During a recent dinner conversation, a good friend was reflecting on his weekly service commitment to our parish soup kitchen known as the Welcome Table. As he described the layered complex realities of the individuals he had recently encountered, he sighed with exasperation, “There is such an incredible need for compassion!”
As I nodded in agreement, I could not help but think his proximity to our sisters and brothers on the margins makes him aware of this need.
The prophet Micah challenges us, “And what does God require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8) We are called to walk not only with God, but with one another, especially with anyone who suffers injustice or who needs a kind word, a loving touch, a nourishing meal, a warm blanket, a listening ear, a voice of advocacy.
Our journey is not so simple. Compassion requires proximity to another. The Latin root for the word compassion implies “to suffer with” (com meaning with, pati meaning to suffer). Thus, the measure of our compassion lies not merely in our service of those on the margins, but in our willingness to genuinely see ourselves in kinship and, perhaps, even “in love”!
Pope Francis shares a similar concern in his message for World Mission Day (October 24, 2021): “There is urgent need for the mission of compassion … Today too Jesus needs hearts capable of experiencing vocation as a true love story that urges them to go forth to the peripheries of our world as messengers and agents of compassion.”
The love story of compassion places us face-to-face and hand-in-hand with whoever is in front of us. It takes us out of our comfort zones and into each other’s lives and hearts. Compassion inspires awe of what others have to carry as opposed to judgment over how they carry it.
Consider what else might follow in this love story: that as we talk with each other about our lives or as we break bread together, we can influence one another for good. What we learn from each other might break our hearts, or cause us to revel in joy, or lead us to sing a melody of thanksgiving or hope. Something changes within us. We commit to building a culture that goes beyond charity to justice. We take steps toward a world where it is unacceptable to think of anything but respect and fairness, clean air, clean water, living wages, adequate health care, security, and communities of inclusion. We begin to love all our global neighbors, not just the select few, and welcome whatever gifts each one brings to the common table to which all are invited. As abundance is shared and want recedes, as all are welcomed and hunger is satisfied, Jesus sends us on our way, as he did the disciples, with gladness, into a vocation of compassion to continue our work of loving our neighbor, not participating in their destruction.
As we approach World Mission Day, what does a mission of compassion look like for you? Have you considered “Compassion” as one of your names for God? Imagine this God walking with you. How do you respond? What does God say next?
Compassionate God, show us how to accompany without tiring, to care without numbing, to love without ceasing. Enlarge our hearts that we may be your compassion in this world.