Sustaining Mercy with Our LGBTQ+ Sisters and Brothers

June 29, 2019

By Sister Helen Marie Burns

These blogs are part of a five-part Pride Month series, Pride with Mercy. They grew out of the Sisters of Mercy’s Chapter 2017 Declaration challenging each of us to respond to those who suffer from oppressive systems and to “become better educated and to participate in engaged dialogue on issues of gender identity and sexual orientation.” We encourage you to forward these posts to someone who might need to read them. Together, may we grow in our tolerance, acceptance and understanding, and extend a hand of welcome to the LGBTQ+ community.

The Constitutions (rule of life) of the Sisters of Mercy says simply in paragraph #9:

We strive to witness to mercy when we reverence the
dignity of each person, create a spirit of hospitality
and pursue integrity of word and deed in our lives.

Our Institute Chapter statements from the last five gatherings highlight the importance of that verb “strive” as these documents speak of “a call to continual conversion,” “a yearning for integrity of word and deed” and “a suffering world [which] calls us to speak and act with integrity and clear intention.”

When we called ourselves to pursue integrity of word and deed and to continual conversion, we may not have realized the challenge of that call. Conversion is a process affecting lifestyle, attitudes, ideas, activities, emotions and beliefs.  Renowned theologian Bernard Lonergan writes: “Conversion may be intellectual or moral or religious … [and] each of the three is connected with the other two.” We are not simply converted. We are continually converting—that is, turning toward, bending with. This is a central feature of Christian life and, therefore, a central feature of our life as women religious.

This call to continual conversion says something not only about our individual journey, but also, and perhaps more importantly, about our journey together. Again, Lonergan describes both the promise and the challenge of this call:

Conversion is existential, intensely personal, utterly intimate. But it is not so private as to be solitary. It can happen to many, and they can form a community to sustain one another in their self-transformation and to help one another in working out the implications and fulfilling the promise of their new life.

Early Works on Theological Method 1

This is the beauty of the Chapter 2017 directive “to become better educated and to participate in engaged dialogue on gender identity and sexual orientation.” We are asked to understand more deeply our own gender identity and sexual orientation in order to sustain one another “in self-transformation and to help one another [and a world in need] in working out the implications and fulfilling the promise of … new life.”

Together, we will explore what God is doing among us; what God is calling us to be/to do; and how we create a life together that sustains both the being and the doing. Our faith tells us that the Spirit of God is present and active in all of us and in the unfolding universe. Movements for human rights, for the rights of our LGBTQ+ communities and for the rights of immigrant persons are all revelatory of God’s creation groaning for perfection.

As Sisters of Mercy, we embrace the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. Today, we learn anew to instruct the ignorant, after first instructing ourselves; to counsel the doubtful, after first strengthening our own resolve; to forgive, after first acknowledging our own failings. Perhaps it is a time for all of us to claim our integrity and pursue in word and in deed the continual conversion that we have declared in numerous documents—for the sake of the Church and of the world.

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  1. Jane

    Thank you, Helen Marie! This is a clear call to each of us to honor the God in each of us. Beautifully expressed!


  2. Chris Seghetti RSM

    Well said, Helen Marie! Let us treasure the journey deeply within conversion while stepping out with personal integrity in word and presence.


  3. Fran Repka

    Thank you for this meaningful reflection, Helen Marie


  4. Mary Pendergast

    Thank you Helen Marie! So much to do, be and learn; but we are up for it!


  5. Sheila Harrington

    Thank you, Helen Marie. Your words speak so clearly to our spirit!


  6. JOHN MCLOUGHLIN

    So much to ponder and reflect upon. Very grateful!


  7. marla

    Excellent piece of work. Thank you so much. Your last paragraph is an especially powerful call to conversion.


  8. Richard Mary Burke

    Helen Marie,

    Thank you for so beautifully sharing your insights and wisdom regarding such a sacred topic! This reflection is inspiring and calls us to deeper personal prayer.

    Blessings,
    Richard Mary


  9. Cindi Baughman

    Thank you for these empowering and challenging thoughts, Sr. Helen Marie. I value the insights of a founding mother of MSEA particularly as a lifetime educator in a Mercy-sponsored school. At this time when so many of our bishops take a very, very conservative approach when it comes to meeting the needs of LGBTQ students and employing LGBTQ faculty/staff in our Catholic schools, many of our schools are threatened with not being recognized as Catholic schools by their diocese if they do not toe the line in terms of firing employees who are legally married to same-sex partner, if they refuse to disallow students to bring a same-sex guest to a school dance, etc. While we pray for conversion of heart not only for ourselves but also for the Church hierarchy, we also really need the Sisters of Mercy, our school sponsors and the grantor of our Catholic identity, to provide leadership in this area. We want to live the Gospel value of honoring the sacred dignity of all persons and Catherine’s call to extend hospitality to all persons. To quote Catherine, ““Compassion should be our animating principle when undertaking instruction with children and adults, since they are made in God’s image.”