Catherine Mcauley (1778-1841), the founder of the Sisters of Mercy in 1831, frequently gave oral instructions to the first Mercy community. Though she sometimes spoke explicitly about their religious vows, her words were always focused on the life, example, teachings, and evangelic spirit of Jesus Christ, emphasizing "resemblance" to him and fidelity to the calls of the Gospel. Her instructions have, therefore, a broad present-day relevance that can be inspiring and encouraging for all Christians. They are the shining words of a companion, a soul-friend, who offers guiding light to those who wend their pilgrim way toward the full embrace of God's merciful reign.
|Publisher:||Catholic University of America Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.80(d)|
Read an Excerpt
A Shining Lamp
The Oral Instructions of Catherine McAuley
By Mary C. Sullivan
The Catholic University of America PressCopyright © 2017 The Catholic University of America Press
All rights reserved.
On the Vows and Charity, or, The Love of God and our Neighbour
Come apart into a desert place and rest awhile. — Mark [6.31]
Our Blessed Saviour in instructing His Disciples did not call them to entire separation from creatures, but a more intimate union of the heart with God. It is an invitation to serve Him with great confidence, free from that slavish fear unworthy of a child of God and a Spouse of Jesus Christ. You should consider in this solitude your great unworthiness to be called to so intimate a union with your God and of having your petition granted "To live in the House of God all the days of your life."
It is one of the great secrets of God's Providence why He makes choice of some to be in a particular manner united to Him (which is one of the greatest graces He could bestow) and leave[s] so many thousands in the world, of whom many would have made greater efforts and attain perfection. In calling you to this, He puts you in the direct way of accomplishing His designs in your regard, one of the principal being that you are to give glory to His Name, and this you are not only to do by the sanctification of your own soul, but also by attracting others to God by word and example, so that in all they see and hear of you they may be induced to say "Glory be to God."
You should now enter on the way of God. He has conducted you nearly to the end of your Novitiate, continuing His special graces to you. You should then endeavour to know what are His ways. It is supposed that not all the distractions at prayer or neglect of duty would cause God to withhold His graces from a Religious so much as a departure from His ways. A Religious who would be considered the most active of the Community, who would get through a great deal of business, and do this with what is called fuss, would be departing from the ways of God, which are all peace and tranquility. The humble, quiet Religious who would not do half so much, but did all in a manner becoming her character as a Religious would attract the eye of God far more and draw down greater graces on her soul. Call an ignorant person from the world and ask her according to this description which of the two Religious walks in the ways of God, and she will unquestionably make a just decision.
The State of Religious life is sovereign perfection; to live imperfectly therein is unquestionable ruin. Reflect well, my dear Sisters, before you proceed; make every exertion in your power. Efforts must be made for the remaining time to overcome all human and self-love, and having done all you can, let not the remaining embers of your weakness deter you from proceeding. There will be always something to deplore, and there would be neither priest nor nun did they wait till they eradicated all their imperfections. Our perfection does not consist in accomplishing this, but in using diligently every means in our power, and those prescribed for us by obedience, for attaining this end, and in making strong and practical resolutions of avoiding everything that would be in the least displeasing to God, particularly attachment to our own will and judgment, human affections, etc. Human affection does not only consist in being attached to creatures, but also in retaining too strong an attachment to our own opinion on any subject, even in matters apparently good, by acting in opposition to the advice we receive on these occasions from lawful authority.
All human attachments or affections and anxiety about creatures must be now regulated and for the present laid aside, as well as everything else that does not tend to a preparation for this great union with God. By keeping your heart thus fervently united to Him, He will pour on your soul such fervor and consolation as are unknown to the tepid and surpass all the delights of the world, by seeing that you do all in your power to attract His friendship. You should remember that not to advance is to go back, and reflect each day that you can do more to attract God's love and friendship than you did the day before. The best means to obtain this favor is to make frequent acts of the love of God. At first we may not feel this fervor, but it will increase provided we are faithful in the above practice, for the Scripture says, "Love begets love." Those who arrive at this perfect love of God will feel such peace of soul as nothing will be able to disturb.
Section 1: Poverty
As avarice is the mother of all vice, so Poverty is the mother of all virtues, and closely allied to Christ's favorite virtue, humility.
The Vow of Poverty is a second baptism which purifies from all sin. Christ says, speaking of the Religious, I will purify her, not as gold, but in the furnace of poverty. Poverty frees her from all temporal cares and possessions, or a chance of ever possessing them; for although a Religious may not have any property to forsake in leaving the world, yet it does not lessen her merit in the sight of God, for she does not know how far fortune may favor her had she remained in the world, as it has done to many; at least she gives up all hope or desire of possessing, for the poorest in the world may still have the desire of possessing more, but the Religious in making the Vow of Poverty gives up all and has no desire. If she happen to receive the best in food, clothing, or lodging, she is not disturbed, nor does she consider that she violates the Vow of Poverty, as she did not seek these things or desire them; and on the contrary, should she be provided with the worst and most inconvenient, she is equally satisfied and unmoved, as she has given herself entirely to God.
God is pleased that the Religious should rightly understand what she has sacrificed to Him, in order that she may feel more ardor and delight in making the offering of herself and thereby avoid making it in a languishing manner. She should rejoice when she suffers any want or inconvenience, for this is the fire in which Jesus Christ intends to purify her.
The four cardinal virtues are fully accomplished in the Religious who makes this Vow, for what greater prudence than to forsake now voluntarily what she would one day be obliged to leave? As for justice, she is separated forever from having it in her power to defraud others who might be engaged in her service of what they had a right to. She has overcome the world by her fortitude in forsaking it and by breaking every tie that could attach her to it. The virtue of temperance she cannot violate if she observe her engagements, as her time for eating, speaking, sleeping, recreating, etc., are all marked out for her.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven." This poverty of spirit is what would be called in the world a mean spirit, for example, if a person there meets an affront and does not resent it, they would immediately be termed mean-spirited.
Yet this is the spirit Jesus Christ pronounced "blessed," and which a Religious above all should endeavour to acquire. She should make every effort to bring down her spirit and think so meanly of herself as not to be worthy to raise her voice in her own defence, so that those who observe her would be tempted to say, "She does not appear to be sensible of this humiliation" or whatever it may be; "she seems to be more like one dead." Should she on these occasions feel passions rising within her and that she is obliged to use efforts to restrain them, it shows that her spirit is not entirely subdued, and she does not possess in perfection the spirit of poverty and meekness.
In being thus treated let her humble herself before God and say, "In as much as I am to blame or have been the cause of others giving way to impatience, or displeasing God, I am sorry," and let the expression of her countenance be such as to indicate sorrow for the offence offered to God, and not for the injury done herself. She should then joyfully accept of any humiliation that may arise from it, and unite it to those Christ endured for her sake and in atonement for her many abuses of His graces. This is a sure sign that He is leading her into that road which He Himself trod before her, and which is the only safe road to Heaven.
The decrease of ambition is the augmentation of Divine charity. The ambition here spoken of does not altogether consist in coveting the riches of the world, it may also be nourished in the Convent. If a Religious, for instance, desires that her work should be approved of or praised, or that a Sister should say how well she did such or such a thing, this is ambition. If, on the contrary, she had reason to suppose she should have been the person selected to render some service to the Community, and she finds herself rejected and made a nobody of, let her gratefully accept the humiliation and thank God for it, instead of raising herself in the estimation of anyone.
The Religious who possesses poverty of spirit should be calm and unmoved in all occurrences and accidents of life, and if she should hear of her nearest and dearest relation being on the point of death, she should listen to the intelligence with all possible composure, without showing any of those worldly, unsubdued feelings which are quite contrary to the spirit of the truly poor Religious, but she may evince the deepest interest in all that concerns their souls, and enquire if everything has been done for them. This is what Religion effects or ought to effect: it breaks down the spirit. Why is it that a poor person thinks so little of having a dead person lying in the same room where they are sitting? It is because the spirit is broken down by want, humiliation, and privation, and consequently is not alive to these things. As long as an attachment remains for the most trivial thing, it will deprive the Religious of this spirit of poverty and disengagement of heart. She will not have renounced all for Jesus Christ, and she cannot expect that His promise will be fulfilled in her, Who has said, "He who leaveth mother, or sisters, or brethern, etc. for My sake shall receive an hundred fold here and in the next life everlasting happiness."
She should consider herself with the Apostle a stranger and a pilgrim on earth, having her conversation in Heaven. This is the happiness of Religious life, as every day she is preparing to enter into her own country, and wishing when she retires to rest for that happy hour, not having anything to attach her to this world. "Seek first the kingdom of God and His justice and all other things shall be given to you over and above."
God's justice requires of a Religious that she be stripped of everything. She must no more take or appear to take any interest in the concerns of her friends; she must be deaf and dumb to all their affairs if possible; otherwise, she is not seeking or fulfilling "God's justice." This seeming indifference to their concerns will give more edification to worldlings and draw down greater graces from God than all the austerities or works of mercy she could perform.
A Sister is not, however, to appear with a methodistical countenance or become a preacher to her visitors by her words; but her happy, cheerful countenance and edifying, innocent behavior should preach to all. In discharging her duty well with visitors, she is seeking and satisfying the justice of God as well as in the faithful discharge of every other duty and precept; also in embracing humiliations and the cross, in whatever shape it shall be offered, for having united herself to a Crucified Spouse, she must endeavour to render herself conformable to Him. Let her remember that her cross must be composed of something, and God Himself wishes to become her inheritance; she should therefore go on with great confidence of arriving at her end, for He will be with her in her affliction. In withdrawing her from the world He does not intend withdrawing her from sufferings; for this would not be consistent with her state of banishment, but He will sweeten them for her, having tasted them first Himself.
Christ said to His Apostles that He would cause them to "sit on twelve thrones." Cherish your happy state of Poverty which promises such great rewards, with a heart overflowing with gratitude to God; for the same promises that He made to His Apostles He makes to Religious who live up to their Vow of Poverty, and they are so great that He cannot bestow greater.
As the most acceptable return a benefactor can receive from those on whom he bestows favors is a countenance testifying the gratitude of the heart, how acceptable must it be to God when we make Him this return, shewing to all by our happy, cheerful countenance the gratitude with which our hearts overflow towards Him, for His many favors in this life and His great promises for the one to come. To whom did He make these great promises? To poor fishermen who had nothing to leave but a boat and nets, showing that He does not regard so much what we leave as the will wherewith we leave it.
We should understand well what Religious Poverty is; it is an entire abnegation of Self and a spirit entirely broken. The Religious should consider herself a mere abject, a nobody, and she proclaimed aloud that she has chosen to be this, so that no matter how she is treated, or by whom she is neglected, she is not to be surprised, or take notice of it, unless the spiritual welfare of the person require it, or the duty she has entrusted to her care render it necessary.
In food and raiment she should always desire to have the worst allotted to herself, in order to imitate Jesus Christ crucified more perfectly, but should even the best be given her, she is not to be uneasy or suppose she has violated the Vow of Poverty. On the contrary, should she obstinately refuse them, she might then have some fears of violating it, as she would be usurping to herself the power of making a choice, which she had sacrificed to God. The Religious should resolve that, after she makes before the Bishop, Clergy, Community and people, but above all, before God and His Angels, the public declaration of becoming an abject in His house, she will never act contrary to it.
If when spoken to, in what she considers an unkind, humiliating manner, she should retire and indulge herself crying or lose her time in dwelling on these circumstances, how unlike is she to the abject Religious? When or how does she expect to take up her Cross and follow Christ, if she is not to meet with it in those with whom she associates? When slighted or neglected, she should rather be surprised she does not receive more, and when taken notice of or accommodated she should feel quite confounded at it. Humiliations, abjection, and sufferings are the consequences of Poverty.
Had Jesus Christ gone about as a great one of the earth, followed by a train of attendants, He would never have been treated as He was, but as He chose a state of Poverty, He would also suffer, so a Religious, following the example of Christ, and making choice of Poverty, signifies also her desire of suffering with Him.
The fruits of Poverty are great peace of mind, under all circumstances, so that nothing, not even the death of the most beloved member of the Community, should disturb or alter her happy countenance, because she lives by Faith, refers all to God, and looks on this trial as a means of drawing her closer to Him. The second fruit is great joy in the Holy Ghost. A Religious should examine are these her sentiments. If not, there must still exist, within, some secret attachment; she should see where the fault lies and endeavor to remedy it immediately.
The Vow of Poverty in separating us from creatures does not render us less useful to them; on the contrary, the Religious who gives herself entirely to God, and separates her thoughts from all solicitude about her friends in the world and their concerns, would obtain more from the Almighty in five minutes' prayer than she would in five months were she over-anxious or solicitous about them.
The first Virtue that should accompany Poverty is Humility. Religious should cherish this precious Virtue and be careful never to separate it from Poverty, to which Jesus Christ has so closely united it. What could be more contrary to Humility than to hear a Religious speak in an authoritative tone of voice, to give her opinion in a confident, decided manner, when she should consider her opinion as nothing and herself a nobody?
The second Virtue that accompanies Poverty is Patience. You should now in imagination place yourself in circumstances of actual Poverty, to which in Religion you may be reduced, and which cannot be guarded against, and there excite in yourself a firm resolution to bear whatever privations you may be exposed to, if not with joy at least with patience. We may meet with the same losses that others have experienced and want even the necessaries of life, without any other resources than patience and confidence in God; for we could not, like persons in the world, apply for relief to our friends.
Excerpted from A Shining Lamp by Mary C. Sullivan. Copyright © 2017 The Catholic University of America Press. Excerpted by permission of The Catholic University of America Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part 1 Introduction 3
Editorial Methods 25
Part 2 Instructions of Revd. Mother M. Catherine McAuley The Ven[erated] Foundress of The Religious (called) Sisters of Mercy 1832-3-4
Chapter 1st On the Vows and Charity or, The Love of God and our Neighbour 33
Editor's Note 63
Chapter 2nd On Initiating Jesus Christ 65
Editor's Note 84
Chapter 3rd On the same Subject, 1834 87
Editor's Note 100
Chapter 4th On the Passion of Jesus Christ 102
Editor's Note 131
Chapter 5th Remarks on some Chapters of our Holy Rule 133
Editor's Note 156
Part 3 The Present-Day Relevance of Catherine McAuley's Instructions 161
Index of Names 201
Index of Subjects 203