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
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
hereby granted for any non-commercial
provided that the content is unaltered
its original state, if this copyright