As I reflect on today’s Gospel Call of; Simon, James and Zebedee, I am noticing several things. First, the three men had been fishing all night and had caught no fish. Second, after Jesus had finished speaking to the crowd, he asked the fishers to “pull out into deeper water” and lower their nets. They caught an overwhelming abundance of fish that brought their nets to the breaking point. They responded with awe and astonishment and Simon also responded with a traditional surge of unworthiness and guilt. Jesus reassured them, not to be afraid and invited them to become fishers of humankind. I hope my sharing invites you to pull out into, even deeper, water still.
This year, we as a community are choosing to grow in the themes of Mercy and Compassion. Therefore, I would like to couple, my reflection on this gospel with two different paradigms and understandings of; Mercy and Compassion. The first paradigm and understanding is; the traditional religious concept of Mercy that in some ways may be currently conveyed by Pope Francis and The Vatican. I invite you to look at the official poster for The Jubilee year of Mercy. Take a moment, before I tell you what I see, to notice what you might see yourself.
As I look at this poster, I notice the traditional paradigm of Mercy being conveyed. Jesus, The Divine One, appears to be; the Active Agent of Mercy and the beneficiary of Mercy in this poster appears to be; a passive recipient of God’s Generous Act to, the unworthy one, being carried. The slogan claims, that this is to be; “Merciful Like The Father.” I have some discouraged feelings about this Jubilee Year of Mercy. To add to my experience of the poster, recently, Francis commissioned a special group of 1000 men, all male priests, to be special missionaries of mercy. To me, this suggests that men are the only ones capable of being active agents and missionaries of mercy. That is a traditional masculine way of knowing. No longer manifested by all men but, it is still the dominant paradigm in a trickle down economy of mercy and grace.
Now, I invite you to look upon this painting. The painting was commissioned by President Lincoln to commemorate how Mercy Sisters and other Sisters, served as Nurses and leaders of military hospitals, for both the union and confederate soldiers, during The American Civil War. Please take a moment to notice what you see before I tell you what I notice.
The Sisters of Mercy, were sent to; battlefields, military hospitals and hospital ships. The Sisters were known to attend to patients with typhoid and small pox when others fled. Some of the Sisters were taken as prisoners of war, when they were caught by the wrong military official, for caring for the enemy. At the beginning of the civil war, the Sisters, were the only trained nurses that the Union had. When the Sisters were unable to get the food and supplies they needed due to some very strong anti-Catholic Sentiments, President Lincoln issued an executive order to be sure that the sisters were given everything they need and paid for by the union military. These Acts of; The Mercy Sisters, The Daughters of Charity and Holy Cross Sisters was written about in newspapers throughout the north. At the end of the war, these sisters were given status and pensions as Veterans of The Civil War. In 1924, a monument was commissioned to honor, The Nuns of The Battlefield. The inscription reads; “They comforted the dying, nursed the wounded, carried hope to the imprisoned and in his name a drink of water to the thirsty.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure what Simon, James and Zebedee witnessed from Jesus, on the day of their call to become fishers of humankind, was an astonishing abundance of fish! But when I think of the Compassionate and Merciful Altruistic generosity of these Sisters, I wonder how one can imagine that women cannot do miraculous acts of mercy and compassion as well? If what these nuns did is not conveying the fullness of; mercy, forgiveness, compassion and grace, than what is?
You see, I am a graduate of Mercy High School in Farmington. When the idea of; A Jubilee year of Mercy came out, I immediately thought of The Mercy Sisters. I thought about how The Mercy Sisters have manifested almost 200 Jubilee Years of Mercy since they were founded in Dublin, Ireland in the 1830’s. Now, just think about that for a moment, they only started in Dublin in the 1830s and here they were, in America, only 30 years later, to run and manage 35 military hospitals during the American Civil War. These women casted their nets into far deeper waters of awesome abundance than Simon, James and Zebedee could have imagined!
Once again, I am baffled, that The Vatican and even sadder, Pope Francis does not recognize women as Active Agents of Mercy or anything else. Thank God, President Lincoln did! These Sisters do not demonstrate a paradigm that, they are; The only active agents of mercy and all the rest of us are passive recipients. They seemed to intuitively notice an economy of mercy that remembers the word, mercy, comes from an ancient estruscan word; mercy, like in “commerce or merchant” it means an exchange between two capable agents and not a top down model rationed out economy, by just a few.
Mercy and Compassion are my core identity and my deepest way of seeing. I am empowered to come out at the world with the same kind of compassion and mercy that The Nuns of The Battlefield had. I hope we can learn to take more time to go into our own storehouse of Mercy and Compassion inside our hearts, engaging our own intensive daily practices and that we will build each other up to do the same for others. We also need to have practices ready, to help stay in the present moment and our merciful compassionate consciousness when surges of fear surface in ourselves and the greater community. Fear can drive us right out of merciful and compassionate consciousness. I invite each of us to find our ways in The Universal Field of Mercy and Compassion to be active agents for a world in need. As you go along, Here is a chant that I offer to us:
The Universe is Mercy within Compassion within Mercy within Compassion weaving throughout everything always.
I’d like to close my sharing with these midrash quotes from Teilhard de Chardin on The Book of Proverbs chapter 8. Teilhard entitled the entire poem this comes from as;
“The Eternal Feminine”
“I sit at the city gates, at the crossroads of a world in crisis begging for mercy & compassion. I attempt to open the eyes of each presence of pain & suffering in the world. Whenever & wherever possible, I encourage tender compassion, forgiveness, & sacrificial love, attitudes that characterize the sensitive soul….. Sophia is the Mercy of God in Us. Tender compassion radiates from her presence. She speaks to us from the poor ones of our world, seeking in their name, kindness, empathy and love. She sits at the crossroads of our lives, ever imploring us to work for peace, to engage in fruitful dialogue, and to find new ways of connecting with the other. She longs to open our eyes to the presence of pain and suffering in the world, to transform our hearts, and to move our action.”
I invite you to sit quietly and contemplatively for a moment. What does Sophia want you to remember from what I shared? What does she want you to see? How will you respond to her being the Mercy and Compassion of God within you?