Tag Archives: compassion

13 November: Grief must be digested: I


While grief is fresh, every attempt to divert only irritates. You must wait till grief be digested, and then amusement will dissipate the remains of it.

From Life of Johnson, Volume 3 1776-1780″ by James Boswell.

It can be difficult to get alongside someone grieving. We want to take the pain away, but our attempts at comfort are rejected, quite possibly irritably. Johnson lost his wife young and never remarried; she had been the love of his life. Although he was a thoughtful, believing Christian, he was acutely aware of his own sinfulness, and had to make an effort to accept that God’s forgiveness was indeed extended to himself. He was melancholic and understood all too well how well-meant kind words can sound like hollow platitudes.

Waiting till grief is digested does not mean shunning a bereaved relative or friend, but something like a waiter in a restaurant: attentive waiting, not fussing. A hard role sometimes.

WT

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1 October, Season of Creation XXXII, Laudato si XVI: Our hearts lack tenderness.

Remembrance Day, Folkestone, 2018. Each raked rectangle of sand represents a soldier killed in the Great War.

Pope Francis is summing up his survey of the needs of the world and its people; in the final analysis it is false to oppose them, nature against humankind. Nature sustains us, we have responsibilities towards nature. If we fulfil those responsibilities, we will make this world better for humans too. But are our hearts hard or tender?

90. Certainly, we should be concerned lest other living beings be treated irresponsibly. But we should be particularly indignant at the enormous inequalities in our midst, whereby we continue to tolerate some considering themselves more worthy than others. We fail to see that some are mired in desperate and degrading poverty, with no way out, while others have not the faintest idea of what to do with their possessions, vainly showing off their supposed superiority and leaving behind them so much waste which, if it were the case everywhere, would destroy the planet. In practice, we continue to tolerate that some consider themselves more human than others, as if they had been born with greater rights.

91. A sense of deep communion with the rest of nature cannot be real if our hearts lack tenderness, compassion and concern for our fellow human beings. It is clearly inconsistent to combat trafficking in endangered species while remaining completely indifferent to human trafficking, unconcerned about the poor, or undertaking to destroy another human being deemed unwanted. This compromises the very meaning of our struggle for the sake of the environment. It is no coincidence that, in the canticle in which Saint Francis praises God for his creatures, he goes on to say: “Praised be you my Lord, through those who give pardon for your love”. Everything is connected. Concern for the environment thus needs to be joined to a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society.

92. Moreover, when our hearts are authentically open to universal communion, this sense of fraternity excludes nothing and no one. It follows that our indifference or cruelty towards fellow creatures of this world sooner or later affects the treatment we mete out to other human beings. We have only one heart, and the same wretchedness which leads us to mistreat an animal will not be long in showing itself in our relationships with other people. Every act of cruelty towards any creature is “contrary to human dignity”. We can hardly consider ourselves to be fully loving if we disregard any aspect of reality: “Peace, justice and the preservation of creation are three absolutely interconnected themes, which cannot be separated and treated individually without once again falling into reductionism”. Everything is related, and we human beings are united as brothers and sisters on a wonderful pilgrimage, woven together by the love God has for each of his creatures and which also unites us in fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river and mother earth.

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11 March: Going Viral: Friendship and a shared table

A multinational shared meal at the former Franciscan International Study Centre, Canterbury. CD.

This letter from Dean Adrian of Lichfield Cathedral is about friendship and suggests what we may be missing, almost without realising it, and how Jesus made friends with all sorts of people, with ‘sinners’.

The Gospels are full of instances where Jesus is “moved with compassion”.  No translation in English quite conveys the force of the original: a deep and visceral movement from the bowels, the entrails, the depth of the heart where the strongest emotions originate.  For Jesus this feeling of compassion often extended itself into acts of healing and the restoration of the inherent dignity of people on the margins, often in things as simple and straightforward as a conversation or sharing a meal.

Albert Nolan OP in his splendid book “Jesus before Christianity” says: “It would be impossible to overestimate the impact these meals must have had upon the poor and the sinners.  By accepting them as friends and equals Jesus had taken away their shame, humiliation, and guilt.  By showing them that they mattered to him as people he gave them a sense of dignity … The physical contact which he must have had with them when reclining at table … must have made them feel clean and acceptable”.

The point Nolan drives home is that Jesus isn’t a friendly social worker or dispenser of charity “doing good to someone” but is rather participating in a person’s experience. He stands in solidarity and makes community with people in their woundedness; he is deeply affected by the pain of others, and he can do nothing other than to alleviate pain and suffering.  This was received as healing and salvation with relief, joy, gratitude, and love.

Thank you, Dean Adrian.

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26 November: Taken by Surprise, II.

Yesterday we were looking at the feeding of the five thousand. If you weren’t here, perhaps it would be a good idea if you scrolled back to it. I would like to take a different tack now, and look at the miracle from the angle of its healing effect on Jesus’ disciples. I had been unable to get them out of my head yesterday in my lectio of this passage. Neither had Jesus, it would seem.

As we saw in yesterday’s post, the disciples had been left in a state of miserable suspension the whole day. News of John the Baptist’s execution had made them deeply sad, and it also would have made them feel the bite of fear. Would this kind of thing happen to Jesus? To them? The needy crowd had seemingly absorbed all of Jesus’ attention and energy, just when the disciples needed him most. Or so it might have seemed to the Twelve.

But Jesus does eventually give the disciples the reassurance they need. He does not forget them. He includes them most wonderfully in this miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. How? First, Jesus takes the disciples’ insufficiency (five loaves, two fish, and no joy) and turns it into a joyful feast of such lavish proportions that the leftovers alone could have fed a small village. And this stupendous feat is performed right under the disciples’ noses: they have front-row seats, and are able to see this miracle, and behold its wonder close-up. What could be more healing?

Then, in obedience to Jesus, they distribute the food. They’re the ones who receive everybody’s thanks, therefore, and they were probably given the credit for the meal being delicious and plentiful. What must this have been like for the disciples? Their wonder as the food kept coming: enough, and more than enough for five thousand, not even counting women and children? Did they begin to weep as they kept reaching into the basket of bread that never emptied? Did they laugh? Become giddy? Exchange stunned glances with each other across the crowds, as it gradually dawned on the Twelve that they were in the middle of a mind-boggling miracle? In any case, they were taken by surprise, once again, by Jesus, and in the process, healed of their grief as their joy in the miracle builds; they are strengthened physically and emotionally, and released from their fear by witnessing this manifestation of Jesus’ prodigious compassion and power. I imagine that they were never the same after this miracle.

And now I’m able to look at the question of what this says to me about the Lord’s work in my life. As my thoughts have moved more fully into the events recounted here by Matthew, I’ve become aware of the fact that Jesus heals his disciples ‘obliquely,’ in this instance. They don’t actually sit down with Jesus in a quiet and lonely place as they had all planned, and talk and cry and do whatever else they wanted to do to express their grief over John the Baptist’s death. Jesus had wanted this for them; there is nothing wrong with it. But circumstances took their course, and did not allow it. Jesus will not forget them, though: he remains concerned about them, and ultimately reaches their grief in a surprising way, by involving them in his miraculous work of feeding people.

When I think of this in relation to my life-experience, this story speaks of the healing power of the Eucharist in my life. Life does not always provide an opportunity for emotional healing that addresses my wounds in the way I had planned – if I even had any plans. But just as Jesus did not forget his disciples that day, Jesus does not forget me. He is present in the Eucharistic meal, and through it, has dealt compassionately with the wounds and the grief I have carried at different stages in my life. Through the Eucharist, and through my full experience of being part of the community of the Church formed by the Eucharist, Jesus has been transforming my insufficiency into something capable of providing a joyful meal. This is ongoing, but it is a joy that can still take me by surprise, because it usually comes from a direction I do not expect. But the joy is real, and will deepen as I acknowledge it and allow the deep wonder of it to well up like a spring in my heart.

SJC

Broadstairs Baptist Church, near Minster.

Thank you again, and always, Sister Johanna!

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15 October: Christ has no body but yours.

Thank you to Revd Jo Richards for reminding us of this prayer of St Teresa of Avila, whose feast is today.

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours, 
Yours are the eyes with which He looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which He blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are His body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

Image from Wikipedia, public domain, believed to be a copy from a live portrait.

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12 June: No heart In God.

IN SLEEP

We step aside from our Scriptural exploration of the Sacred Heart to listen to a poet, Alice Meynell, from her 1917 collection, ‘A Father of Women’. There was much to be wrathful about, much to shed a tear for. To continue to fight for justice, all the while believing there is nothing, springs from a special courage acknowledged here by Alice Meynell, friend of the rough sleeping drug addict and insightful poet, Francis Thompson. Thirty years on and the Welfare State was coming to existence in the United Kingdom.

I dreamt (no “dream” awake—a dream indeed)
A wrathful man was talking in the park:
“Where are the Higher Powers, who know our need
         And leave us in the dark?

“There are no Higher Powers; there is no heart
In God, no love”—his oratory here,
Taking the paupers’ and the cripples’ part,
         Was broken by a tear.

And then it seemed that One who did create
Compassion, who alone invented pity,
Walked, as though called, in at that north-east gate,
         Out from the muttering city;

Threaded the little crowd, trod the brown grass,
Bent o’er the speaker close, saw the tear rise,
And saw Himself, as one looks in a glass,
         In those impassioned eyes.

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14 May: Prisoner’s hope.

From the London Irish Chaplaincy Easter 2020 Newsletter.

The Travelling Forward Resettlement Project was launched in April 2019, to support Travellers in 5 selected London prisons to get out of and stay out of prison. This message is from a man who, just before Christmas, came out of HMP Brixton (where he had been supported by our team throughout his long sentence). He is now being helped in the community by the Resettlement Project.


Good morning Fiona, I can’t afford to buy you all some flowers at the moment, to say thank you. So I got you these for now! they don’t smell too great! Lol but I was told it’s the thought that counts lol it’s to say how grateful I am to you all for all you have done for me. You have all been so
supportive to me. All your time, help and support means the world to me in these tuff times! It’s why I keep going at times knowing that you’re there in my corner with me, Helping and supporting me to fix my broken life. I feel so blessed to have you in my life. when you used to come and see me behind my prison door it kept me going for another day and brought the light into a dark place. You have all given me the gift of HOPE when I had none. I will forever be grateful to you all for that.

THANK YOU ALL SO MUCH Fiona, Breda, Ellena and Father
Gerry.

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10 April, Good Friday. Desert XL: Love and woe interwound.

poperinge.1

No crown! the woe instead

Is heavy on his head,

Pressing inward on his brain

With a hot and clinging pain

Till all tears are prest away,

And clear and calm his vision may

Peruse the black abyss.

No rod, no sceptre is

Holden in his fingers pale;

They close instead upon the nail,

Concealing the sharp dole,

Never stirring to put by

The fair hair peaked with blood,

Drooping forward from the rood

Helplessly, heavily

On the cheek that waxeth colder,

Whiter ever, and the shoulder

Where the government was laid.

His glory made the heavens afraid;

Will he not unearth this cross from its hole?

His pity makes his piteous state;

Will he be uncompassionate

Alone to his proper soul?

Yea, will he not lift up

His lips from the bitter cup,

His brows from the dreary weight,

His hand from the clenching cross,

Crying, “My Father, give to me

Again the joy I had with thee

Or ere this earth was made for loss?”

No stir, no sound.

The love and woe being interwound

He cleaveth to the woe;

And putteth forth heaven’s strength below,

To bear.

And that creates his anguish now,

Which made his glory there.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

This is the introduction to the first volume of EBB’s Poetical Works. It sees Christ as a second Adam, atoning for the sins of the first Adam and Eve, ‘fallen humanity, as it went forth from Paradise into the wilderness’. And here is Christ in the wilderness, the desert, of the Cross.

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25 November, Little Flowers of Saint Francis LVIII: Brother Simon 1, the distressed novice.

gatehedge1 (565x800)

ABOUT the beginning of the Order of Saint Francis and while he was still alive, there came into the Order a young man of Assisi, the which was called Brother Simon: him God adorned and endowed with so much grace, such depth of contemplation and elevation of mind, that all his life was a mirror of virtue.

Brother Simon, when he set him down at table, before he took food for the body, would take for himself and for others spiritual food, speaking of God. Through his devout discourse on a time was converted a young man of San Severino, the which in the world was a youth exceeding vain and worldly, and was of noble blood and much delicate of body; and Brother Simon receiving the said youth into the Order, put his secular clothes aside in his own charge; and the youth abode with Brother Simon to be taught by him the rules of the Order. But the devil, that striveth to thwart all good, assailed him with so fierce a temptation and so grievous a thorn in the flesh, that in no wise could he resist the same; for the which cause he went to Brother Simon, and said unto him: “Give me back my clothes that I brought with me from the world, for I can no more endure this temptation of the flesh.” And Brother Simon having great compassion on him, said: “Sit here with me a little while, my son”; and he began to speak with him of God in such sort that all temptation left him: and when after a time the temptation came back and he asked for his clothes again, Brother Simon drove it away with speech of God. And when this had been so full many a time, at last one night the said temptation assailed him so grievously, even more than it was wont, that for naught in the world could he resist it, and going to Brother Simon, demanded of him again all his secular clothes, for that in no wise could he longer stay. Then Brother Simon, even as he was wont to do, made him sit down beside him; and as he spake to him of God, the youth leaned his head upon the breast of Brother Simon, for sorrow and distress of soul. Then Brother Simon for the great pity’s sake that he had, lifted up his eyes to heaven and prayed, and as he devoutly besought the Lord for him, he was rapt in God and his prayer was heard: whenas he returned to himself again, the young man found himself altogether freed from that temptation, as though he had felt it never a whit.

The fire of temptation being thuswise changed into the fire of the Holy Spirit, for that he had
drawn near unto the burning coal, to wit, unto Brother Simon, he became altogether inflamed with the love of God and of his neighbour; in so much that on a time a malefactor having been taken who was to have both his eyes put out, he, to wit, the youth aforesaid, for pity’ a sake went boldly unto the governor, and in open council, and with many tears and humble prayers besought that one of his eyes might be put out and one only of the malefactor’s, for that he might not be deprived of both. But the governor and the council beholding the great fervour of the charity of this brother, forgave both the one and the other.

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May 2: Laudato Si! A lost world of compassionate agriculture

flight.egypt.amsterdam

I found this passage when I was researching a plantation-owning family in Trinidad. The author is Gerard Besson, a cultural researcher from the island. Here is describing how the agricultural sector of the economy has changed since the Second World War, although the changes had been cumulative since the Abolition of Slavery in 1833. The whole article  is interesting reading and appropriate the day following the feast of Joseph the Worker, here leading his family to Egypt.

An important factor that has impacted on identity was the end of the agricultural sector. (Besson means a diverse agriculture which has largely given way to big sugar plantations.)

People see the agricultural sector from the perspective of today. And they only see Indian people – the world of the cane farmer. In truth, the agricultural sector in the past was enormous. It included a lot of black and French Creole and mixed people. It existed for some 200 years. But the ending of the agricultural sector was one of the things that undermined notions of identity which were built through the 19thcentury and into the first half of the 20th century.

One of the effects of the loss of the agricultural sector is a more  compassionless  society. Because when you have hundreds of thousands of people, whether they are Indian people, white people, mixed people or African people, who are devoted to the bringing up of livestock, who are devoted to gardening, market gardening, vegetable planting, to cocoa and coffee and so on, you have people who have a lot of love for their animals and for their plants. You have to love your donkey!

So when you move hundreds of thousands of people out of that world of compassion, you create an increasingly compassionless society.

Let us pray that we may love our world, and become people who have a lot of love for the animals and for the plants that share our gardens and neighbourhoods. Lord, Fill us with compassion for a bruised world; help us to see where we can make a difference, and to do just that. For your love’s sake, Amen.

Laudato Si!

A well-loved little donkey from Amsterdam. MMB

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