February 2016

A merciful Lent

Looking with mercy – in every aspect of life, has the potential to change me and all those I encounter, writes Good Samaritan Sister Meg Kahler.

BY Meg Kahler SGS

On a recent drive to work, the news was full of the ‘refugee crisis’ in Europe and the latest step taken by Denmark to, as the newsreader proclaimed, limit those seeking refuge in Denmark. Part of this law includes the ability of immigration officials to confiscate anything over $2,000 in value, including cash, from refugees to help pay for the cost of supporting them. This law is designed to deter those trying to find refuge in Denmark.

This experience became bewilderment when the Australian High Court made its decision about Australia using other countries to house refugees and asylum seekers. I was glad to see that my bewilderment was shared by others, including journalists and politicians. Paul Bongiorno tweeted “Let’s drop the bull sh%# not allowing deaths at sea = compassion. Slowly driving refugees to insanity and suicide also = compassion. OMG”. He was joined by Gillian Triggs, who stated that “our laws now allow us to wash our hands of refugee children”.

There’s no doubt that the global community faces a huge task in finding refuge for all those who seek it, but these events strike me as being cruel and unhelpful ways to go about it. There are thankfully, some signs of hope – people have protested, gone on the record to say that the world is doing this badly.

I always view Lent as a time for reflection, to consider how I am in the world, to seek and offer forgiveness where I need to and, most importantly, to continue to grow and change. This Lent, given the state of the world, I am going to draw some hope and encouragement from Pope Francis.

Pope Francis has declared this year the Jubilee Year of Mercy, expanding on his personal motto Miserando atque eligendo (Looking at him with mercy and choosing him), which is taken from a homily by Saint Bede the Venerable, Priest, (Hom 21). It seems to me that this is another way to speak about the actions of the Good Samaritan who looks at the man who has been attacked with mercy and chooses to help him. It is the challenge to look at situations and people with mercy rather than anger and suspicion, to choose to act mercifully. Denmark and Australia are not “looking” at refugees “with mercy” and “choosing” them.

But I can’t throw stones at any country, church, business, group or person who doesn’t seem to be looking with mercy. There are instances in my daily life that would have different outcomes if I was able to truly look at a person with eyes of mercy and “choose” them. I would hope that merciful eyes might encourage a merciful heart to flourish – that my heart becomes accustomed to looking and loving in this way.

Our new Australian of the Year, David Morrison, presented a great challenge to our own country in his acceptance speech: “Too many of our fellow Australians are denied the opportunity to reach their potential. It happens because of their gender, because of the God they believe in, because of their racial heritage, because they’re not able-bodied, because of their sexual orientation”. Do I look with eyes of mercy on all or any of these groups?

The Good Samaritan Benedictine tradition encourages us to look with mercy. Benedict writes an insightful chapter regarding the distribution of goods (Ch 34). The opening line taken from Acts, says that distribution is made as each has need. The outcome of this distribution is peace and the avoidance of the great sin of grumbling. While he doesn’t use the word mercy, Benedict is asking us to look without judgement or jealousy. Perhaps this is Benedict’s definition of mercy, something which we are never to lose hope in.

I find the example of the Good Samaritan Sisters going to Japan at the end of WWII an inspiration. These sisters were asked to come and assist in the rebuilding of communities devastated by the nuclear bombing that ended the war. It is a lived experience that shows me what the parable itself calls us to do: to go out into the world as the compassionate hands and heart of God in the place where we are. Surely this is to look with mercy and choose.

Walter Kasper’s recent book, Mercy, tells us that it is difficult to live life with a merciful heart. We are, after all, human. I’m sure that Benedict, the Good Samaritan and the sisters knew the limitations of the human heart. Kasper says “that mercy and concern are something personal… love and mercy have their place, in the first instance in our close relationships. But they are also the fundamental condition for communal life and for the coexistence of people”.

To look at every aspect of this world through merciful eyes and choose what is before me is a demanding way to live. Kasper acknowledges this: “it is a matter of attentiveness and sensitivity to the concrete needs we encounter. It is a matter of overcoming the focus on ourselves that makes us deaf and blind to the physical and spiritual needs of others. It is a matter of dissolving the hardening of our hearts to God’s call that we hear in the encounter with the adversity of others”.

Looking with mercy – in every aspect of life, has the potential to change me and all those I encounter. To always hope in God’s mercy, to know that God is offering this to me, is a part of this cycle. If I am able to live in the hope of God’s mercy, it would enable me to have merciful eyes and heart. Imagine if all the situations around us had the benefit of those looking with merciful eyes? How would I be different? How would those I love be different? How would our country, our world be different?

The purpose of Lent, according to Joan Chittister, “is about becoming, doing, changing, whatever it is that is blocking the fullness of life in us right now”. As Lent begins in this Jubilee Year of Mercy, I’ve decided that the blockage for me is blindness. I must look with mercy and choose whoever or whatever is in front of me. Perhaps then I can look further into the Catholic tradition of the corporal works of mercy as a guide for action.

It starts small, but for the sake of my community, my family, my country and my world, looking with merciful eyes could lead us to the peace many of us desire. It may well be a life- changing Lenten experience.

This Holy Year of Mercy commenced on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception 2015 and will conclude on Sunday, November 20, 2016.

Meg Kahler

Good Samaritan Sister Meg Kahler was elected to the leadership team of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan in 2017. She has been a regular visitor to Kiribati since 2004.

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