Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy

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Sharing of Faith and Culture

Mercedarian Friar - Monday, May 18, 2015

On May 10th, Fr Ken and I began a journey from LeRoy, NY to Georgia with a van packed with religious goods. These items (statues, stations of the cross etc.) were from the former Mercygrove property which was recently sold. The proceeds from the sale are allocated in large part for the development of a new redemptive mission to families in the United States.


The first stop on our journey was to drop off several items at Life Teen camp in northern Georgia. It felt good to be able to give these religious articles new life at a camp which each summer is packed with teens and young adults.

 

After a two hour stop, we were back on the road bringing a special gift to our 3rd Order in Atlanta. Through these dedicated lay people, Order of Mercy has been present in Atlanta for 17 years. It all began in 1998 when a little woman left Rome and arrived in Atlanta, GA. Maria Virginia's story is key to this movement which Christ would bless.

 

The spirit of merced or ransom was placed in Maria at an early age as she was educated by the Mercedarian Friars in Puerto Rico. This spirituality would continue to grow in her throughout her life. When her husband passed away in his 60’s, Maria felt the Lord was calling her to enter the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy. After a few years of formation, it became clear to her that Christ the Redeemer desired her to go out to those in need” with the message of mercy.

 

Many extraordinary circumstances led, Maria Virginia to her mission field in Atlanta, GA. Seventeen years ago she set up her home in Georgia and quickly got to work. Maria got permission of the Order of BVM of Mercy to establish a 3rd Order in a place where no friars or sisters had been. With her deep faith, love for Our Lady of Mercy, and boundless energy this women was able to inspire many to follow the redemptive spirit of the Order.

 

Soon enough, it became clear that God was calling the new 3rd Order to assist the many immigrants who were coming from Mexico and settling in the Atlanta metropolitan area. These immigrants left behind all they knew seeking a better life. Yet their faith, which is the most precious treasure, was in danger in a new land. Who will teach them about Christ? Who will baptize their children? They hide in the shadows with no one to shepherd them.

 

Fr Ken and I got to experience first hand the redemptive work of our 3rd Order in Atlanta. The week of May 11th was spent blessing houses and practicing our Spanish as we enjoyed authentic Mexican food with the the people. The highlight of the week was a outdoor Mass with many immigrant families. As we struggled to speak their language, they just appreciated the opportunity to come close to Jesus and teach their children how to worship.


On this long journey into the Deep South an exchange took place. We brought statues and religious items which are plentiful in the Northeast. These are aspects of our culture which have preserved the faith of generations. We experienced tangibly the faith and devotion of the Mexican people. Hopefully our ministry among them has strengthen and enriched the faith of all.

 

May Our Lady of Mercy place her mantle around the mission of the Atlanta Chapter of the 3rd Order! She who is the refuge of the captive and persecuted Christians, will surely watch over this mission to those in the are marginalized today.

 

Life Teen website

St John the Evangelist Church Hapeville, GA

Third Order of Mercy

 


The New Evangelization:Shoes Soiled by the Mud of the Street

Mercedarian Friar - Saturday, July 26, 2014

As I came close to my gate at the airport, I thought this is finally time to relax. Two weeks of summer camp in the hills (well actually) mountains of Northern Georgia had taken its toll on me. Don’t get me wrong, I had a blessed time working with Life Teen missionaries, Catholic teens, and middle school students. As always, it was a powerful experience of authentic Christianity. All the essentials were present: the Eucharist, confessions, devotion to the Blessed Mother, and the call to service. Most impressive and weighing on my heart was the call to mission. Over the past year and a half, I like so many have been made uncomfortable by Pope Francis.  I always knew about the New Evangelization, but never had it been presented to me in such a powerful and at times piercing way. Yes, this South American has a way with words. Pope Francis possesses the gift to be able to cut to the heart with powerful images and penetrating statements.

 

So as the boarding process began, I was a bit uncomfortable with my desire to focus on myself. Shouldn’t I always be available to God at all times? Weren’t we asking the teens to be missionaries to their parents, family, and friends? As I waited for my zone to be called, the word of Fr John Ignatius, another camp priest, came to mind. He had been trying to impress upon the missionaries and teens to reach out to others by “asking if they needed prayers for something” or to even “ask to pray with the person if they were open.” This is a very uncomfortable thing for a man voted most shy in his high school class. But, the Lord had taken me so far in 20 years how could I ever say no to him?

 

Okay, I thought I will just say a little prayer to be open to help those that God will place me with on this journey. This prayer was made quickly and without much fervor. Part of me wanted to be faithful, but the other part wanted a break. After all, these weeks running around with teens had left me with a severe sunburn, massive blisters on my feet, and a cold which caused me to partially lose my voice. I deserved some rest, right?

 

Finally, the time to board had come. In my zone, just ahead of me in line were two young women dressed in 19th century garb. Hmm…I thought to myself, don’t see that every day!  They must be Amish traveling back to Lancaster, PA. But, wait… Amish wouldn’t fly on planes? Maybe they are Mennonites. No matter…there is no time to talk I reasoned since we are boarding. I boarded the plane and began moving down aisle getting looks I have become so accustom to as a priest. Nearly everyone takes a glance…some are just curious, others give little smile, and still others look the other way coldly. Oh, just a few more minutes, I thought, and I would be in my seat ready for some quiet and a long nap.

 

Where is that 18 C? Okay here it comes …wait…you gotta be kidding me! I have the aisle seat next to…those two Mennonite women! Boy…God, you have a sense of humor…a Catholic priest and two Mennonite women. I had to smile to myself, since the Lord has often put me in these strange situations. My thoughts went to what the other passengers might be thinking? And, what about these two young women? What do Mennonites think about Catholic priests? Well, they probably they don't have a positive opinion if they are anything like fundamentalist Protestants. This was too weird, it must be God's plan, but why?

 

Assessing the situation, I thought it best to play in cool and see what happens. Looking back, this was just an excuse. In fact, my whole thought process was based on presumptions. It was just as Pope Francis says, “…instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying (EG 94).” How easy it is to stay in our own comfort zone and modes of thinking instead of going out into “the peripheries in need of the light of the Gospel (EG 20).” This is where I am ashamed to say that I stayed for the rest of that two hour flight. I rationalized myself into avoiding any contact with another group that I had little real knowledge of. It began with just waiting a little to not seem over anxious to speak. Then, my thoughts progressed to other excuses: I need sleep. They are talking to one another. The flight is almost over. Finally, we were landing and I had not even looked at my fellow passengers to introduce myself or asked where they were going.  The opportunity had passed and I stayed safely within my own little world.

 

Why does the Spirit lead us into these situations? What could I really have done to share the Gospel with these two women who live in such a different world? The answers to these questions are often not readily apparent. As Pope Francis says, “The gospel speaks of a seed which, once sown, grows by itself, even as the farmer sleeps (Mk 4:26-29).” “The Church has to accept the unruly freedom of the word, which accomplishes what it wills in ways that surpass our calculations and ways of thinking (EG 22).”

 

We do not know what the effect of our efforts will be. What we do know it that we are called today to be in a permanent state of mission. It is no longer acceptable to just protect and grow in our own faith or that of our families.  Clearly, I was wrong and failed to be a sower of seeds. I did not live out my baptismal call to preach the Gospel to all nations.

 

We are called to reach out and let the Spirit do the rest. Maybe it would have been a nice conversation or an opportunity to break down barriers or misconceptions. Or possibly there could have been a deeper discussion of faith and doctrine. Likely it would have been, at least initially, uncomfortable or even painful if I did not get a warm response. We must do the good we can even if in the process our “shoes get soiled by the mud of the street (EG 45).”

 

The New Evangelization sounds really nice on paper, but it is essentially a challenge to die to self for the Gospel. We can firmly believe that Jesus Christ is speaking to us today through our Pope who says, “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security (EG 49).” At least for one day, I was the one “clinging to my own security”.

 

It’s easy to preach the New Evangelization, but to put it into practice is much harder. Yet this is how the Church began. We stand on the shoulders of giants, of the Apostles, who took the Gospel to the farthest corners of the known world. Today we, like them, are looking out into a world bruised, hurting and dirty seeking something real. This is not the place for a life of ease. We are on pilgrimage with the command to preach the Gospel. This is what it means to live the New Evangelization.  To be truly in a permanent state of mission.

 

Evangelii Gaudium by Pope Francis

Life Teen Website

Permanent State of Mission 


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