Our Lady of Mercy

Patroness of the Mercedarian Order (founded by St Peter Nolasco after the apparition of Our Lady of Mercy in 1218)

Dear Mercedes,

As I’ve told you a thousand times before (at least, it feels like a thousand times), frustration is a function of expectations.  When you find yourself becoming unreasonably frustrated, you’ll only find peace if you root out whatever unreasonable expectation that’s causing it.  In your current case, I think the cause is pretty clear. You are acting as if you’re responsible for saving the entire world. You’re not. Jesus is.  You’re just responsible for helping out in the few battles that Providence assigns you. In that regard, I think you’ll find today’s memorial instructive.

In 1218 the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to St Peter Nolasco.  She was holding two bags of gold and wearing a white habit with a red badge.  She asked the saint to start a new religious order dedicated most especially to ransoming Christians who had been taken captive by Muslims.  This was the start of the Order of Our Lady of Mercy, still thriving today and maybe better known as the Mercerdarians.

It may seem like an odd purpose for a religious order, but by the 1200s Spain had been ruled by Muslim conquerors for 500 years, and it wasn’t going to regain its full independence for another two hundred.  And the Muslim societies of the time had no qualms about capturing Christians and enslaving or imprisoning them, then using them to extort ransoms from their relatives. Muslim society at the time was wealthy, well-organized, and militarily advanced – they were the superpowers of the Middle Ages.  They dominated the intercontinental trade routes and the commercial traffic in the Mediterranean. (This was the Age of the Crusades, as you may remember.) Thousands of Christian captives and slaves were subjected to horrible abuse and humiliation, and exposed through their sufferings to the loss of their faith itself.  The Mercedarians were founded to come to their rescue.

A few hundred years later, when the Order had already given a bunch of saints to the world and a slew of bishops to the Church, Christopher Columbus invited them to accompany him to the New World, where they founded numerous convents and communities, and took on the new challenge of evangelizing the Native Americans.  Today they continue to thrive in their contemplative community life and in their apostolate of parishes and schools, prison and hospital chaplaincies, and foreign missions.

Just as the Holy Spirit raised up a saint to meet a very concrete and particular need of thirteenth-century Spain, so he is waiting for you to quiet down and listen up, so he can show you what battle needs to be fought right now and right there.  I hope you are willing to leave the big picture to God and comply – you’ll be a lot happier if you do.

Your loving uncle, Eddy

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