A Conversation with Catherine about COVID-19

April 15, 2020

By Mark Piper, Mercy Associate

A stained glass image of Catherine McAuley, whose words are used in this fictitious interview about the Coronavirus pandemic.

For Mercy sisters, associates and companions; Mercy Volunteer Corps members; students and educators; and healers and helpers across the educational, health care and social service ministries of the Sisters of Mercy, Catherine McAuley—who followed Christ through the path of Mercy—is our comforting animator. She is a guide, in all that we do: in joy or in sorrow, or in the mingling of the two.

No matter that she has been dead for 179 years. Thanks to my prayers, imagination and a little inspiration from the late Sister Maureen Scott, who once gave a talk on what a conversation between Catherine and Cardinal John Henry Newman would be like, I have likewise provided a conversation between Catherine and me in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

This fictitious interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. [All responses are quotes attributed to Catherine. Many of these quotes are from her writings to Mary de Sales White.]

Q:  With social distancing brought on by this pandemic, many are now working from home. As it turns out, the home has many distractions—for example, children. Beyond the stress of staying healthy and employed, we also need to instruct our children on the schooling they are missing. With no finish line to this amended reality, how are we to manage this newfound, stressful, unknown without-end?

A: The simplest and most practical lesion I know… is to resolve to be good today, but better tomorrow. Let us take one day at a time … thus we may hope to get on taking short, careful steps, not great strides. [Also] attend to one thing at a time. You have fifteen hours from six til nine.

Q: Kitty Mac—can I call you Kitty Mac? There’s this thing called social media. It’s like real life but so much worse. Many of us are using social media a lot more to keep in touch and communicate with loved ones due to social distancing or shelter-in-place orders. What would you say when we encounter those saying salacious, misleading or mendacious things? What of those who post more selfies in one day than there are beads on a rosary?

A: Don’t let crosses vex or tease. Try to meet all with peace and ease.

[I inform Kitty Mac that that is a very tweetable response, and we go on a tangent about #CatholicTwitter. She seems mortified.]

Q: Gatherings and public mass are prohibited, as are church buildings and many other special places and locations of community. Distance is necessary to control the virus; loneliness and longing for friends, family and Communion is necessarily increasing. You had to improvise when you could not attend mass. How can we reconcile our duty to distance with our innate desire for togetherness?

A: We have one solid comfort amidst this tripping about, our hearts can always be in the same place, Centered in God, for whom alone we go forward or stay back.

Q: What can we do, individually, to keep our sanity and work in solidarity amidst this suffering?

A: Let us endeavor to use these days, such as we should wish the past to have been. Let us enter into the spirit of the Church, making this time a truly penitential season, mortifying the pride of self-opinion, performing all with humble heart.

Q: To whom shall we turn in this pandemic? Our healthcare system and health are on the brink, our economy and livelihoods are in dire straits. Our responses seem very disjointed from a global, national and even individual perspective. Whom shall we trust or implore for help? Certainly, health experts, but what of our local, national and global leaders?

A: We can never say it is enough. God and God alone must be the principal motive of all actions—it is this pure intention of pleasing God that renders good work valuable and meritorious. Without this … the most heroic actions and sacrifices are of little value.

Q: With all due respect, I’m not so sure that everyone is currently utilizing pure intentions.

A: God and God alone.

Q: But, I mean…

A: God and God alone! [And] The works of mercy unite us much more closely to Him.

[Awkward silence]

Q: I’ve taken to heart your Suscipe, and asked God to take from my heart all painful anxiety. Beyond anxiety, I have an increasing amount of anger. Like so many of your sisters, people whom I love are nurses, and I’m angry that they and so many others do not have the equipment they need to keep themselves and those they serve safe. What remedy is there to control our anxiety and anger so we can be present, calm and helpful?

A: Sweet Mercy! Soothing, patient, kind … soft peace she brings wherever she arrives [and] removes our anguish. We must try to be like those rivers which enter into the sea without losing any of the sweetness of the water.

Q: You’ve been quoted as saying that beginnings are of great importance. Where do we begin to help or heal? The enormity of this pandemic seems overwhelming. Keeping our families or those with whom we live safe and healthy, and attempting to maintain our employment or finding ourselves unemployed is a terrifying new reality for many. So many are in need of so much help, and so many in leadership seem to be falling so short.

A: God speaking to us by his inspired Apostles says—attend to thyself. Let us fly often to the foot of the cross and repose in the wounds of Jesus. He has written us in His hands. Shall we not write His wounds in our minds and hearts?

Q: We’re still in the early stages of this pandemic. It seems we’re much nearer the beginning of social distancing and other changes, and thus we may have many weeks or months to go before we “turn the corner,” or regain a semblance of how we used to work, gather and show fond affection. Have you any parting advice on how we are to go on when we cannot yet see the end?

A: The impression made on our minds by forty days meditation on Christ’s humiliations, meekness, and unwearied perseverance will help us on every difficult occasion … pray for your portion of Easter Grace. Pray fervently and constantly, do not give up…

Looking for more inspiration from Catherine and Mercy while #stayhomesavelives is our ongoing COVID-19 pandemic anthem? An unexhaustive list of very good reads:

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  1. Renee Yann

    Fabulous, Mark. Your “conversation” both inspires and delights!

  2. Katie Mindling, RSM

    How well you wove this together and brought great joy and wonderful images of how Catherine continues to lead and cheer us.

  3. Sr Jackie Moreau

    Thanks Mark. Calls to trust in God and live one day at a time.

  4. RoseMarie

    Mark, Your writing of this enlightening message and I read, it is where Jesus is meeting us where we are at this very moment with God’s oceanless mercy. My morning prayer brought me to Mother McAuley, assuring me of her life of Mercy for all people and with that built a Mercy foundation that we are all apart of today and to join with all who have lived and built their lives in Mercy.
    Thank you very much.

  5. Thank you Mark, this is just wonderful conversation! In my humble opinion, Catherine would be proud of how everyone as members of the Mercy community continue to help those in need. We are Mercy and in this together!

  6. Claudette Schiratti

    Mark, this conversation is delightful and reminds us of what is central. Thank you for centering us in Catherine and Mercy.

  7. Susan Wieczynski, RSM

    Mark, thank you so much for brining Catherine into the present conversation.
    Easter Blessings to you and yours
    Sue W

  8. Carol Mucha

    Mark how inspiring and creative your contribution to our Reflections during these days of confinement. Catherine McAuley must be smiling and very proud of you as am I.

  9. Carol Conway

    Nice, Mark. Thanks!

  10. Kathleen McClelland, RSM

    I chuckled and thought of how Catherine loved humor. Thank you. I’m glad you’ve found time to write during this time!

  11. Rachelle Harper

    Mark, how refreshing to hear Catherine now in our challenges! Thank you for the centering….
    Thank you for your life in Mercy….
    Rachelle Harper

  12. Ivy lyn Porras

    Healing conversation that keep on weaving in my heart. Thank you for sharing.

  13. Mary Ann Krempges

    Your ‘conversation’ certainly makes Catherine and Mercy real in the midst of our present reality. Thank you, Mark, for sharing this insightful dialogue. Easter blessings.

  14. Maria Klosowski

    Mark, thank you for making the connections between the words of Catherine and the daily reality of this pandemic. I appreciate your creativity. It made me smile. Easter blessings.

  15. Eileen O'Connor

    Wonderful, Mark! This is very creative and most inspiring. Blessings to you!

  16. Terry Maltby

    Delightful, Mark! The timeliness and the timelessness are a great reminder of the value of perspective.

  17. Jacquie Dewar, RSM

    Great, Mark. Thanks so much!

  18. Michele Schroeck, RSM

    Very clever and inspiring. Catherine is alive this Easter in this crisis of our times.

  19. Julia Upton

    Thank you so much for bringing dear Catherine into conversation. One solid comfort! Her words truly pierced through the anxiety of the pandemic days.

  20. Louise Simon

    Thank you for this wonderful conversation with Catherine!

  21. Rita Torres

    Truly Marc has captured the essence of how we are to carry on in the most holiest of ways… and peace will prevail.

    Thank you!!!

    Rita Torres

  22. Charmaine Jayawardene

    Thank you Mark. How thoughtful of you. The connection is wonderful. May God reward you.

  23. Sarah Halter

    Thank you…..this ” interview keeps refocusing on the essential reality of being in touch with God and to trust and rest only in His Peace!

  24. Kathy Wade, Mercy Associate

    Thank you, Mark, for bringing Catherine into this current challenge in such a warm and inviting way…with a reminder that she is our model and guide. I can almost hear her saying: “Sweet Mercy!”

  25. Judy Herrmann

    Imaginative and delightful! Thank you, Mark

  26. Nancy Chesniak

    Mark, thank you so very much for sharing your feelings. Really hit home. I truly enjoyed Catherine’s responses. I am so grateful for your energy & honestly. Enjoy this time with your beautiful family.

  27. Marilyn Lacey

    As creative as it is timely. Thx, Mark!

  28. Jessica Langerman

    I just stumbled across this wonderfully witty and humorous “interview” and would like to thank you for lifting me up and inspiring me while also making me laugh. I feel much less alone than I did 15 minutes ago.

  29. Marie Celestine Lynch, RSM

    What a great and completely unexpected email, Mark. Two of my favorite people and in dialogue. You are a really and plugged in Associate. Thank you . I can’t wait to pass this on.

  30. Deborah, RSM and Mary Jean Troillett

    Thank you so much! My mom (93) and I read it together and our main take away is to be gentle and keep God at the center.
    Our gratitude!