Monday, August 15, 2016

The Year of Mercy and the Miraculous Medal

During the Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis, we have a unique opportunity to celebrate God’s forgiveness and compassion for the entire human family. As members of the Association of the Miraculous Medal, the familiar image of the Blessed Virgin Mary imprinted on the Miraculous Medal holds special significance for us as a symbol of the abundant nature of God’s love. Let’s take a few moments to reflect more deeply upon this powerful image that we often take for granted.

One thing that immediately comes to mind is the fact that Mary is pictured in an open stance, welcoming all who come to her. Her arms are extended toward the viewer, almost inviting one to be embraced. Secondly, the facial expression of Mary includes a gentle smile and eyes that are warm and tender, as a loving mother’s would be. Then, there are those extraordinary rays of light emanating from Mary’s hands! They are the power of God’s love coming through Mary to each of us, and all we need to do is to open ourselves to these abundant graces. God’s mercy is available beyond measure!

You may recall that the image of the Miraculous Medal was first designed following the 1830 appearance of our Blessed Virgin Mary to a very young and unassuming Daughter of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul in France. Saint Catherine Labouré had an intense desire to experience Mary as a merciful and forgiving parent, after having lost her own mother at the tender age of nine. It is interesting to note that the first time Mary reveals herself to Catherine she is seated on a chair, and invites Catherine to come near and place her hands on her lap. This is a touching scene of total acceptance. It serves as a keen reminder that the mission of the Association of the Miraculous Medal is to express this same unconditional love of God in the ordinary events of daily life. Mary is the perfect example of how to do this.

The abundant love of God is clearly visible in Mary’s love for her earthly children. “From the Church [the Christian] learns the example of holiness and recognizes its model and source in the all-holy Virgin Mary…[and] discerns it in the authentic witness of those who live it…” (Catholic Catechism, Art. 2030). We are challenged in this sacred Year of Mercy to actually become the loving face of God to all those we encounter. We have the capacity to surround the globe with God’s mercy as viewed through the lens of Mary’s image. The medal that is so dear to us bears a message of faith, hope and love to all who allow God’s loving kindness to permeate their lives. Will you do your part during this Year of Mercy to live in such a way that others experience the compassion of God by your words, actions and works of charity? Let us pray together for the grace to respond wholeheartedly to this mission of charity in the world.

Content written by Sister Joanne Vasa, D.C. and originally published in the Association of the Miraculous Medal Summer Bulletin.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Blessed Are Those Who Give and Receive Mercy

By By Sister Theresa Peck, D.C.

I believe my vocation call began when visiting my aunt’s convent in Chicago to celebrate her Jubilee. I will always recall our dessert – fruit cocktail with a sugared rim. I must have been in sixth grade then, and was impressed with the convent quiet and the fruit cocktail.
In high school we were studying Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice.’ I committed to memory the following lines of Portia: “The quality of Mercy is not strained; it dropeth like a gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed: it blesses him who gives and him who receives.” I thought about that verse for a long time, and even today it resonates loudly in my memory. Over the years I continue to say that verse as it carries a message of substance for my life.  When the year of Mercy was announced those words came right up!
As high school students we were all thinking about our futures. I was attracted to nursing and in Spring I went to the open houses of three-year programs to find “my” school. I ended up enrolling at St. Mary’s School of Nursing in Milwaukee, a Daughter of Charity hospital. The three years flew by with many activities toward becoming a Registered Nurse, including visiting the poor with the Sisters.
I recall that on Tuesday evenings we had to go to Assembly and hear from our Director of the School. One time she showed the movie “Monsieur Vincent,” which told the story of how Vincent de Paul lived his life. It told of the many ministries which he founded to assist people stricken by illness; abandoned children; a poor girl asking to learn to read; and the formation and establishment of the Daughters of Charity. It lived in my heart; and in some way I knew my calling was to be a Sister nurse. I saw mercy and compassion lived out through the movie of Vincent’s life, which inspired me to enter the community.
The Lord always leads us along crooked paths to get us where we belong. For me it is as a Daughter of Charity – 60 years this coming August. I opened my heart to mercy and compassion and lived my life as a staff nurse, nursing director and then as an administrator and CEO at several of our hospitals (St. Mary’s and St. Vincent to name two) and also at Ascension Health as we worked toward becoming one system. I was in direct service of persons who were ill and dying for several years, and then got into administration. It was not direct service then, but I believe I made a difference through “personal influence.”  My dad gave me a pamphlet – “The Art of Personal Influence” – a long time ago, which helped me to reconcile direct and indirect service in my life. At the Health System we developed Policy X, Care of the Poor, which over time was edited to meet the many changes effecting healthcare, but it remains as a core document for our mission of healthcare; demonstrating that indirect service continues to work with those in need. Mercy and compassion is alive and well in living my life.
Through time I served on 33 Boards, chairing some, both health care and other related fields. In all of this activity the question of mercy and compassion drove my reflections, directions and decisions. As a member of the Church and as a member of the Daughters of Charity, and in this Jubilee year of Mercy, I continue to open my heart to the works of mercy toward those with whom I serve and with those whom I serve. The words of Micah resonate here: This is what the Lord God requires of you; to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with our God! God has blessed me and I am grateful.
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Friday, April 8, 2016

Walking Through Holy Week

Walking Through Holy Week
By Sr. Meg Kymes

I believe!  I’ve seen it!  Did the people who praise you in the streets and lay their cloaks on your colt and palms in your path say that?  Did they believe what they saw?  Or were they the same ones who cursed you on Friday?  Were they the ones who called to Pilot for your blood, “Let it be on our heads and the heads of our children!” 

Where would I be?  Would I be clinging to the Apostles with your mother and Mary Magdalen?  Would I be helping sing your praises on Sunday and join the masses calling for your blood on Friday?  I could even be like Peter, swearing I would die with you then deny you.  How can I judge when I know my own sins?  I join Peter’s cry for mercy.

Would I be at the foot of the cross with John, your beloved, your Mother and the sobbing   Mary Magdalen?  Would I hear, “Woman, behold your son.  Son behold your mother.”?Would I feel the earth shake and see lightning flash across the sky?

I desire to be like Mary Magdalen.  I want to be overwhelmed with sorrow on Friday and have boundless joy on Sunday when I see you in the garden.  I want my joy in Your presence to be so large I have no choice but to spread the Good News to others.

Our world today is not too different from your world then.  We praise our savior one day and condemn him the next.  We hold no respect for the life of the child or the condemned.  My Lord, my God have mercy!  Our world still need your glory!  May we sing one day, “Holy, Hosanna to our King!”

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Discerning Mercy at the Margins

by Sister Lisa Laguna, D.C.

“And she was a widow.”

This line from Luke 7:11-17 takes my breath away. I know it may sound odd, but in context of the Gospel story, it should break our heart.

The widow in Nain was being accompanied by a large crowd, carrying her only son who was now dead, and she was a widow. If Jesus had not intervened and raised her son, this widow’s fate would have been terrifying. The very same crowd that accompanied her with the carrying of her dead son would soon abandon her. Without a husband or son, societal norms would have forced her to spend the remainder of her life at the margins, ostracized and despised. She would have been expected to live her life as a homeless beggar, welcome in nobody’s home. That was the fate of a sonless widow. This may help us understand how important it was for Jesus to give Mary and John to each other (and the world) at the foot of the cross: “Behold your Son, behold your Mother.” Mary was a sonless widow.

You see, the miracle in the story is the raising of her son from the dead. However, the merciful act in the story is the restoring of the son’s mother to dignity. “Jesus gave him to his mother.” With a son, she would not be put out to the streets. She would not be forced to live a life full of numberless indignities.

Those present for this great act exclaimed, “God has visited his people!” Yes! God has visited his people. God is visiting his people! God is inviting us to extend our hearts—our entire selves—as missionaries of mercy, especially during this Year of Mercy.

God is still calling people to live the radical journey of turning things upside down—raising the dead and restoring dignity. God is still inviting us to reach out to those who have been marginalized by societal norms that find comfort in sameness.

As we discern God’s calling for us, we might want to ask ourselves: How willing am I to be turned upside down? Do I feel called to embrace the widow, leper, sick, addicted, uneducated, imprisoned, immigrant, abused—the marginalized? Is God calling me to live in this radical way? On which path will I live this radical lifestyle? Let us pray for the grace to recognize those who are marginalized. Let us pray for the grace to live as missionaries of mercy!

“Mercy is the distinctive feature of God.” 

—St. Vincent de Paul, V11, L157

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Mercy at the Margins

While written by Sister Amanda Kern, D.C., this story is a combination of a number of true stories the Sisters have heard from women and children crossing the border. La Casa is a real place, as is the Dilley detention center. Six Daughters of Charity live in San Antonio and the house is actively involved in serving women and children seeking asylum there through direct service and advocacy.

I wake up with a gasp. A nightmare again.

I look around. I am surrounded by unfamiliar walls in an unfamiliar bed. My son José Luis is with me but where am I? Panic sets in. Are we kidnapped? Did they finally catch up to us? Is my son alive? I glance over to José Luis. I watch in fear until his chest moves up, then down.

Sister Irma Vargas, D.C., and
Sister Pat Connolly, D.C.,
outside the Dilley detention center
Now I remember. I’m out of El Salvador, far away from “them.” I’m in the United States. I’m out of that Dilley detention center. I’m in San Antonio, at what they call La Casa, a house for women and children out of detention waiting for flights/buses to their sponsors. Tomorrow I head for Baltimore, to my uncle’s house.

I hate waking up in the middle of the night. With nothing else to do, my mind replays memories.

I remember my wedding day, walking down the aisle, when it all started. I want to run after that bride and yell, “Turn around! Turn around!” Miguel was a high school sweetheart. But something changed in him after we got married. He became abusive. But he wouldn’t touch our son, José Luis—the only reason I remain grateful for our marriage. My precious José Luis. One day, I had enough, grabbed José Luis, and left. I thought I would never have to worry about Miguel again. Oh, God, have mercy on me.

I remember José Luis’s birthday party. I was in the kitchen making pupusas with my mother when my vecina (neighbor) moved uncomfortably close, squeezed my shoulder and whispered, “Querida, they’re after your family. Run, run fast.” 

I heard rumors Miguel had gotten involved in the Mara Salvatrucha gang but surely he or the rival gang Calle 18 wouldn’t go after a family of a small child. Oh, God, have mercy on me.

I remember the day they found my mother—shot in the head in her car. Oh, Mami, why didn’t I believe my vecina? Oh, God, have mercy on me.

That’s when I grabbed José Luis and ran. Again.

There’s a Sister here who volunteers at La Casa—an Hija de la Caridad, a Daughter of Charity. There are more of the Sisters, too. I’ve seen a number of them pull up to La Casa to take us to the airport or the bus station. They were the community that ran an orphanage in my town in El Salvador. My mother would like seeing them here.

I do too, I thought with tears rolling down my face. They remind me there is mercy at the margins.