April 15, 2016
By Sister Judith Schmelz
Sister Judith Schmelz, a Sister of Mercy from Baltimore, Maryland, currently ministers in Guyana. Recently she gave the following reflection at the Sisters of Mercy Latin America and Caribbean Conference in Panama.
Sister Judith Schmelz
I have always loved being a Sister of Mercy. God’s mercy is above all God’s works. It is, in a sense, God’s name; it is who and what God is. And like Jesus, we are God’s merciful love made flesh—expressions of God’s infinite, unconditional, forgiving, passionate love for us. Catherine McAuley [founder of the Sisters of Mercy] somehow grasped intuitively that mercy is a gift given in response to need, neither earned nor deserved. She knew that rendering the merciful service was not an act of beneficence, but one of gratitude to God for mercy received.
In my early years in community, “mercy” was largely synonymous with “ministry”—the good works that we did, God’s mercy filling us and flowing out from us to others. And while that is still true, the focus has shifted. Gradually systemic change and action for justice became much more important in our lives, but even truth and justice are not enough; we are invited to go further. God is always calling us.
I think that never before has our world been more in need of God’s mercy. Never has there been more to fear. Never has change taken place at such a dizzying rate. Never has it required more courage to follow the path of mercy, to love our enemies and to do good to those who persecute us. I think of the people in ISIS who are chopping heads off of those who disagree with them and the challenge that poses. Do we believe that allowing our hearts to be broken, that truly making the world’s pain our own, is what God is inviting us to? When we no longer reach out to the poor, but have become one of them, will we finally recognize that we, too, are powerless and can do nothing, be nothing, without God? Will we then be able to turn all our fears over to this merciful God? God’s call is mysterious; it comes in the darkness of faith. And the most serious call of our lives, I believe, is our call to contemplation, when God says to us, “It is not just your acts and deeds I want; I want your prayer, your love, your whole heart.” We are called to be one with this merciful God!
Fear is all pervasive in Guyana these days—the violence, the murders, the human trafficking, the injustices. At times I ask myself, why do I stay? And I have to answer with another question: why is my life more valuable, more precious than theirs, those who can’t leave who are most vulnerable and most in need of God’s mercy?
And yet, in spite of all the violence and evil, there is so much beauty on our little planet, our home, to take delight in, to enjoy, to cherish and protect. In Guyana I think of the brilliant sunshine, ocean breezes, flowers everywhere, the immense fertility of the soil, and above all in the beauty of the people who are so welcoming and loving, so ready to open their hearts and their homes to those who have less than they, and in the joy and exuberance with which they dance and celebrate. I know I am the poor one, poor and needy, yet rich beyond imagining. I am the one receiving, more than dispensing, God’s merciful love.
Technology is an interesting example of evolution in our culture. Jesus spoke of the fisherman’s net that gathered us all in, and I think God sometimes uses the electronic net to draw us to himself and bind us to one another. One click, and I can be connected with you at the other end of the world, and the space between us shrinks. We are so easily connected with our sisters and can be aware, almost instantaneously, of their crises, their successes, their natural disasters, who is sick, who is dying, who needs our prayers and whatever material resources we can share. We are able to extend our mercy to one another.
I believe that “mercy” is more and more coming to define in a profound way who we are, the women we want to become. God is at work, gradually shaping the way our community will be mercy in the days ahead. Let us walk together, then, knowing that “it is in God’s mercy that we live and breathe and have our being” (Acts 17:28).