By Sister Marilyn Sunderman
Catherine McAuley, founder of the Sisters of Mercy, was born on September 29, 1778. Catherine built an expansive House of Mercy in heart of Dublin, Ireland, where women and children in need could come for help. At the root of her good works was a deep Christian spirituality that continues to inspire the charism of Sisters of Mercy today. Over the next several weeks, till the anniversary of Catherine’s death on November 11, we’ll be exploring several dimensions of Catherine’s spiritual life. Read Part 1 on hospitality.
Jesus’ example of loving others grounded Catherine’s understanding of the meaning and practice of charity. To her sisters, Catherine emphasized that:
“Our divine Savior’s example should be before us under all circumstances, particularly in exercising charity toward our neighbor and, more especially, toward those who are united with us in religion.”
Catherine insisted that without a strong foundation of charity at home, its exercise abroad is valueless in God’s eyes. The following are some of Catherine’s other teachings regarding charity:
- “Charity is the queen of virtues. … Where it dwells God also dwells; where it does not exist, God cannot be.”
- “If we love God, we will undoubtedly love our neighbor also; they are as cause and effect.”
- “Our manner should be engaging and full of the unction of charity.”
- “… our charity must be in our hearts and from our hearts and a charity such as Jesus Christ practiced while on earth.”
According to Catherine, those who love others in a cordial, enlivening and invigorating way enjoy a taste of heaven on earth. With this in mind, Catherine cautioned her fellow sisters to “dread entertaining the slightest uncharitableness or unkindly feeling towards another.”
Catherine counseled the members of her religious community “to be ever ready to praise, to encourage, to stimulate, but slow to censure and still more slow to condemn.” Additionally, she instructed:
“If there is coldness in your heart toward anyone, there is a great danger of aversion following. … If you find a shadow of this vice in your heart, lose no time in rooting it out and endeavor to plant in its place that cordial charity so much recommended.”
Catherine sought to put her counsels regarding charity into practice in her life. When others injured her, Catherine prayed to restrain from becoming resentful. She governed her religious community in a tender, cordial way, and deeply desired that love be the heart and soul of the Sisters of Mercy.
Which of Catherine’s quotes on charity resonates most with you?