Katie Leader and Molly Manahan
"As we strive to be advocates for justice in 2021, we must also remember that the quality that allows it to flourish is mercy.
Now, we hear the word “mercy” a lot at All Hallows’, but I must admit that when I began my time at this school, I was slightly unsure of what exactly mercy was. In my mind, mercy was related to grand responses like running charities or building houses that educate poor women.
Little did I know that we are all capable of mercy – it is just a matter of recognising that we all share the same wants, needs and desires - the need to belong, and the need to experience kindness and care. Little did I know that in my first week at All Hallows’, when a terrified 9-year-old me stood on Ann Street watching my brand new hat fly away, the student I had never met who didn’t hesitate to run after it, was demonstrating true mercy.
Mercy is the compassion that comes from human connection. It’s about going above and beyond to respond to the needs of others and to preserve the dignity and rights that all people should be afforded. These actions can be great or small, but have their roots in a profound respect and empathy for others.
In today’s Gospel reading of the Beatitudes, we hear Jesus encapsulate the essence of a God who is merciful: those who are suffering are blessed by God, as are those who are humble and work for peace. Every person has been created in the image of God, and is therefore worthy of the kindness and humanity that is central to mercy.
As our school enters its 160th year of educating women, we are reminded of the efforts of all those who have been a part of All Hallows’ rich history. Catherine McAuley, the foundress of the Sisters of Mercy herself said that people of mercy “should be particularly kind – the kindest people on earth”. Catherine’s merciful response to the injustices of the world around her still inspires us today to be people of active compassion.
We at All Hallows’ are so lucky to have many role models of mercy. Jesus, Catherine McAuley and our founding sisters are only some of the many who inspire us to look out into the world with selflessness, eager to see what we can do to help others.
We are called to step up and take action when another person is suffering: to look outside of ourselves and be respectful to all, especially when others are not. This then lays the foundation for justice.
Clearly, justice and mercy go hand in hand. You cannot have one without the other. Even the structure of our extensive Mercy Action program has been created to incorporate justice as well as mercy. We see examples of mercy in activities that involve companionship and hospitality and examples of justice in our many groups who call for and enact change.
Put simply, mercy is the heart response that motivates the change of justice. In 2021, we are challenged to be people who approach our interactions with others with mercy, whilst also advocating for just outcomes. We are challenged to take steps towards mercy and justice, even if they start out as small as a lunchtime meeting packing hampers, or simply looking out for an AHSister. Everyone in our school community is challenged to contribute in every way possible to make a difference in our world by leading for justice and acting with mercy." - Katie Leader (Inaugural Mass speech, 29 January 2021)
"Justice is a very powerful word. And so, the day I started writing this reflection, I thought to myself: “how can I unpack such a powerful word, in such a short amount of time?”. And that’s when it came to me: my father’s under 9 rugby wisdom.
My dad coached an under 9 rugby team some years ago. He thought, the best way to create optimal results on the field, is by teaching them life lessons. So logical. Nevertheless, he prepared a poster of the iceberg theory to present. Above the ocean’s surface, what we see, is only a tip of the iceberg; this is what we see on the field. Beneath the surface, is an extraordinarily large part of the iceberg; this is the foundation. All the hard-work, pain, determination, hidden below the surface so that it cannot be seen. But without it, that tiny iceberg on top, would not exist. I like to think that the work for justice uses the same concept.
Justice is about demonstrating in action qualities of respect, fairness and equality to every human, despite ethnicity, gender, age, or status. The tip of the iceberg is our society. Below the surface, is the foundation of our society: justice. This part of the iceberg represents the structural composition of our society that has been entrenched over generations, allowing it to stay afloat. We have opportunities for simple acts of charity here at school; for example, visiting people in aged care facilities or participating in Mercy Action. Exhibiting this kindness and charity is always needed. However, as we heard in our reading today, in Micah chapter 6, verses 6-8, God challenges us to do something greater, and that is portray justice. To do this, we must direct our focus to what is below the surface – changing unjust structures. This way, we can create a just foundation, and allow our society stay afloat.
You may be thinking you are powerless when it comes to changing unjust structures, but as Benjamin Franklin said, “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”
In Africa, we saw justice through the dismantling of the apartheid movement which segregated white and black people.
In Australia, we are hearing the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and finding and acknowledging truths that will see change and justice.
Here at All Hallows’ School, we all stood together in solidarity on white shirt day to raise awareness towards the injustice woman experience, and advocate for their protection against violence.
These are all examples of looking below the surface, and changing unjust structures. They also illustrate how we do not have to wait to be in a position of power, to strive for justice. We already hold that power; we just have to use it.
This year, it is time to step up; to do more, to be more. It is time that we learn to utilise the values we’ve grown to understand as portrayed by Catherine McAuley, to positively impact the people around us. Nelson Mandela said, “what counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” So, this year, I ask that you start looking at what is below the surface, reflecting on and considering the assumptions and attitudes that have been etched into our culture, and when we see injustice, start sparking change through actions, big or small.
Not to kill the vibe or anything, but my dad’s rugby team did not win the grand final that year, or any games for that matter. But what matters, is that they came out wiser, and more prudent, than most 9-year-old boys, or should I say, men. If this is possible, then I cannot begin to imagine where this year will take us, as we lead for justice." - Molly Manahan (Inaugural Mass speech, 29 January 2021)