The Order of the Merciful Christ, is established for the glory of God and the spiritual life of its members. It is intended to advance the Apostolic works currently done by members of the Church catholic, and any new individual Christians who feel called to such a dedicated life of Mercy. This catholic Christian Order shall encourage members to begin or continue work done in the name of Christ which brings His Mercy and Love to the poor, disabled, distraught, disenfranchised, uneducated, lonely, aged or sick. The Gospel of Christ, the message of God's eternal Love, is the ultimate balm to be offered to those who suffer in any way, and it will be lived in a very practical message of service to the physical, mental and spiritual needs of all God's creatures.
Members must profess the Catholic faith as proclaimed in the historic creeds of the universal Church.
In the spirit of Celtic Christianity, hospitality shall be a hallmark, welcoming all into our lives as Christ welcomes us, and as we would welcome Him. Springing from a daily life of deep contemplative prayer, the Charity and Mercy we are called to live as Christians shall be supported by the communal love and mutual support in both our prayer for one another and, in as much as possible, by attentive presence to one another regardless of distances.
Merciful Christian Sisters and Brothers must welcome new members as transfers from other religious communities, or novices who are testing their call to such a life. Geographic location will not be a limiting factor, nor will marital status or gender. Members may be in Holy Orders or not, as individually called by God.
Individuals living in common may be in groups of celibates or families, or mixed as may best be determined by those members, and their community coordinators.
The Order of the Merciful Christ embraces the Rule of St. Columba with adaptations for living the evangelical counsel within the particular spirit of the Order. In addition to novitiate formation, each member of the Order is responsible for ongoing spiritual formation.
The Evangelical Counsels
The evangelical counsels are the ideals to which each member will commit. Vows may be temporary or permanent as inspired by the Holy Spirit. Vows will be received by either the abbot or abbess, or the local community coordinator.
Poverty of Spirit. Although members may own personal property, they will be strongly encouraged to use all for Love. Members must use personal property for their personal well-being and health, as well as for the good of others, and they are responsible for all civic financial duties. Members may, if they wish donate to the Order, but not to the point of personal harm, or harm to their families. Members may bequeath to their local communities or the Order.
Chastity, which is understood as a purity of mind and heart, will be reflected in the particular state to which one is called, married or single. Such Chastity will enable a vowed member to hold Christ as first and foremost as a life of Love is lived in this world. Members may choose to remain single, live committed celibacy or enter into the Sacrament of Marriage, as led by the Holy Spirit.
Mercy. There will also be fourth vow of Mercy to all as a direct act which reflects Christ's Own heart. Such a fourth vow would serve to continuously compel us to be attentive to the needs of others, particularly the poor, disabled, distraught, disenfranchised, uneducated, lonely, aged or sick, in a self-sacrificial manner. The ultimate Mercy of God is the Gospel of Christ, the message of God's eternal Love, which is the ultimate balm to be offered to those who suffer in any way. The vow of Mercy will be lived in a very practical combination of prayer and apostolic works which serve the physical, mental and spiritual needs of all God's creatures.
Celtic Christian Spirituality
Members, without regard to ethnicity, are strongly encouraged to immerse themselves in the spirit of Celtic Christianity which touched the early Church with an emphasis on community, relationship, hospitality, charity, pilgrimage for the sake of the Gospel, an intensely sensitive relationship with all creation, and its unique form of monasticism which embraced families. A profound respect for nature should be developed so that we may see God in all creatures.
As a monastic order, contemplative prayer will nourish and bless the Apostolic works done by members. Daily personal and communal (when applicable) prayer, responding to the Holy Spirit's impulse in each of us toward union with God, is a required commitment. Vowed members will be obliged to pray for one another, and time will be set aside for morning, noon, evening and night prayer, the traditional Liturgy of the Hours. The Celtic Office book used by the Northumbrian community (or another traditional Office, or one we create ourselves) will be used to promote meditations and prayer. Eucharist is encouraged daily, if possible, or as frequently as possible.
Spiritual Reading Daily spiritual reading that uplifts the soul and enlightens the mind is strongly suggested as a means of ongoing religious education and enrichment. Spiritual reading easily leads one to prayer and should be used for that reason.
Retreats Yearly retreats for the entire Order are strongly suggested. Periodic personal days of recollection are encouraged as a way of creating a personal desert for the deeper silence and prayer needed.
Education Each member is responsible for his or her own educational costs. Each member must be at least a high school graduate. Further education is strongly encouraged, especially in subjects which will further ministry, as well as in theology and Church history.
Re-Creation Out of respect and gratitude for the gift of life given to us by God, each member is obliged as part of the spiritual life, to submit to God's ongoing creative Love by allowing time and circumstances for recreation. Members are encouraged to engage in recreational time with family, friends and members of the Order. In this manner they will allow the Spirit of God to nourish and rejuvenate them, thus making it easier to live a life of Love.
Novitiate/Formation Novitiate Applications will be reviewed by a formation team which may consist of the local communities, Director of Novices, and the abbot or abbess of the Order. If an aspirant is accepted as a novice s/he will begin formation under the direction of a Director of Novices for the Order and, if entering a local community, a local coordinator. Novices will be familiar with the Rule and Constitution of the Order, and exhibit a solid spiritual life before being admitted to vows. Novices will participate in personal days of retreat, as well as yearly retreats with the Order. Novices will pray the Office and maintain a life of intense prayer, ever seeking discernment regarding vowed life in the Order. Novices will have the guidance and care of a Novice Director who need not replace his or her anamchara. Novices must not remove themselves from the obligations of their normal family life, but draw upon the love shared in it. However, whenever possible, without harm to self or family or necessary commitments of one's state in life, novices should give themselves to contemplation and prayer in preparation for a life of service to the Church. Any novice is free to leave novitiate at any time. A novice who freely chooses to leave novitiate and later requests a return is expected to begin the novitiate period from the beginning so that a productive time of formation can be lived without distraction or confusion.Novices may make vows after the completion of a designated formation period of no less than one year and one day lived without interruption..
Temporary Vows A novice will make temporary vows for one year, to be renewed yearly for a total of no less than three years of temporary vows before being considered for final vows. Temporary vows will be received by the abbot or abbess or by a vowed member designated by the abbot or abbess, and will be witnessed by two vowed members. There may be a third witness of the member's choice as may be required by his or her denominational obligations.After a period of three years in temporary vows, a member, after mutual agreement with the abbess and formation team, may again renew yearly, or profess his or her perpetual vows.
Perpetual Vows Public profession of perpetual vows may be made only after a period of no less than three years in temporary vows. Perpetual vows will be received by the abbot or abbess and may be witnessed by two vowed members, and another person of the member's choice as may be required by his or her denominational obligations. Perpetual vows may be professed within a Eucharist celebrated by a priest of the member's denomination, but will be received by the abbot or abbess of the Order.
Release from Vows If for a serious reason, a vowed member or the community deems it necessary that the member take time apart from the life of the Order such member may request the amount of time, or be given it by the community. A separation such as this will be by mutual agreement of the member and community, with a specific intended purpose and time period. If at the end of such period the member requires more time, he or she may again discuss this with the abbot or abbess and community to seek a mutually agreeable schedule. A vowed member who is convinced of a change in direction in his or her life may, after discernment within the community, request a dispensation from vows. This is a serious decision and it is expected that one's vow of Obedience includes openness and discernment within the community. The abbot or abbess will make the final decision regarding any dispensation, and his or her decision is final. A dispensed member who wishes to return to the Order must discern with the community and the abbot or abbess. If he or she is to return there will be a a period of discernment within the community before renewing his or her vows. This period will be decided by the abbot or abbess according to each unique situation.
Transfers from other Catholic Orders or Religious Communities Religious from other orders or religious communities may apply for entrance in to the Order of the Merciful Christ. A period of novitiate, testing one's call to a committed community will be standard for all who have not completed such a novitiate previously. Vowed religious who transfer from other communities may live a local community if one exists, or participate in the life of the Order for a period of time mutually determined by the coordinator of a local community, or the abbot or abbess of the Order, and the new member. After such a determined time a transferring member, if previously dispensed from former vows within another religious community, may make vows if s/he wishes.
Leadership within the Order Abbot or Abbess Vowed members of the Order will elect, by a two thirds vote, an abbot or abbess for a period of four years. Terms may be repeated as the Order determines. Vowed members who choose to live in common will elect, by a two-thirds vote, a coordinator in each house, whose term shall normally be two years. Terms for coordinators may be repeated as members determine. The role of the elected abbot or abbess is both spiritual and temporal. S/he is responsible for the spiritual leadership of the Order which includes promoting the mission of the Order, and encouraging the spiritual life in each member. S/he will do this by personal example of an exemplary life of prayer and Apostolic works, by personal contact with members, and the practical administration of the Order. S/he must be a prayerful person of integrity and wisdom. S/he will, in the spirit of Celtic monasticism, be available to each member offering the spiritual support and love of an anamchara, or soul-friend. The abbot or abbess may be either ordained or non-ordained, but must be a vowed member of the Order. The abbot or abbess may accept gifts and donations to the Order and use or dispose of them as s/he determines is in the best interest of the Order as a whole, or for the benefit of a local house, individual members, or a ministry. The abbot or abbess may use the funds of the Order to hire legal or financial or administrative assistance as needed, maintain the property of the Order, or to do good works in the name of the Order. The abbot or abbess may appoint a secretary to assist in the clerical administration of the Order. A secretary may not enter into any legal contracts in the name of the Order. The duties of the secretary are limited to clerical assistance. If for any reason the abbot or abbess cannot fulfill his or her role s/he may resign at which time s/he may appoint an interim until such time as the Order can elect a new abbot/abbess. The interim who is appointed may not buy or sell property in the name of the Order. His or her sole purpose would be to continue the spiritual leadership (such as accepting vows and maintaining contact with houses and members), and organizing the prompt election of the next abbot or abbess. If for any reason the elected abbot or abbess will not fulfill his or her role or is found to be guilty of any crime or does serious harm to the Order, vowed members may convene to vote for on a decision as to whether s/he must resign. The Order can with a two thirds majority vote require the abbot or abbess to resign, and then proceed with the election of a new one. After the completion of one's term as abbot or abbess, all books and accounts and property proper to the position must be relinquished and presented to the newly elected abbot or abbess. Failure to do so will be seen as stealing. An elected abbot or abbess may perform his or her duty from home or a local community as s/he prefers. Any expense incurred in order to fulfill the requirements of the position must be paid for by the Order. This includes, but is not limited to travel for liturgical functions, including representing the Order in ecumenical gatherings, conventions or councils. Poverty of spirit as well as the welfare of the Order must dictate such expenses. S/he may not use property and funds belonging to the Order for personal use.
Treasurer The Order may elect a treasurer to serve for the same period as the elected abbot or abbess. Terms may be repeated as discerned. Duties of the Treasurer are to maintain the financial books of the Order, which will be submitted to the abbot/abbess quarterly. The Treasurer may not enter into any legal contracts in the Order's name. Determination of the use of funds is ultimately at the discretion of the abbot or abbess as outline above. An elected Treasurer may resign or be voted out of office if found to be unable to perform his or her duties or is proved to be dishonest.
Local Coordinators Vowed members of local communities will elect a coordinator of each communal household for a two year period, which coordinator may or may not be reelected as the community discerns. Such a coordinator must be spiritually mature as well as a gifted leader who will act as anamchara, but may not determine another's life to the point of that person losing her or his own spiritual responsibility. Spiritual authority, in this sense, is very limited by the subject, as well as the Order. The coordinator may accept gifts and donations to the local community and use or dispose of them as s/he determines is in the best interest of the community as a whole, or for the benefit of individual members, or a ministry supported by the community. The coordinator may use the funds of the community to hire legal or financial or administrative assistance as needed, maintain the property of the community, or to do good works in the name of the community. If for any reason the coordinator cannot fulfill his or her role s/he may resign at which time s/he may appoint an interim until such time as the community can elect a new coordinator. The interim who is appointed may not buy or sell property in the name of the community. His or her sole purpose would be to continue the spiritual leadership (such as accepting vows and other liturgical functions), and organizing the prompt election of the next coordinator. If for any reason the elected coordinator will not fulfill his or her role or is found to be guilty of any crime or does serious harm to the local community or the Order, vowed members may convene to vote for on a decision as to whether s/he must resign. The community can with a two thirds majority vote require the coordinator to resign, and then proceed with the election of a new one. After the completion of one's term as coordinator, all books and accounts and property proper to the position must be relinquished and presented to the newly elected coordinator. Failure to do so will be seen as stealing. Any expense incurred in order to fulfill the requirements of the position must be paid for by the local community. This includes, but is not limited to travel for liturgical functions, including representing the local community in ecumenical gatherings, conventions or councils. Poverty of spirit as well as the welfare of the local community and the Order must dictate such expenses. S/he may not use property and funds belonging to the local community for personal use. S/he may not use community funds for any personal expenses including travel to or from personal retreats or annual retreats held for the Order, unless approved by a two thirds vote of the local community members. The local community may vote to use common funds for common expenses of such travel or education, etc.
Local Self-Government In the spirit of the Celtic Church, autonomy will be highly regarded and each community will be self-sufficient, and responsible for its own concerns, except when it may violate the Order's rule or constitution. A community, along with each new member, will discern together the vocation of each new member. If a member cannot live in community, but does feel called to continue as an anchorite or solitary, then such a move may be discerned with one's anamchara and the Order's abbot or abbess. Each individual member will be responsible for his/her own livelihood. Each local community within the Order will be responsible for its own financial needs as they determine. Members may donate funds to the house as determined by the entire community. No member may relinquish self-determination to the community. Each member is responsible for his or her own livelihood whether living in community or not. The legal status of the Order at this time is that of a non-profit charitable organization. Each person, whether vowed or not, living in common or not, is a free agent. The spiritual vows, especially of Poverty, do not relinquish members from civic duty. This includes, but is not limited to civil taxes, Social Security obligations, personal savings, and health insurance. All debts incurred by members and or their families are their personal responsibility and not that of the Order or local communities. In this manner each person, whether celibate or married with family, is an equal member responsible and mature, with no favored class.
Local groups may incorporate as non-profit charitable corporation in order to purchase as a charitable corporation real estate or furnishings to use for community purposes and always for service to the greater Church. Such purchases will be the possession of the local corporation, not the Order or the abbot or abbess unless specifically and mutually agreed that such possession by the Order would better serve the local needs as well as the needs of the Order. Such property, owned locally, would be designated to the Order, should the local community disband (under the legal requirement for non-profit charitable organizations to assign such property to another similar non-profit organization should the first one disincorporate). If this is a choice it must be done with the assistance of appropriate legal counsel.
Local problems, both administrative or interpersonal, can be resolved at local levels and, if necessary, with the assistance of the Order's abbot or abbess. If such a problem is personal, involving one or more members of the order, then it is appropriate for each to invite another person from his or her own tradition, mutually agreed upon those in conflict and the abbot/abbess, to act as advocate. The goal of Charity is to reach a peaceful solution together, and if it does not seem possible, it will fall to the abbot or abbess to resolve the situation.
Members may transfer between communities within the Order, if mutually agreeable to the new community and the member.
If a member transfers within the Order, the new community will have the right to discuss any questions or reservations they may have, that do not invade either the seal of confession or the confidentiality between a member and one's anamchara, with the previous community. This option is for the protection of the new community against any member who may indeed be a troubled individual who may deliberately or inadvertently do harm to the communal life or individual members of a household. This option is to be used only for serious discernment and only with utmost Charity and respect.
Habit or Religious Garb
As with all questions the answer to whether or not members of the Order should wear a habit must be found in Charity. In each case, what does Charity dictate?
For some religious, particularly if they have worn a habit all their religious lives, it is of importance to them both personally and as a sign of service and availability. For others who have worn it against their own inclinations it served only as a deterrent to ministry, and they will feel relieved not to wear one. For new religious, like the seasoned religious, the choice depends upon the reason and motivation behind wearing a habit or not wearing one.
The position of the Order is that wearing a habit should accomplish the same thing a clerical collar does for a priest, or a uniform for a police officer. It should tell all who see it that the person wearing it is there to be of service to them. It must NEVER be worn as a sign of class distinction or superiority. To do so would be an offense against the God of Love we serve and the Church we have committed to serve.
Members are free to wear a religious habit of a modern nature, or to wear simple street clothing as it suits their own ministry, personal need, or employment norms. It is suggested that such a modified daily habit be of humble durable cloth such as cotton denim skirts/jumpers for women and jeans for men. An optional dress habit for more formal or liturgical occasions will be a simple white monastic robe which would symbolize the purity and light of Christ's embrace and our union with Him.
The nature of any habit used in public is to blend into the culture of the day standing out only in as much as any uniform might call attention to the wearer, for a specific purpose rather than due to anachronistic appearances, therefore, use of the traditional robe should be limited to liturgical rituals.
Upon their death, members may be buried in their robes.
The Order of the Merciful Christ allows Church members the spiritual support they need to live a very dedicated Christian life, focusing on Mercy, and does so by prayer and community love and thus answers some of the human and spiritual needs we all have for belonging to something greater than one's self, while not submitting to an archaic or authoritarian religious structure. As a community which is not too tightly bound by law, but truly bound by Love we will answer the needs of those who may not be called to the larger more established communities whose structures do not allow for the obligations of both married and celibate members. At the same time, our Order is not simply a club or society, but a dedicated intentional monastic Religious Order.
The Order of the Merciful Christ will furnish laborers for the harvest. This Order will not crush or bind the spirits of those who join, but will encourage them to soar with the Holy Spirit.
Obedience to God's Will, manifested through spiritual discernment, will guide each member in this life of Mercy and Love. Each member is responsible to God for his or her life in the Church. Seeking the Will of God is of utmost importance if one is to have inner peace and love of neighbor. Although the relationship of anamchara is strongly encouraged, this relationship must not replace personal responsibility with any form of dependency which would foster immature spirituality. Members ought to seek the Will of God through their loving relationships with family, anamchara, local community, the Order's Rule and spirit, its membership, and the universal Church Tradition and doctrines of Faith. Obedience to a single individual is strongly discouraged.
May God bless the work!