Living Mercy — in Prayer, Practice, Passion and Promise

"Living Mercy" was a pilgrimage retreat hosted by Faith Connections and the Federation of Sisters of St. Joseph of Canada in Hamilton, Ontario on August 26-28, 2016, featuring reflections by Sr. Costanza Romano, Sr. Mary Rowell, Sr. Betty Berrigan, St. Ann Marshall, Sr. Nancy Sullivan, and Rachel McNamara.

Mercy Pilgrimage

Sr. Costanza Romano

A pilgrimage is a journey a pilgrim makes to a sacred place for the purpose of venerating it or to ask for heavenly aid, and ultimately to come to know God better. Christian pilgrimages were first made to sites connected with the birth, life, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Shortly after, pilgrimages started being made to Rome and other sites associated with the Apostles, Saints and Christian martyrs, as well as places where there had been apparitions of the Virgin Mary. In the past, pilgrims would leave their homes, families, and comforts to walk for hundreds of miles with nothing but what they could carry on their backs. Just as the pilgrims from the early centuries, we modern pilgrims also leave our homes, families and comforts in order to journey to sacred places. (World Youth Day website)

In the dictionary, we see that pilgrimage is defined as a journey, especially a long one, made to some sacred place as an act of religious devotion. Although we see pilgrimage defined as an especially long one, this is not always the case. Any journey that leads us to a better understanding of ourselves, others, or the universe, I believe constitutes a pilgrimage.

We are called to pilgrimage many times throughout our lives. It is no more true than during this Year of Mercy. In the dictionary, mercy is defined as an act of kindness, compassion, or favor. Mercy is by no means a new concept. In the gospels we constantly hear stories of the mercy Jesus showed to those he encountered. From Mary Magdalene to the blind beggar, Jesus shows us that actions of kindness should be part of our everyday life. We may not be able to cure blindness, but we can certainly show kindness to every person we encounter, to the nature that is around us, and to ourselves, remembering that we are all God’s beloved.

The Sisters of St. Joseph have always tried to live Mercy. Our charism and mission has always been one of meeting the unmet needs and hospitality. Each person and place is to be valued. Much of the history of the sisters shows how we set up hospitals and schools in places where there was the need. Sisters lived in small trailers and often brought injured persons into their homes to assist them. I have heard of stories where the dining room table was often converted to an operating table to save a life. This is mercy.

The Holy Door

Sr. Mary Rowell

A short reflection on the theology and spirituality of the Holy Door (porta sancta) will accompany our passing through the chapel door together as “pilgrims of mercy” during our weekend together. Passing through a Holy Door has been practised at special times within the Church since the fifteenth century as a ritual expression of conversion of life. Pilgrims pass through the Holy Door as a gesture of letting go of the past that so often binds us and of trusting in and receiving God’s tender mercy, entering into the freedom we are given in Christ; a movement into light. Often these rituals, like ours will be, are associated with prayer, a spirit of journey into God, confession, reconciliation and spiritual companionship. During the ritual we will focus on God’s love and mercy toward each of us and also on the call of God in our lives – a call to live out our life – reflecting God’s mercy in our world – in a life directed towards our neighbour and all of God’s good creation.


  1. Is there something in my life that I need to let go for God?
  2. Where do I experience God's mercy in my life?
  3. How is God calling me through a "door of mercy" now?
  4. Where can I share God's mercy and enter into reconciliation?

Who is Our God of Mercy?

Sr. Betty Berrigan

In this Living Mercy Retreat I hope to explore briefly the age old call of God to us to live mercy. The Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Scriptures are filled with God’s invitation to live mercy. Pope Francis is asking us all to live a year of mercy, to contemplate the mystery of mercy as a wellspring of joy, serenity and peace.

The charism of the Sisters of St. Joseph, which is rooted in the Gospel of Jesus, points all people seeking a deeper spiritual life to open themselves to this aspect of the Gospel. Because our Founder, Father Jean Pierre Médaille, a Jesuit Spiritual Director wrote about one hundred sayings that point all seekers to live a great love, we Sisters and Associate members realize anew that our charism is in that same flow of grace of which Pope Francis speaks.


  1. Consider the times you have personally experienced God’s mercy in your life.
  2. In what areas of your life are you most in need of God’s mercy now?
  3. In what ways have you shown mercy to those around you?

Contemplative by Nature

Sr. Ann Marshall

Being contemplative is being fully in the Present.

Recall those magical times as a child when you looked with wonder and awe at a fire fly on a summer evening, or a caterpillar crawling up a leaf, the wonder of Santa on Christmas morning or welcoming a new arrival into the family. Those moments of speechlessness and amazement were mystical moments of God whether you were aware of it or not.

Karl Rahner is quoted as saying that the Christian of the future will be a mystic or he or she will cease to be anything at all.

How could this not be possible for we are made in the image of God? God is fully alive in us through the gift of the Holy Spirit given in baptism. Our task is to live into the present, finding footprints of Holy Mystery in the detail of everyday life at home, in the supermarket, or on the bus. It is challenging and hard work. As Sisters of St. Joseph we strive to be contemplatives in action through compassionate living and presence to our neighbour. This spiritual awareness makes life rich and rewarding, but not without the struggle of self-emptying love.


  1. If mercy means reaching out to the other from a compassionate heart, how do you understand Jesus’ invitation?
    ‘if any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me’? — Lk. 9: 23
    ‘a grain of wheat remains no more than a single grain unless it is dropped into the ground and dies…’ — Jn. 12: 24

Living Mercy in My Life

Sr. Nancy Sullivan

Remember that God said, “Love your neighbor as yourself”. Sometimes we only hear the ‘love your neighbour’ part and forget the last part, ‘as yourself’. God calls us to have mercy, to forgive ourselves when we have acted in a less than stellar way. Through forgiving ourselves, we can be free to receive and give God’s love and mercy to others. As Sisters of St. Joseph, we try to live out of this grace in order to be generous with the gift of self to others.


  1. In your life today, is there some area where you are having difficulty forgiving yourself?
  2. What is it that makes you hold on to this pain?
  3. Do you see a way forward through God’s mercy?

Living Mercy in My Life

Rachel McNamara

“God expects something from you. God wants something from you. God hopes in you. God comes to break down all our fences. He comes to open the doors of our lives, our dreams, our ways of seeing things. God comes to break open everything that keeps you closed in. He is encouraging you to dream. He wants to make you see that, with you, the world can be different. For the fact is, unless you offer the best of yourselves, the world will never be different.” — Pope Francis’ Address at the WYD Vigil, July 30, 2016

My experience at World Youth Day this past month drove the message of mercy. Mercy is in every encounter we have, every conversation, every thought, every action, and every dream. The best part of me, is showing mercy towards others, so I can do my part to make the world a different place.

[Sorry, we had some technical difficulties, but the video of Rachel's talk is coming soon...]


  1. What is God expecting from You?
  2. What is God breaking open for you?
  3. What are your desires?
  4. What are you offering of yourself to make the world different?