By Cristina Hereñú, Mercy Spirituality Center Coordinator (Buenos Aires)
In this year’s Lenten reflection series, seven sisters – and in this case a staff member — offer their personal stories and insights on each of the Spiritual Works of Mercy and how acts of mercy can have a profound impact on the lives of our sisters and brothers. Accompanying these reflections are line drawings by Sister Mary Clare Agnew, a contemporary of our founder Catherine McAuley, which illustrate the Sisters of Mercy in ministry in 1830s Ireland.
“Take what you can with good humor and the rest, with few words, let it go.
Let patience accompany you, for you will need it as a constant guide.”
Few works of mercy are as provocative and challenging as this one. Bearing wrongs of our “not so close” neighbors is not terribly difficult, since distance protects us from a more personal involvement and safeguards us from uncomfortable situations. However, the scenario changes when we are called to tolerate mistakes of those we share our lives with, in the spaces that shape who we are: within our families, at work, in ministries and communities.
But tolerance is neither passive resignation nor a pious excuse to justify unacceptable behavior. Rather it is an invitation, a possibility to set the soul in motion, to exercise compassion and charity. It is a call to work on our own spiritual landscape that challenges us to push the boundaries of our often-misaligned judgments and expectations of ourselves and others. That evolution is individual but also necessarily collective, of the community to which we belong and in which we are reminded of who we are.
There is something else in the statement of this work of mercy: the consideration of patience. It is a quality emphasized by Catherine as the key to dealing with complex situations and facing adversity. So familiar was she with this life experience, that she goes so far as to call it a “necessary guide.”
Patience speaks of process, of time. It distances us from the urgency to resolve our anxieties and personal judgments. Patience helps us to free ourselves from unnecessary emotional burdens, easing the weight on the long and winding road of becoming sisters and brothers: “take what you can with good humor and the rest, let it go.”
The season of Lent offers us a fertile opportunity to perceive wrongs — our own and those of the people around us — as cries for help that seek reconnection with the truth, goodness and beauty that dwells in us, a movement that prompts us to look again and to look at ourselves with patient mercy.
In a world marked by intolerance towards those who think differently, those who believe differently, those who love differently, to persistently cultivate tolerance and patience is an act of loving rebellion.