Mercy, droppeth as a gentle rain…

drip-457707_1280Both my Primary school and my Secondary school were run by the Sisters of Mercy, a religious congregation founded by Catherine McAuley, in Dublin, in 1831. Whilst I can’t remember any explicit teaching about Catherine McAuley, I can remember the atmosphere the sisters created in the school and the values they embodied. We often had school Masses, usually in the playground, as this was the only place large enough for whole school. At one such Mass I remember singing the words, ‘Mercy, droppeth as a gentle rain’ as a refrain, to a simple, haunting melody. I wouldn’t have been aware that these words were Shakespeare’s, but was keenly aware of how they made me feel. I associate these words with a quality of tenderness, of quiet acts of kindness, a smile or a gentle acknowledgement. At that young age mercy felt within my reach, something simple that I could do. In later years, when we studied the Merchant of Venice, I would learn the rest of the quotation:

The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
‘T is mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown:
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice.

My understanding of mercy deepened as we studied Shakespeare, though I don’t think I was able to make the connection with the literary text and my own life. And now after more than 20 years of living according to the Rule of St Benedict, mercy is a ‘building block’ of my life. Each day there are opportunities to grow in this quality, each day there are situations that call for mercy.

I look forward to seeing how Pope Francis continues to embody mercy throughout this year.

Pope Francis Maundy Thursday

Kindness

cacaoDuring Lent we have reflected as a community on the theme of kindness. We were invited to spend time with scripture quotations, references to kindness in the prayers of the liturgy and references from Patristic readings and other sources used at the Office of Readings (our first service of the day). I found this helpful on several levels. From the outset my awareness of the word ‘kindness’ was heightened and I began to listen more closely in the liturgy. As the weeks of Lent passed, I felt that my understanding of the Paschal mystery deepened as I saw God’s work in Christ as a supreme act of kindness.  In the last week of Lent I began to make my own connections as to what this might mean for my living of monastic life. There was one scripture quotation that kept coming to the surface in my prayer: Give and there will be gifts for you: a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap; because the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back. Luke 6:38 The image of measuring strikes a chord with me. I have managed our kitchen for several years and now know the importance of measuring. I know the times when things need to be exact and the times when I can take a guess. The image here is of a God who is more than generous, who measures out so much that my lap overflows. This is not a God who uses digital scales for absolute accuracy. No, God pours until things overflow. This is a God who is kind beyond all measure. It’s easy in the day to day to become so caught up in the jobs that need to be done, that the opportunities to show kindness pass me by. Once I start ‘measuring’ how far I am prepared to put myself out, then I have moved away from the image of God in Luke’s quotation. I hope that as Eastertide unfolds I am more open to those opportunities to show kindness, more open to measuring out as God measures out.