Posted on: 21 February 2023
Author:Sister Joan Kerley
In recent days none of us can fail to have been deeply moved by the heart rending photos on our TV screens, phones and computers of the scenes of widespread destruction following the recent earthquake in Syria and Turkey. Whilst we have given thanks to God for rescue workers and the lives of adults, children and babies miraculously saved after many days under the rubble, we have also experienced a real sense of deep compassion seeing the agonised faces of those who search for loved ones and those waiting for news.
The literal meaning of compassion is“ to suffer with” or, as Joyce Rupp quotes one of her Sisters saying in her book God’s Enduring Presence, “Compassion is your pain in my heart.”
We cannot physically be with the people of Syria and Turkey but our common humanity, our Christian love for our brothers and sisters in Jesus, moves our hearts to share their suffering, to pray for them and to do anything we can to help them.
As we begin the liturgical season of Lent compassion is a good word to have at the forefront of our minds. Compassion can change a heart, a life, a relationship, perhaps even society or the world. As we make the connection between the forty days of Lent and the forty days Jesus spent in the desert, we can commit ourselves to share His suffering and to do so more intensely perhaps during His passion. Most of us would probably prefer not to go to our desert places but Jesus was led by the Spirit and, accompanied by that same Spirit, we will find strength for the journey ahead.
Hopefully, as Religious women, we will all give more time to prayer during Lent, more time perhaps to prayerful reading of scripture and other spiritual reading but will this additional time spent “suffering with Christ” move us to show real compassion to those around us. How real will our attempts be to fast from gossip, complaining, anger, selfishness and greed and how will this be reflected in our living out of the vows we have professed? Will we become more willing to leave our ‘comfort zones’ even if that means going to a place I prefer not to go to or to a ministry which will challenge me? Will our living out of the vow of chastity express itself more visibly in having more tolerance, understanding and patience with our community members? Will our vow of poverty be more fully lived by sharing ourselves and our time with those who make demands on us and, when others try to show us kindness or compassion, will we accept or reject them?
Scripture can help us to understand what compassion means. St Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians (4:32) “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other just as in Christ God has forgiven you” and St Peter says (1 Peter 3:8) “Be like minded, sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble” St Matthew ( 14:14) told us that Jesus “had compassion on the crowds and healed their sick.” Jesus himself showed compassion at the grave of Lazarus, sharing the pain of Martha and Mary so deeply that he shed tears with them (Jn 11:33-35)
A secular website about compassion lists ways in which we can show compassion as follows:
- Speak with kindness
- Apologise for mistakes
- Listen carefully without judgement
- Encourage one another
- Help others in any way you can
- Be happy for the success of others
- Accept people for who they are
All these things are surely part and parcel of what it means to follow Christ and part of what it means to live in community. Perhaps this what the late Mother Teresa meant when she said “The fruit of love is service which is compassion in action.” Are we all wiling to be servants of one another in community?
Pope Francis frequently makes reference to the interconnection between the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor and Albert Einstein perhaps meant exactly the same when he said “Our task must be to free ourselves, by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.”
We sometimes hear today expressions like “compassion fatigue” or “compassion burnout” because it can seem that too many demands are made upon our compassion. Surely then we have to remember the words of St Paul in writing to the Galatians (6:9) “Let us not grow weary of doing good for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Or we can reflect on what was said by the 14th Dalai Lama “ Generosity is the most important outward expression of an inner attitude of compassion and loving kindness” and, more especially, the words of Jesus when he said (Mt 7:12) “in everything, do unto others what you would have them do unto you.”
Joyce Rupp has written a beautiful prayer called The Heart of Compassion and I would like to encourage us all to perhaps reflect on this and use the prayer during Lent as a means of being more compassionate both to ourselves and more especially to others.
The Heart of Compassion by Joyce Rupp
your generous presence
is always attuned to hurting ones.
Your listening ear is bent
toward the cries of the wounded.
Your heart of love
fills with tears for the suffering.
Turn my inward eye to see
that I am not alone.
I am part of all life.
Each one’s joy and sorrow
is my joy and sorrow,
and mine is theirs.
May I draw strength
from this inner communion.
May it daily recommit me
to be a compassionate presence
for all who struggle with life’s pain.
(Used with permission from the author and taken from website www.joycerupp.com)
With my love and prayers
Sister Maureen Murphy, FMSJ