Sister Patricia Lange

Pope Francis has said that this Extraordinary Jubilee Year is “dedicated to living out in our daily lives the mercy which the Father constantly extends to all of us.” As we near the end of this Jubilee Year, we will periodically share reflections from School Sisters of Notre Dame on Pope Francis’ message, how they rediscovered the works of mercy and how they practice these works of mercy, working them into their everyday lives.

Impressed by the lines about mercy in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, Sister Patricia Lange reflects that mercy is ageless.

Shakespeare and mercy

What’s in a name? If I hear the name “Shakespeare,” it stirs up memories of what I lovingly called “enforced and required reading.” As students at Rosati-Kain High School in St. Louis, Missouri, we were required to read Shakespeare’s play, The Merchant of Venice. Just the thought of that title brings back memories of the characters Portia, Shylock, Antonio, Lorenzo and Nerissa, as well as its mystery and intrigue.

When I first began to read the play, which, by the way, was very difficult, these questions occurred to me like they would for any other high school student, “Why in the world are we reading a play written in Olde English from 1598? Who talks like this?”

Regardless of my irritation, I did read the play. Shamefully, I must admit I was not impressed or filled with awe and wonder when the reading was completed. After all, what high school student is going to get lost in the Merchant of Venice?

Here I am now, decades later writing about Shakespeare and mercy. They say time is an agent of change, and age and experience bring wisdom. Yes, now I look at that same play with new eyes and have made note of the brilliance of his writing, his ability to dig deep into the heart of his characters. He was a genius, using words and paper to paint the deepest emotions of the human heart and soul.

A favorite quote from the Merchant of Venice is spoken by Portia to Shylock. It is such a beautiful quote and is one of the many themes running through the play – and one of those themes is mercy.

The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath.
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly powers doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice.”

– Sister Patricia Lange, SSND