walked you through all the false claims
of small minds and even smaller hearts,
your first allegiance to inner, not outer authority.
This is obedience.
And oh how you weren’t afraid to love!
Love pours through your words, which we still read,
streams through all the ways you found
to brighten the lives of women with confidence in themselves.
Love shines through your steady respect
for the women who joined you in the work,
for their health, for their enthusiasms. You weren’t afraid
to love Frances best of all and let it be known
You were a lover. From it came your strength.
Not for you the fearful frozen distance that passes for
hiding in tradition, rules and overwork.
This is chastity.
After all the years, I see that your fire was a mirror for my own
and that’s how you would have wanted it.
Not for you the hero worship
with the worshipper placing you on a pedestal
and avoiding herself, shirking her own power.
Not for you the hiding behind imposed authority
already dead from killing other spirits.
for you the life of comfort you might have had
and couldn’t while you saw anyone in distress.
Your security disappeared when you used your whole fortune
for one house against all advice and still you chose
that inner fire, telling you otherwise.
I see a line of
fire reaching back from me to you.
Since I was a child, I knew you were my ancestor,
grandmother, a wise elder.
Now that I am older than you were when you died,
I finally grasp
what legacy you give me
over decades and lost time.
It’s the legacy of fire, my own
inspired by you but not yours.
You ask me what my fire is telling me,
what in my world needs to be challenged
so that the poor, the wounded and the lost
can find a bit of light. Your fire
is not your works, but yourself.
This is charism.
I think you’re proud of us all, all
the thousands who have lived your vision,
covering the world with lived Mercy.
I think you’re surprised
by what faithfulness to your own vision
brought about. I think you’d want the same
faithfulness for each of us, joining our singular visions
into your large one. You don’t want us
stuck in the very structures you rejected.
You don’t want us held back
by long range plans that unsuccessfully
to contain the freedom of Spirit.
You never wanted us hierarched, divided,
afraid to offend.
You want us fired up, free, focused on the broken world
and loving intensely
in all ways,
letting any structures we need grow around that
and not the other way around..
“How? I ask you? How can we?
The world is big and we are so set in our ways.”
“So was my world,” you say,
“and everyone around me.
Look within, each one
of you alone for awhile.
When you find your fire, get together.
Throw off the blinders of
should and must and can’t
and especially the blinders of
You cannot get to a new place going the old way.
Trust the fire of God that is beyond human structures
and remember that Church is also a human structure
that needs waking up from time to time.
We don’t set out to do that but being who we really are
seems to have that effect.
That’s how it’s done.
You are not my daughters,
but my sisters. We are equals.”
And as often happened, I have read about you,
there is a twinkle in your eye and a dance to your step
as you tell me this.
Brenda Peddigrew, RSM