She is brilliant and beautiful, and she was my student in an Introductory Theology course. She is Muslim, and she spent the better part of her childhood growing up in Kurdistan. At semester’s end, I learned of the atrocities she witnessed as a child, including the murder of her grandfather. And I learned that she keeps that part of her story hidden from others, because she wants to be normal; she wants to fit in. She is safe now, but the people she left behind are not.
Victims of poverty, violence, and political turmoil, all of those who are disenfranchised by society, all who dwell on the margins – these are the ones who reveal to us the Reign-of-God-not-yet-come. They reveal it by contrast, precisely through their cries for deliverance from all the ravages of the anti-Reign. How do we train our ears to hear the voice of God in these cries? Moreover, how do we attune ourselves to the silence of the countless voices rendered mute by systems of dominance? From what do we need to empty ourselves in order to encounter the Truth to Whom we claim to belong?
In every global context from which the cries of suffering arise, women bear a unique burden of voicelessness, even as they bear the burden of care for life in its most basic, embodied form. Witness streams of refugees seeking safe haven from violence and torture: Amidst this dire pilgrimage, it is women who struggle to sustain children and the infirm on their perilous journey in the hope of freedom. And, as terror spreads a global shadow, we who are accustomed to dwell secure are startled by the prospect of our own vulnerability.
The attacks on Paris drew an immediate response of solidarity from the Western world, especially the U.S. Why? With the constant violence inflicted upon people in the Middle East, why the dramatic response to this incident? We know why: They are us. And that became all the more evident in the tragic San Bernardino shootings. We are vulnerable, and we Americans don’t like to think of ourselves as vulnerable.
Answers are elusive. Perhaps our call is to a saving question: Might this glimmer of felt vulnerability be our means of solidarity with the truly helpless vulnerable masses? Might it open the ears of our hearts to the voices drawing us into communion with Truth? Might it mark out a path of encounter mediating the healing of relationships, systems, and perceptions that will enable the reign of God’s mercy to come on earth as in heaven?
Pope Francis has inaugurated a Year of Mercy. And now we approach Christmas, when we celebrate God’s Mercy born in human flesh. How might we bear God’s Mercy in our flesh? How might our persecuted and suffering sisters and brothers teach us the vulnerability that issues in mercy? The Year of Mercy is a time for humble listening.
Kathleen McManus, OP is Associate Professor of Theology (Systematics) and Director, Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry Program at the University of Portland
Sr. Kathleen McManus will present at the 2016 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering on The Global Suffering of Women as an Ethical Imperative for the Church. See registration information and schedule.