Life of Consecration
Consecration, being set apart for God, is the basis of religious life. Religious consecration is built upon baptismal consecration and expresses it with greater fullness. A religious professes by public vow the three evangelical counsels: poverty, chastity, and obedience. As St. Thomas Aquinas explains, through the Vow of Poverty, a religious offers to God external goods (Summa Theologica, II-II, Q. 186, A.7). Through the Vow of Chastity, a religious offers to God her own body. Through the Vow of Obedience, a religious offers to God the good of her soul, namely, her own will by which she makes use of all the faculties of her soul. By profession of the evangelical counsels, a religious frees herself from foreseeable obstacles to Christian perfection. Religious consecration is “a covenant of mutual love and fidelity, of communion and mission, established for God’s glory, the joy of the person consecrated, and the salvation of the world” (Essential Elements of Religious Life, 5)
Vow of Poverty
Through the Vow of Poverty, the Sister shares in the poverty of the crucified Christ, who emptied Himself through His passion and death. Poverty entails a life that is poor in material reality as well as in spirit, subject to work and led in frugality and detachment from material possessions. It involves dependence and limitation in the use and disposition of goods, including the goods of one’s own personal gifts. In embracing poverty, the Sister welcomes the Lord to be her treasure and provider, allowing Him the space to manifest His power in her weakness, frailties, poverty.
The Vow of Poverty consists in total renunciation and detachment from everything but God. This renunciation is made for love of Him…the more the heart is withdrawn from earthly things, the easier it finds access to God. This life of simplicity and unhindered trust in “Jesus, who had not whereon to lay His Head is the patrimony Jesus bequeathed His faithful followers” (Mother Catherine McAuley).
Vow of Chastity
Through the Vow of Chastity, the Sister is wedded to Christ, whom she loves above all. “Chastity liberates the human heart in a remarkable manner, so that it burns with a love for God and for all people” (Perfectae Caritatis, 12). It leads the Sister to become a spiritual mother and compels her to care and serve “the wounded members of His Body, the Church” (Constitutions of the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, 12). Both the Church and the Blessed Virgin Mary act as models for the Sister, teaching her how to be a Virgin, Spouse, and Mother.
A Sister’s Vow of Chastity is guarded and enriched by her prayer life and the flourishing of true sisterly love in the common life of the community. Through these avenues, she joyfully responds to the Lord’s commands to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind,” and “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37, 39).
Vow of Obedience
The deepest meaning of the Vow of Obedience is expressed in the fullness of the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection. Christ “became obedient unto death, even death on a Cross” (Philippians 2:8). The Vow of Obedience is a right to each Sister, as it promises that God’s Will is revealed to her through the voice of her superior. Obedience is active and responsible; it is not a collapse into passivity. Obedience is an act of faith; however, honesty, humility and care for the common good, foster loving obedience. The Sister recognizes each obedience as a channel for Mercy, and as an antidote to self-absorption, enabling the Sister to be more fully united with God’s Will and disposed to perfect love. In this offering, the Sister more fully embraces the Will of God, sacrificing her own will—which is dearer to mankind more than anything else. As our Venerable Foundress prayed: “His Holy Will be done in all things. May He never leave the choice to us” (Mother Catherine McAuley).
Vow of Service of the Poor, Sick and Ignorant
In addition to profession by public vows of the three evangelical counsels, religious institutes may also have a fourth vow, which is directly related to their charism. As Religious Sisters of Mercy, we have a fourth vow of Service of the Poor, Sick, and Ignorant. In professing Service as a public vow, “the object...is renunciation of self-defined generosity in order to show forth the mercy of the Father within the charism of the Institute” (Customs and Guide, p. 40). The exercise of this vow is rooted in the charism of Union and Charity; Service is lived, in the first place, within the community. Then, the effect of merciful love extends outward toward others served in the apostolate. Venerable Catherine McAuley instructed that, as Sisters of Mercy, “we should labor unceasingly to fit ourselves for the discharge of the duties it imposes” (Familiar Instructions, 15). In this light, each Sister in our Institute receives a particular obedience to engage in formal studies so that she may be more available to serve the Church in a professional capacity.
Life of Prayer
The primary activity of our Institute is prayer. Prayer and devotion are closely interrelated, and the primary cause of devotion is God Himself. Charity both causes devotion, as it readies us to serve, and feeds on devotion. Striving to make each Sister’s whole life one of union with God, the community of Mercy prays in three ways: liturgically—in union with the whole Church; communally and individually or personally. Liturgical prayer is the highest form of prayer and centers on the celebration of the Eucharist. The Sisters of Mercy begin each morning in prayer together with the Liturgy of the Hours a time for silent mediation on the Gospel for the day and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and conclude each day with exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and Evening Prayer, or Vespers. The last activity for the day of every Sister and Alma Mercy community is Night Prayer, or Compline.
In Liturgical Prayer, the Sisters join the prayer of the Church. This includes daily participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, frequently receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation, living the graces of Baptism and Confirmation, and praying the Liturgy of the Hours. Our Institute corporately prays four hours of the Divine Office: Office of Readings, Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Night Prayer.
Devotional prayers prayed in common have a long and sacred tradition in religious communities. These prayers are vocal prayers prayed with the local community for particular intentions. Typically, these prayers are grouped around the formal times of prayer in the morning, the afternoon Holy Hour of Adoration, and Night Prayer. These prayers in common reflect the charism of the Institute and particular community intentions for which we have obligation or concern.
In addition to corporate liturgical and communal prayer, the life of a Sister of Mercy includes daily times of personal prayer. These include a daily meditation, spiritual reading, reading of Holy Scripture, a daily examen, and quiet recollection. Each Sister also makes an annual retreat.
Life in Common
In its essence, every Religious Community is rooted in the heart of the Blessed Trinity, and each one is a unique expression of the one dynamic Trinitarian communion. The life of communion lived by the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma is based upon the legacy of Union and Charity bequeathed to us by Venerable Mother Catherine McAuley. It is fostered by lifelong formation in the principles of the spirituality of communion articulated by the Church, particularly since the Second Vatican Council.
Union and Charity
In the original Foundation of the Sisters of Mercy, Mother Catherine McAuley placed an extraordinary emphasis on the practice of communal charity. For several years, until the first Constitutions were approved, the single chapter on “Union and Charity” was the sole guide for the newly-founded community. In the history of the Sisters of Mercy, leading up to the 1957 Customs and Guide of the Sisters of Mercy, Union and Charity has persisted with preeminent importance, demonstrating the centrality of the pursuit of Union and Charity to Mercy spirituality.
Spirituality of Communion
As Sisters of Mercy, we have drawn upon our rich heritage for our formation in the spirituality of communion. The Sisters establish firm and stable bonds with the members of the community to which they have been assigned by exercising courtesy and engaging in dialogue with the Sisters with whom they live.
Magnification of Communion
The Religious Profession has created a new bond between the Sister and the One and Triune God, in Jesus Christ. Impelled by this extraordinary privilege, the Sisters strive to foster the communion that they have received as a gift in their Religious Consecration, for the magnification of that communion first within the community and subsequently within the various places and relationships in which a Sister may be called to serve.
Life of Service
As our first Superior General, Mother Mary Quentin Sheridan wrote, “being a disciple includes a long process of learning to be a servant, completely surrendering oneself to the Lord, to the Will of God, and following that Will increasingly.” While the Institute is involved in many spiritual and apostolic works, the one common apostolate of our Sisters is precisely service of the Church. This service to the Church manifests itself first in devotion to the Lord, through the Sister’s commitment to making regular visits to the Blessed Sacrament and increasingly striving for greater attention and participation in the Liturgical prayer of the community. The Sister magnifies this first service to the Lord through her foundational commitment to serving the Church within the Institute itself; and from these twinned acts of service—to God and her neighbor— the Sister has the grace, strength and blessing to then generously attend to the larger needs of the Church.
As the needs of the Church and world are mounting and various, the Institute discerns all the areas of service potentially capable of mediating redemptive healing through the charism of Mercy, and it excludes those incompatible with it. Every work of service by an Alma Mercy Sister is predicated on the spiritual and corporal works of mercy; and every work has the potential to foster change in the heart of the Sister and those whom she serves, bringing about a greater receptivity to the Mercy of the Lord in time and for eternity.