“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning.”
Sorrow is a powerful emotion that sometimes invites breaths of pain into every sigh of one’s life. It seeps into the recess’ of ones heart and animates the thorns of despair. It invites hopelessness into one’s soul and dims the path of life ever so discreetly. This is why God in his Merciful plan placed in each of our hearts the capacity to exercise compassion. But naturally compassion does not exist outside of communion. It is not a singular act, it requires a giver and a receiver. Just as the Father Loves the Son through the Holy Spirit, we in our very being were created to imitate that same love. But who can we love if we live in isolation? Who can we suffer with if we do not have a companion. We need one another.
Have you ever had an intimate conversation with a dear friend or family member which ended in tears. Somewhere along the way your heart was suddenly filled with compassion because of some hardship they shared? It was probably your openness of heart that made you sensible to their vulnerable state and allowed you to unite with them in a virtuous way, you opened yourself to feel for them and enter into their pain. To have compassion in times like these is to encountered Christ crucified in humanity and to embrace him in his agony. Small in action, this communion of hearts is a powerful means of love; it is engraved in the deepest recess’ of our heart.
Compassion is what a daughter has when she takes her mother under her roof and cares for her until her dying days. Different from sympathy she not only feels her mother’s pain, but she embraces it and makes it her own, she “suffers with” her mother. Compassion is what Sister Norma shows to hundreds of immigrant families who cross over to the United States in search of a fuller life. Different from empathy she does not exhaust her charity because it is an act of grace, and is divinely assisted. Compassion is a selfless embrace of another’s sorrow, a loving inclination of the heart, an act of charity.
Every day at work I encounter countless people who enter our doors in agony or in pain, they come because they know that we can meet their needs. It is a health care center that nurses the weak back to health. They are given access to all the right remedies and are punctually visited by physical therapists and occasionally doctors. But I’ve noticed that what brings them the most joy is when a nurse stops in her tracks to simply gaze lovingly into their eyes and say, “how are you today? Is there anything I can do for you?” This simple yet meaningful gesture tells the patient that someone else recognizes their pain and wants to help relieve them from it. And throughout their recovery the expressions on their faces go from sorrow, to longing, to a hint of hope with a touch of joy. One unique aspect of our unity as human beings is the longing we all have for living a happy life. It is not a singular pursuit but a universal and communal one. It is what unites each and every one of us. And when we encounter someone who is unable to obtain this good, or is being held captive due to physical, emotional, psychological, or social struggles we sympathize with them. Why? because we recognize and acknowledge their void. As we grow in virtue, so too, we grow in our capacity to enter into the suffering of others for the sake of aiding their joy in love. Our sympathy then evolves into compassion. The beat of our heart is sweetly purified when it reposes on a virtuous impulse. Humble resignation in love gives the heart a pure disposition and in this selfless state many wonders are realized in the midst of pain and sorrow. Just as Christ took on our suffering for the sake of our redemption, we too have the opportunity to take on the sufferings of others in a redemptive way. But, while we occupy ourselves in finding the true meaning of happiness, at times we forget that it cannot be found outside of others, outside of Christ’s Heart.
Outside of this context, compassion becomes simply a word, an expression of social justice. It is a word that can be easily misused or abused. When we try to apply it to issues such as euthanasia or abortion it becomes an ironic expression of the heart. In no way can a word that means “to suffer with another” be applied to an act that diminishes life in its existence. If there is no life to care for, to love, to give of self too, there is no compassion to be had. Compassion is rooted in love and love is rooted in the heart and the heart is what gives man his essence. In the heart we find emotions, feelings, spirituality, all of which help animate mans actions. But these things, although rooted in the heart, cannot in themselves sustain a compassionate embrace because they are subject to change. But unite them harmoniously under the fold of a pure heart and you find a selfless gift of love. Suddenly, you see Christ in every encounter and receive him in love.
Perfection of Charity is just that, finding Christ in every encounter. And in an unemphatic way we share in the life of Christ by embracing our neighbor compassionately in their sufferings, and as Christ did with all of humanity, we do it in union with him on the cross.