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Twenty Years A Growing

6 October 2017


(Address/Reflection given by Sr. Clare O'Reilly, Southern Province at a celebration marking 20 years of the Circle of Mercy in the Northern Province - 9th September 2017)

What a pleasure it is to be here today on this wonderful occasion of celebration of 20 years of the Circle of Mercy in the Northern Province. What a gift it is to be here in The Iontas Centre here in Castleblaney.  Iontas Centre – Centre of Wonder.

“You should be like shining lamps giving light to all around us.”
Catherine McAuley

Wouldn’t it be just wonderful if we were all shining like lamps giving light to all around us? That is Catherine’s challenge and call to each of us today.
Sometimes we are the lamp, giving the light, sometimes our light flickers, sometimes it fades, then again it can be re-ignited (like the lamps of old when one trimmed the wick) and can radiate the light out from us to others.

In the minutes of the first meeting of your Circle of Mercy Core Group 20 years ago we read:

“Our ideal is to become a fathomless wellspring of all ages, bubbling over with the Good News.”

I see Catherine’s strong call to each of us in the theme of today’s celebration as closely linked to that statement. When we are people bubbling over with the Good News we are then like shining lamps giving light to all around us.
Who is the source of this light? What is the source?  Where is the source? GOD IS.  This source is already within us – it is there permanently, - available to each and all of us - all of the time.

Some quotes that express and draw us to this rich source that is WITHIN and all around us.

“God has an extravagant, unconditional love for us – for each of us.”

“God is helplessly and hopelessly in love with each one of us.” (both quotes from Summer Retreat 2017 – Daniel O’Leary.)



 “God delights in us.” Isaiah 42:1

“We are carved on the palm of His/her Hand” Isaiah 49:6

“We are the apple of his/her eye.” Deuteronomy 2:10

God just loves us – it cannot be otherwise Psalm 136:6

“Nothing can dim the light that shines from within.” - Maya Angelou

"Treasured and transformed – God loved us enough to die for us – to die for each one of us." John 3:16

Do we believe this? All of this is GIFT, pure GIFT.  This gift needs tending, this gift needs divining.  We need to DIVINE the HIDDEN SPRING within us.


“Let us be silent that we may hear the whisper of God.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Without SILENCE there can be no STILLNESS – a stillness within us – a receptiveness for transformation in our lives.  Remember Elijah:

“After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.” 1 Kings 19:12

We need to let this stillness, to let the message sink in.  Let it sink in. We cannot but respond - We are called to LOVE in return.

Catherine, our Foundress herself is our model for this – she became what she hoped each of us, her followers, would:
“A lamp kindled with Fire of Divine Love, shining and giving light to all.”

Sheila Carney rsm wrote of Catherine McAuley:
"Her every action was full of God, breathed God and was fragrant with God"

Catherine LIVED the two greatest commandments “Love God with all her heart, all her soul, and all her mind, and love her neighbour as herself (Mt 22:37-39) and as Christ does (Jn. 15:12). She lived these two commandments as if they were one. She wished each of us her followers to do the same.

Mary Sullivan rsm – author of The Path of Mercy described Catherine as:
“Free, creative, forthright, affectionate, intelligent, courageous, humorous, original, and originating – a woman who dared to take a fresh look at her own milieu.”

“You should be like shining lamps giving light to all around us.”
Catherine McAuley

I am excited by what we witnessed here today. Those wonderful symbols of life and light that each of your Circle of Mercy Groups presented to us as part of your ceremony of celebration today are evidence of the impact this wonderful movement has made on your lives. I see fire in the ashes. I see how the Circles of Mercy spotted throughout your Province have helped and are helping to “FAN into a flame the gift of God, which is in you" (2Timothy 1:6)

To the Northern Province, I say thank you for the courage to start this movement away back in 1997 when Maureen McGurran invited Bonnie Brennan to be the Co-Ordinator of this “new way of being Mercy”.  Bonnie was an inspired choice - wasn’t she?  She, with the help of others, brought the Circle of Mercy to birth. I thank you, on all our behalf, for the wonderful formation programme that you Bonnie and  your core group both lay and religious prayed and lived into being. That programme with its eleven themes opened up the life of Catherine to all of us lucky to be part of a Circle of Mercy, in a new and beautiful way.

The Themes:
Catherine the Lay Woman
Catherine the Religious
Catherine’s Call
Catherine’s Humanity
Catherine’s Love for the Poor
Catherine’s Trust in God
Catherine the Enabler
Catherine’s Generosity and Hospitality
Catherine – Woman of Scripture
Catherine’s Acceptance of the Cross
Catherine’s Integrated Spirituality

What is a Circle of Mercy?  The coming together of compassionate people from different walks of life who, in association with Sisters of Mercy, wish to live the Gospel according to the spirit of Catherine.  I repeat again how the Circle of Mercy has helped so many of us to get to know and love God more and to get to know and love Catherine in a new and beautiful way.  I thank you for being generous in gifting the Southern Province with your programme in 2005. (Patricia O’Donovan negotiated the seamless bequeathing of this gift to the Southern Province.)  To the many others who brought the Circle of Mercy to where it is today I compliment you and thank you – I include you the Provincial Team,  you the Congregational Leadership Team especially Cecilia Cadogan. To Catherine McEvoy and your core group of great people for what you continue to do to make Catherine known and loved – thank you.

Congratulations to you all. To you today my prayer - my wish - is that the words of Pope Francis be true for you:

“Let yours be great and courageous souls. Always keep your heart big and open to love.”  Pope Francis

I make an earnest plea today for us to work together – we need each other – we need to learn from each other – we have so much to offer one another.
There is the sharing of the rich heritage, the wisdom, the true story of mercy, the story of Catherine and her rich legacy – the mercy story in each of your local areas that needs to be shared - that’s from the Sisters’ side and then there is the enthusiasm, the receptiveness and the love for the woman Catherine by the Circle of Mercy members. I have seen and experienced that love of Catherine with my own eyes within the Circles of Mercy.  I have been enthused by it. I make a plea today for more sisters to support the Circle of Mercy movement - become involved in Circles of Mercy where you can.

“Help me to spread your beauty everywhere I go today.  Fill my whole being so utterly that all my life can only be a radiance of you ... Stay with me and then I shall begin to shine as you shine. So to be a light to others, the light will be all from you, none of it will be mine.” John Henry Newman.

Mary Oliver wrote: “What is it you plan to do with your one, wild and precious life?”  May each of us be: “Shining lamps giving light to all around us.” – Catherine McAuley.

Reminded by the mention in the opening ceremony today of the poem The Diviner by Seamus Heaney I recall the story of my father: When I was a small child - 8 years old, our family moved from Sligo to Kerry, moving from a house with running water and electricity in a busy town to a small house in rural Killarney with no running water and no electricity – a culture shock to all of us.  My father, within a few months, gathered the men of the local area and offered his services as a Diviner to source water and for them to work together on a local group water scheme. With his hazel divining stick he located the best spot. The dig began - a group of twenty men working in relays, day after day, week after week, month after month. There were no excavators, just shovels, spades, and pick-axes. The hole got bigger and bigger, deeper and deeper they dug and after school each evening many ‘little peeping eyes’ peered over the top to look down as the men worked away. It seemed for ever.

I was there the day the WATER SPRUNG.  The gush of water rose 20 feet in the air. Big men cried, big men danced in the water, big men knelt and prayed thanking God for water – THE WATER OF LIFE. Work continued and that water supplied the local area for the next twenty years. Many the time then and since I tried my almighty best to get the divining stick to work but try as I might there was no budge in the stick! We only need to DIVINE the HIDDEN SPRING within us and that by:

“Being still and know that I am God.”  Psalm 46:10

Clare O’Reilly rsm
Southern Province

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