Many things live, not just the plants, animals and humans that grace our world. Memories and promises live. Vows live. So do grudges and prejudices. Unlike our physical life, these less tangible realities become stronger with time. Tales of valor and achievement live, often becoming epic with the passing of the years.
Simple kindness lives too, blessing not only the current receiver, but the unseen generations to whom it is passed. Every morning, old fears and new hopes wake up within us all. They vie with each other to become the engines of our lives. The happy ones among us have learned to let hope win.
On this date in 1861, a small group of just such happy, hopeful people came to Philadelphia. On that hot August afternoon, the first Philadelphia Sisters of Mercy, led by 26-year old Patricia Waldron, arrived at Broad Street Station in North Philadelphia. They carried no worldly possessions. They came with only a dream for Mercy. It was a dream so alive in them that it still inspires us today, over 150 years later.
Can’t you see them standing on the busy platform, the hissing steam trains encircling them in mist? They must have felt “be-misted” themselves, these mostly Irish country girls engulfed in a big city.
Union troops heading south crowded the platform. Busy Broad Street crackled with news of the burgeoning national strife. Lincoln himself would visit the city in the coming weeks.
And hidden within the seams of this bustling city’s garment lay the poor – the ones for whom they had come. How to reach them? How to help them change their lives?
Ranging from sixteen to twenty-seven years old, these brave young women had been charged with establishing a kind of “new nation” themselves – not of politics, but of mercy. I am sure they, like the young stout-hearted soldiers surrounding them, were also a little weak-kneed. They too had their battles to face. They too would see starvation, illness, attack and death – but they would endure for the sake of the Mercy dream, God’s dream for the poor.
Enduring dreams begin with small first steps. So, hailing a horse-drawn carriage, Mother Patricia Waldron led her young band to their new lives. Thus she began the grace-filled saga many of us know so well and of which we are a part today. Their dream lives in us who love Mercy:
- in our continued effort to find those who are poor and sick in a world that ignores them
- in our choice to be compassionate in a world that often chooses violence
- in our commitment to care in a world of treacherous indifference
On that sultry August day 1861, and on this one 2019, people have choices to make. They have vows to keep. Some choices live forever. In the name of Mercy, what will you choose today?