6th Sunday Reflection
Jesus, moved inwardly with compassion… This is the beginning of healing for this man suffering from the contagion of leprosy.
“At first glance, there seems to be nothing new about valuing compassion. It’s an idea that has been around for thousands of years in both the religious and secular worlds. But perhaps it is the universality of compassion that has lulled us into underestimating its importance. Compassion is a treasure hidden in plain sight, which we often don’t notice. Of course, everyone says compassion is important. But when serious illness strikes, compassion is often regarded as less important than physical interventions such as drugs and surgical procedures. However, evidence suggests that compassion and empathy are correlated with positive health outcomes. We are learning that they should not be regarded as optional in medical care, but as fundamental factors that promote recovery from any illness.” Larry Dossey, M.D.
All around us, in our families, in our communities, in our church, in our country, and around the world, people are suffering from a new contagion. How are we to bring compassion and healing to so many when fear has robbed us of energy and empathy leaves us feeling drained?
The science of our age now corroborates the spiritual practices of millennia. Compassion is not a ‘nice to have’ alternative to medical interventions, compassion is critical to healing and to life. Compassionate, empathic healing intentions exert measurable physical effects on a recipient, even when the recipient is unaware of our intentions.
In today’s gospel reading we see how trust becomes the springboard for that power of compassion that heals. This is no magic trick, it is Jesus’ signpost to us to guide our intentions, our prayers, and our actions.
Through these we ignite within us that power to walk with those who have lost their ‘personhood’, becoming a patient, a victim, or even a statistic. This is the way that moves us beyond this stage of forgetfulness into that inner wisdom of authenticity. With those who are dying, we also must ask the question, “I have only so much time to live, how do I invest it in what really matters?”
Saint Francis had a fear and abhorrence of lepers. One day, however, he met a man afflicted with leprosy while riding his horse near Assisi. Though the sight of the leper filled him with horror and disgust, Francis got off his horse and kissed the leper. Then the leper put out his hand, hoping to receive something. Out of compassion, Francis gave money to the leper.
But when Francis mounted his horse again and looked all around, he could not see the leper anywhere. It dawned on him that it was Jesus whom he had just kissed.
In his Testament, St Francis wrote, “When I was in sin, the sight of lepers nauseated me beyond measure; but then God himself led me into their company, and I had pity on them. When I became acquainted with them, what had previously nauseated me became the source of spiritual and physical consolation for me.”
Francis and other friars continued to minister to the lepers, feeding them, while also caring for and kissing their wounds. This became an ongoing ministry for Francis and the friars.
There are many ways today that we can assist those whom society rejects, those with mental illness or those who just don’t fit in because of lifestyle, orientation, or religion. In the spirit of Saint Francis of Assisi, we can kiss and wash their wounds. We can offer them comfort and compassion.
When we touch that bedrock of the inner wisdom of authenticity, love replaces fear, our strength is restored, our intentions purified, and thereby our prayers and our actions become aligned to God’s will for the good of his people.