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Message on the occasion of the unification of the English Region and the Province of Great Britain September 24, 2015


I am delighted to be here with you today along with Sr. Angela Fahy.  As representatives of your Congregational Leadership Team, we unite with you as you move forward with your decision to become one Province.   Sr. Eliene Barros, your councilor, is with you in spirit from across the ocean; she sent a message about what a privilege it was to journey with you during the preparation for this moment.  We continue to pray for Sr. Susan Chia having worked with you previously now holds you in her heart.

I would like to invite you to imagine a “gently flowing river….” Feel the peace.  Consider the earth that it covers and nurtures, God’s creation contained within, turtles, and fish and beautiful stones, flowers, etc.  Look towards the green of the banks and the trees strongly rooted, and imagine the people who live on and beyond the shores.

You see (or you can choose to be in) a large yacht and it is gliding along with the ripples at a gentle pace.  After a long time of travel, the boat comes to a fork in the road.  It stops and the captain, crew and passengers discuss what to do because this surprise isn’t on the map!  The group seeks to come to consensus about which direction to follow.   It is getting dark.  Finally a compromise is made and a decision reached.  Some of the crew and passengers take the largest of the tug boats and travel down one side of the fork; a natural leader emerged from among them and acts as captain.   The remaining captain, crew and passengers stay on the yacht and go along the other side.

Each boat continues its journey, making wonderful stops along the way, some people settle in villages, some meet and care for people both inland and on the shore and others continue on when the boats are ready to sail again.

Lo and behold, a long time later, both boats observe that in the distance the separation ends and they are back to the gently flowing river.  The two boats meet!  The people on the boats wave to one another and come together for a great REUNION!  They felt blessed. 

This, Sisters, was our REUNIFICATION Process – a coming together after many years of separate journeys!    On June 27, 2014, The Feast of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, the Congregations of Our Lady of Charity and Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd were formally REUNITED.  You here in Great Britain participated in a celebration of reunification last year as did the entire congregation. 

So, what are we doing here today!  Let’s get back on the boat.  Remember it’s a large yacht that is continuing down the river at its peaceful pace. 

This boat has several compartments.  Sort of like the Royal Yacht Britannia that Queen Elizabeth and her family used for vacations.. That boat is now ‘retired” to the shores of Edinburgh in Scotland.   Don’t get any ideas -  we’re not retired yet!

Our tug boat passengers have taken one section of the boat, while those who stayed on the yacht stick to their section.  There are friendly gatherings on the yacht…as most large vessels have places to enjoy tea, entertainment, etc.  The passengers mix and enjoy one another’s company. 

Each group, however, still has their own captain and crew.  After a while they begin to think “maybe we don’t need two groups to manage the same boat…maybe we don’t need two sets of management for our mission in Great Britain.”   So they say, “Let’s restructure ourselves.   They decide to rearrange their system so as to free up some of the crew as well as for the smooth running and efficiency of the boat.  There is no need for two crews; one can manage the whole boat. 

This is what you are doing today.    You are combining administrative structures.  This process is called UNIFICATION.  Two groups deciding to come together after asking “what can we do better together that perhaps we couldn’t do as well separately?  How can we address more effectively our reality in order to be most effective for the life of the mission and the care of the sisters?      As you can see, this is an internal structure…and it is happening on that already reunited boat – our one Congregation.   

As passengers we continue the journey. While we had been enjoying a gently flowing river, we know in reality that, quite normally, there have been storms along the way. 

Imagine a storm at sea.  The boat rocks, there is anxiety and frustration.    

Saint Mary Euphrasia says:  Our Unity is like a gently flowing river that covers the earth with blessings.  What blessing does a storm bring?  Perhaps in light of another Marian Feast, Our Lady of Mercy, the one we celebrate today, we can learn what the blessing is.  Could it be that the blessing in the storm is mercy!  

What has been your experience of mercy personally, in community and in ministry? 

What images come to mind for you when you ponder the word “mercy?   Does it bring you back to the people you saw along the shore or those you saw inland? 

The Holy Father has recently declared a Year of Mercy to begin December 8, 2015.  He says:

“I have often thought of how the Church may render more clearly her mission to be a witness to mercy; and we have to make this journey. It is a journey which begins with spiritual conversion.”

In our constitutions at #4 we read that:

The Church entrusts to us a share in her mission of reconciliation.  This demands an awareness that we ourselves are always in need of conversion. …In our unceasing return to our compassionate God, we discover the depth of our sinfulness and in openness to God’s initiative of love we find mercy.  United with all people in their struggle with sin and in their need for reconciliation, we witness among them to the power of this mercy.

St. John Eudes has given us a formula for how to be merciful.  He says that three conditions are required of mercy:   First -   showing compassion for the suffering of others, since that person is merciful who compassionately carried in her heart the pain of those in distress.  Second, - willing to help them in their pain.  Third, - passing from wanting to help to actually helping.

“If your heart is full of mercy, you will not see your neighbors’ faults or listen to any evil spoken about them.  You will not accuse them, judge them or condemn them.  And you will bear them no grudge.  If your heart is full of mercy, you will have compassion on them, find excuses for them and patiently bear with them.”   C.W.   X – Constitutions 19 – p. 109

Our Constitutions #5 echoes the understanding that Sr. Rekha Chennattu gave us at the Intercontinental Assembly in 2014 and which Br. Phillip Pinto later reiterated at the 2015 Congregational Chapter:

Our relationship with those we meet should be for them a means of encounter with Jesus, the Good Shepherd.   We seek to approach them as he does   Each person is present to him in human uniqueness, and he calls each one friend.  Our love should awaken in them a sense of their worth and dignity as children of God.  At the same time, we are aware that we receive mercy from them and that we cannot separate our salvation from theirs. 

Go back to that image of the person on the shore or inland, or maybe a sister or former student.

Let me repeat that last sentence from the Constitutions:   “At the same time, we are aware that we receive mercy from them and that we cannot separate our salvation from theirs.”    The person you imaged is your salvation!  She/he is full of mercy and so are you.

As I proclaim today the Unification of the English Region and the Province of Great Britain, let us be united in the blessing of the gently flowing river that is mercy.  We are not separate; our lives are intertwined through our activities with one another and with our compassionate, loving God along with Mary, Mother of Mercy whose feast today is about spiritual and practical liberation.

In closing let us pray together:   

“Mother of Mercy, look in love on the poor of this world, on those in captivity and those who suffer at the hands of others. There is so much fear and anguish present in human hearts.  Touch our hearts that we too may know and show forth something of that mercy which fills your heart.”  CW. VII – Admirable Heart – p. 32-33 & 18

Brigid Lawlor, RGS
Congregational Leader