32nd Sunday Reflection: Compassion That Dares To Hope
Franciscan Reflections From The Hermitage – 32nd Sunday Ordinary Time Year A – Compassion That Dares To Hope – (Matthew 25:1-13)
This Sunday we are given a parable of a wedding banquet, virgin bridesmaids, a bridegroom who is delayed, and a shortage of oil for the lamps at midnight. A story of foolishness, pity, self-pity and entitlement, “give us…”. This entitlement demands complicity… after all, we are family… friends… that is the nature of false compassion, pity, and self-pity. This is a warning of a journey into sightless darkness that can happen to families, communities, and nations.
The foolish virgins were those who were lazy and unmindful. They were foolish because they were not prepared for the future but only for the present. This is the nature of all our addictions seeking to avoid pain and find pleasure. They were foolish because they did not have works of compassion, for the oil symbolises compassion (Epiphanius). St. Bernard wrote in the 12th century, that Christ is our primary teacher of compassion because Christ willed His passion [the cross] so that we could learn compassion.
Yet, all too often compassion’s great popularity tends to isolate this virtue from all those other factors it needs to remain a true virtue. Compassion is rooted in love, and takes on the pain of the sufferer, but with the hope that some positive good will emerge from this shared suffering. We believe that suffering is not meaningless but is redemptive.
For a Christian to share the suffering of another means that, by so doing, they bring a light into the pain and misery of that person’s life. They bless the other person’s existence with a higher meaning. Christian compassion is thus bound up with the mystery of the Cross.
Every virtue has its phoney pretenders. Recklessness… passes for courage … timidity for prudence… apathy for patience … obsequiousness for courtesy … and credulity for faith. But there is no counterfeit that is more successful in obscuring the genuine article, especially in the present era, than false compassion and pity.
Pity is more associated with an aesthetic sensibility and moral superiority than with love and is always devoid of hope. Separated from love, light, generosity, hope, patience, courage, and determination, compassion becomes nothing more than a code word whose real name is expediency. Such expediency is complicit in creating dysfunctional co-dependency and enablement.
Humanistic compassion, another variety of false compassion, is based on the illusion that it is possible to free human beings from suffering altogether and supply them with uninterrupted happiness. This illusion is rampant in the present therapeutic culture, which believes that the road to happiness passes through the surgeon’s knife and pharmaceutical companies… and pleasure. But since humanistic compassion is neither realistic nor rooted in love, it is simply another form of pity.
The problem with pity is not that it is inhumane. It is only too humane. Its problem is that it cannot transcend suffering, finds no meaning in it, and is, in fact, overwhelmed by it. Pity, ultimately, is so humane that it excludes God. Ivan Karamazov, in Dostoevsky’s great novel, could not believe in God as long as one child was in torment. One of Albert Camus’s heroes could not accept the divinity of Christ because of the slaughter of the innocents.
The various modes of popular pity mark our gain in sensibility but at the cost of narrowing our vision to the point where the pain is all that we can see. Christianity and the therapeutic culture are at odds with each other on the fundamental question of how we should respond to another’s pain and suffering.
Christianity does not look away from pain or the anguish of the sufferer, and, unlike the therapeutic and avoidance culture, the Christian brings to his suffering neighbour love, hope, and the light of the Cross and resurrection of Christ.
Because of the resurrection, we can dare to hope that our life does make a difference, we can dare to hope in the face of suffering, and we can dare to hope even when the only answer is silence.
This is a dark hour. This is a dark hour, Mother. In this dark hour, we look to you, and in the light of your countenance, we entrust ourselves and our problems to your maternal Heart, which knows our anxieties and fears. How great was your concern when there was no place for Jesus at the Inn! How great was your fear when you fled in haste to Egypt because Herod sought to kill him! How great was your anguish before you Him the Temple! Yet, Mother, amid those trials, you showed your strength, you acted boldly: you trusted in God and responded to concern with tender care, to fear with love, to anguish with acceptance.
Mother, you did not step back, but at decisive moments you always took initiative: with haste you visited Elizabeth; at the wedding feast of Cana you prompted Jesus’ first miracle; in the Upper Room you kept the disciples united. And when, on Calvary, a sword pierced your Heart, Mother, by your humility and strength you kept alive the hope of Easter through the night of sorrow.
Now, Mother, once more take the initiative for us, in these times rent by conflicts and laid waste by the fire of arms.
Turn your eyes of mercy towards our human family, which has strayed from the path of peace, preferred Cain to Abel and lost the ability to see each other as brothers and sisters dwelling in a common home. Intercede for our world, in such turmoil and great danger.
Teach us to cherish and care for life – each and every human life! – and to repudiate the folly of war, which sows death and eliminates the future.
-Pope Francis’ prayer to Our Lady for peace in the Holy Land
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