The word ‘compassion’ always evokes positive feelings. It comes from the Latin ‘pati cum’, to suffer with. Compassion goes willingly where it hurts and shares the brokenness and fear of the other.
It is a wonderful attitude to have and most of us have it in emergencies. Like for example, when a mother is sick, a child is hurt, a family is under pressure, an old woman is lonely… Or when there is a natural disaster and the Church asks us to help out financially.
But normally our primary frame of reference is not compassion but competition. As one noted politician once stated, pointing to a pencil he had in his hand, “Just as the eraser is only a very small part of this pencil and is used only when you do a mistake, so compassion is only called upon when things get out of hand. The main part of life is competition; only the eraser is compassion. It is sad to say, gentlemen, but in politics (and in life) compassion is just part of the competition!”
Because in life, as John F. Kennedy once said, “We want to be first; not first if, not first but; but first!”
So different from God! Our God is a servant God who washes our feet and heals our wounds. Our God is a God who comes down
All religions point to Christianity. A Sufi (Islamic spirituality) story speaks of a man who happens to wander in the Land of the Fools. He is crossing a field of wheat, when suddenly, he hears screaming and sees the harvesters drop what they were doing and fleeing away like crazy.
“Run for your life”, they shout, “There is a monster in the field.” Yet, the man decides to go and face this monster. Much to his surprise, he discovers that this terrible ‘monster’ is nothing more than a common water melon. “Fools, look here…” the pilgrim starts shouting back at the harvesters, as he proceeds to slice open the water melon and eating it slowly! The fools become even more scared. They drive him away with pitchforks, afraid that he will kill them next!
Time passed. Another pilgrim strayed into the Land of Fools. And the same thing happened to him. But instead of abruptly ‘enlightening’ the people, he senses their fear and decides to do something about it. So he tiptoes away from the ‘monster’ and asks them whether he could hang around. For a long time, he stayed in their homes, eating, sleeping with them. He became one of them and they started trusting them. And then, only then, did he start explaining to them the basic facts about melons… Gradually not only they lost their fear of melons but they even began to cultivate them for themselves. Today, the Land of the Fools is known as the Land of the Water Melon Eaters.
How many times in life we make the same mistake of the first traveler! A dogmatic, rigid approach with people does not lead us anywhere. It only creates the opposite effect – it provokes a stubborn resistance and a more rigorous adherence to a taken standpoint. Facts do not change attitudes. Love does.
We see this so clearly in our Master. “For we do not have a high priest who cannot feel sympathy for our weaknesses. On the contrary we have a high priest who was tempted in every way that we …” says Hebrews. Compassion comes first with Jesus.
We find a truly stunning example of the Master’s tender concern in Mark 3. It is a Sabbath. He is surrounded by enemies ready to press charges against him. And there is a man with a withered, paralyzed hand. He knew what would be the result if he tried to cure this man. He could have waited a couple of days before going ahead and curing him. But no, he cures him there and then, bringing upon himself all the wrath of the Pharisees.
And the amazing thing is that Jesus “felt sorry [even] for the Pharisees because they were so stubborn and wrong’. He did not despise or judge his bitter enemies who were plotting his downfall. No, he felt compassion for them because he understood how much these men were their own worst enemies.
We were in a hospital. “Does He really care?” this petrified widow was crying out to me the moment she saw her eighteen-year-old only daughter give her last breath. It was a tragic situation. She was sobbing convulsively. She was hoping against hope that God will do a last minute ditch to keep the daughter alive. She even started beating me with her fists! “God, oh my God, my daughter… where is His love?!” she kept repeating between her sobs and moaning.
What could I say? Words are so inadequate in these moments. I just hugged her and held her closely to me. She was one of my dearest friends. I kept hugging her and when she had calmed down, I just whispered in her ears. “Yes, Rosalind, He cares….” And I started crying with her. I knew that one day she will understand the wisdom and even the beauty of this death.
God is so compassionate. May His children be like Him!
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.