Many Dominicans of the ‘Cabra Congregation’ travelled to Leeds in early January to attend the annual Dominican Seminar. It took place in Hinsley Hall Conference and Pastoral Centre. Every branch of the Dominican Family was represented. The theme this year was ‘Preaching Mercy’ and the conference was facilitated by fr John Farrell op
The summing up of the conference by one participant on the last day was that it was ‘intellectually and emotionally stimulating.’ Since it would be impossible to cover the content of such a weekend in this short article, I will confine myself to a strand that, I think, permeated the talks. We explored ‘mercy’ and ‘being merciful’ in St Thomas Aquinas, in the Scriptures, in other religions and in various ministries.
Fr Richard Conrad op spoke on the first night Friday 6th January, about mercy according to Thomas Aquinas. He teasingly acquainted us with the words for ‘mercy’ and ‘being merciful’ in Hebrew and Greek before reminding us that Thomas knew neither language! Compassio and misericordia were the Latin words that Thomas used, and Richard favoured the latter. Misericordia, he said, is both the gut reaction to the misery of another as if it were one’s own and the impulse to do something about it according to one’s ability. What is interesting is that later when we heard from fr Martin Ganeri op about the words for ‘mercy’ and ‘merciful’ in other religions, particularly in Islam and Buddhism, these corresponded closely with Thomas’s understanding.
When on the Saturday morning, we looked at many situations which might have been described as incurring the ‘wrath of God’ or examples of ‘no mercy’, our eyes were opened. In one presentation Sr Caitriona Gorman, speaking about the plight of asylum seekers and refugees, projected some very graphic images onto the screen showing the struggle of displaced people travelling of necessity from their homeland and their loved ones to find a place of safety for themselves and their children, and a future of hope.
Sr Colette Kane asked during her very colourful presentation if God’s mercy and ours is big enough to include all of creation. As Colette painted her picture of ‘no mercy’ for the earth our common home, Sara Dudley Edwards asked the question, ‘Are we listening to the prophets in our midst?’
Later in the day after being intellectually and emotionally saturated by further presentations, the participants were very pleased to see on the timetable, ‘Silent meditation on the mercy of God before the Blessed Sacrament’!
In the evaluation on Sunday, the lack of time for personal and perhaps group reflection during the conference was mentioned. Many felt that they had received a great deal but did not have time to assimilate it before receiving more.
So while we spoke about misericordia a gut response to the misery of others as if it were one’s own, I wonder did we embrace sufficiently the second part of St Thomas’ definition, namely, the impulse to respond to the other’s misery, to the very best of our ability. Without this we may need to ask ourselves if we as Dominicans are being sufficiently God’s merciful presence in our troubled world today.
Sr. Kathleen Fitzsimons OP