Our Own Mercy Street

Did PBS have a tip-off from the Vatican about the Jubilee Year of Mercy when its TV series “Mercy Street” went into production for this year?
Mercy StreetMerciful, merciless… they’re all here, in these “inspired-by-history” episodes set in a Civil War hospital in Alexandria, Virginia.

My ears pricked up whenever the characters claimed mercy as their motive: for anesthesia during an amputation or for arms-smuggling to supposedly end the war faster. There’s plenty of opportunity for merciful forgiveness but not much practice of it.

We can all ask ourselves how we take those opportunities: To whom am I merciless? Maybe to myself?

Maybe it’s the grace of this year, or maybe a gift straight from Kathleen in heaven….

Mercy street signKathleen and I collaborated in beginning the Company of St. Ursula in the USA. She died on February 19, 2008. Since she had no close relatives in this country, I had cared for her as my sister in her untimely final illness. At the moment of her death, I was in the kitchen grilling a cheese sandwich for my lunch. Returning to her bedside, I realized that she had breathed her last while I was in the next room. No matter how natural that was, no matter how attentive I had been, this absence has haunted me these eight years. Why had I not recognized the imminence of her death? Why was I doing something for myself? Merciless.

Last week (her anniversary) I was revisiting that moment. Suddenly I felt a wave of compassion for that woman who, despite the death-watch, may have harbored a shred of denial. I forgave her – that is, forgave myself.

And was grateful for God’s grace of mercy, wider and deeper and greater than my mercilessness.

And grilled a cheese sandwich for my lunch.


One Response to “Our Own Mercy Street”

  1. Jane OBrien says:

    I watched the PBS series Mercy Street and found it riveting in many ways, especially its title theme.

    Thanks for this timely reflection on being merciful and merciless, and your revelatory illustration of mercilessness turning to mercy.

    I have several health conditions, some of them severe–asthma, heart disease, diabetes, stage four kidney disease. All of these are affected by my weight. I find it so hard to be merciful with myself about my past and present in this respect that I try to avoid even thinking about it. In November ne of my doctors wrote “morbidly obese” on my referral to a specialist and when I saw those words I had an inner revulsion of myself that lasted for weeks. I am stuck and praying for mercy in this wonderful year.

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