Tag Archives: compassion

6 October, Little FLowers XCIV: A Cold Night

Francis gets under way again, accompanied by Brother Leo. Once Francis would have walked but his condition, after a rigorous life and the suffering he was now enduring from the stigmata, meant that he had to ride on a donkey, and the donkey’s owner came to look after man and beast.

Jesus had walked through Palestine for three years before he took to riding on a donkey as he came to Jerusalem for the last time. I am sure we are meant to see the parallel with Francis’ last journey to Assisi. He, too, knew that he was riding to his death.

Image from Strasbourg Cathedral.

Saint Francis departed Città di Castello, to go unto Santa Maria degli Angeli with Friar Leo, and with a good man, who lent him his little ass, whereupon Saint Francis rode. 

Now, it came to pass that, by reason of the bad roads and the great cold, they journeyed all day without being able to reach any place where they might lodge; so being constrained by the darkness and by the bad weather, they took shelter beneath the brow of a hollow rock, to avoid the snow and the night which was coming on. And, being in this evil case and also badly clad, the good man, to whom the ass belonged, could not sleep by reason of the cold; wherefore he began to murmur gently within himself and to weep; and almost did he blame Saint Francis, who had brought him into such a place. Then Saint Francis, perceiving this, had compassion upon him, and, in fervour of spirit, stretched out his hand and touched him. 

O marvellous thing! as soon as he had touched him with that hand of his, enkindled and pierced by the fire of the Seraph, all the cold left him; and so much heat entered into him, both within and without, that he seemed to be hard by the mouth of a burning furnace; whence being presently comforted in soul and body he fell asleep; and, according to that which he said, he slept more sweetly that night, among rocks and snow until morning, than he had ever slept in his own bed. 

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8 September: Griefs

Emily Dickinson’s verses prepare us for a short series on Grief and Suicide; World Suicide Prevention Day is on 10th September.

GRIEFS.
 I measure every grief I meet
   With analytic eyes;
I wonder if it weighs like mine,
   Or has an easier size.

 I wonder if they bore it long,
   Or did it just begin?
I could not tell the date of mine,
   It feels so old a pain.

 I wonder if it hurts to live,
   And if they have to try,
And whether, could they choose between,
   They would not rather die.

 I wonder if when years have piled —
   Some thousands — on the cause
Of early hurt, if such a lapse
   Could give them any pause;

 Or would they go on aching still
   Through centuries above,
Enlightened to a larger pain
   By contrast with the love.

 The grieved are many, I am told;
   The reason deeper lies, —
Death is but one and comes but once,
   And only nails the eyes.

 There's grief of want, and grief of cold, —
   A sort they call 'despair;'
There's banishment from native eyes,
   In sight of native air.

 And though I may not guess the kind
   Correctly, yet to me
A piercing comfort it affords
   In passing Calvary,

 To note the fashions of the cross,
   Of those that stand alone,
Still fascinated to presume
   That some are like my own.

Emily Dickinson.

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3 September: Gregory the Great on rulers, and the Good Samaritan

Saint Gregory at the Roman slave market, Saint Thomas’ church, Canterbury, Kent.

Pope Saint Gregory I, who sent Saint Augustine to Canterbury in 597, was concerned to bring Benedictine discipline to the church, so wrote his Pastoral Care to help bishops and leaders. Here he is reflecting on how those in authority should relate to the people who answer to them. Whether we are in authority or under it, we can all relate to what he says. He calls Jesus ‘the Truth’, a name he gives himself in John’s Gospel, (14:6).

There ought to be in rulers towards their subjects both compassion justly considerate, and discipline affectionately severe.

Hence, as the Truth teaches (Luke x. 34), the man is brought by the care of the Samaritan half dead into the inn, and both wine and oil are applied to his wounds; the wine to make them smart, the oil to soothe them. For whosoever superintends the healing of wounds must needs administer in wine the smart of pain, and in oil the softness of loving-kindness, to the end that through wine what is festering may be purged, and through oil what is curable may be soothed.

Gentleness, then, is to be mingled with severity; a sort of compound is to be made of both; so that subjects be neither exasperated by too much asperity, nor relaxed by too great kindness.

From “Pastoral Care” by Pope Gregory I.

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15 April, Good Friday: a Compassionate Presence.

Strasbourg Cathedral

Here is an extract from last year’s Good Friday homily of Archbishop John Wilson of Southwark. Every day is somebody’s Good Friday. Let us pray for the grace to respond if it falls to us to be beside them in an hour of need, like Mother Mary, Mary Magdalene and John, silent beside the Cross.

Dear brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ

A few years ago I read an account of medics working on the border between Cambodia and Thailand in the midst of dreadful warfare. With bombs falling uncomfortably near, two doctors, one older, the other younger, attended to wounded refugees. Their first patient was a young woman. She was barely alive, her body almost severed in two by a mortar fragment. The older doctor made a quick diagnosis: ‘I thought there was nothing to be done, he said, ‘and went to another victim. When he looked back, the other younger doctor had knelt down. He was cradling the woman’s head and caressing her hair. In the older doctor’s words, ‘He was helping her to die. He did it very naturally. There was no public, no cameras, no one looking. The bombing continued, and he did this as if he was all alone in his humanity.’ 

Certain events render us speechless. They may or may not be overly dramatic or especially tragic. But some experiences are literally beyond words. There is nothing that can be said to make any sense. There is no difference to be made by talking. The only possible response to some situations is to be present to them: a compassionate presence, a loving presence, a silent presence.

+ John Wilson, Archbishop of Southwark, Good Friday 2021

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A prayer for Ukraine.

Loving God,
We pray for the people of Ukraine,
for all those suffering or afraid,
that you will be close to them and protect them.

We pray for world leaders,
for compassion, strength and wisdom to guide their choices.

We pray for the world
that in this moment of crisis,
we may reach out in solidarity
to our brothers and sisters in need.

May we walk in your ways
so that peace and justice
become a reality for the people of Ukraine
and for all the world.

Amen.

This Prayer comes from CAFOD. Pope Francis had already designated this month as a time to pray for migrants, of whom there are countless thousands now fleeing Ukraine.

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23 January: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2022, Day VI.

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2022

Original photo of Nablus (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0): Dr. Michael Loadenthal

Day 6 They saw the child with Mary his mother, and they knelt down and paid him homage Matthew 2:11

Readings

Psalm 84 How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!

Mt 28:16-20 When they saw him, they worshipped him.

Reflection

When the Magi from their far-away countries arrived at Bethlehem and saw the child with his mother, they worshipped him. In the presence of this revelation of God among us, eyes were cast down and knees bent. Similarly, when the disciples saw the risen Christ on the mountain in Galilee, they were amazed and troubled. Yet they worshipped him.

Do we see? Are we amazed? Are we truly worshipping? How many times do we remain blind to God’s presence? How can we worship in truth if we do not really see first? In our narrow vision, too often we see only our tangled disagreements, forgetting that God’s saving grace is to all, and that we share in the one Spirit who draws us into unity. Often in our pride we follow human laws and traditions, disregarding the love we are called to share as one people justified by Christ’s blood.

As communities enlivened by the Holy Spirit, we are called to walk together towards the Christ-Child, offering homage as one people. The Spirit of compassion guides us to each other and only by following this guide will we be able to “worship in spirit and truth”.

Prayer

Compassionate God, 
in your mercy, remove the scales from our eyes
and lead us to repent and to worship you.
In the midst of our sorrow and despite the depth of our sin,
give us the capacity to love you with all our hearts.
As we journey together with one heart and mind,
may we glorify you in the Spirit’s fellowship,
and witness to those around us.Amen.
Hymn Verse
Finish, then, Thy new creation;
Pure and spotless let us be;
Let us see Thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in Thee;
Changed from glory into glory,
Till in Heav'n we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before Thee,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise.
                          Charles Wesley, 1747

Questions

Global: What are you doing as part of your own pattern of worship to pray for the worldwide church?

Local: Within your worship as a local Christian community what are the barriers you face to greater unity and how might they be overcome?

Personal: Can you remember a time when you were able to worship “in spirit and in truth”? What was it like?

Go and Do

(see www.ctbi.org.uk/goanddo)

Global: Use the ecumenical prayer cycle to pray with communities across the global Church – https://www.oikoumene.org/resources/prayer-cycle

Local: Partner with churches in your area to participate in a biblical dialogue to learn with a church community across the world. Visit Just Scripture to find out more – https://www.christianaid.org.uk/pray/join-in/just-scripture

Personal: Find and join an online service from a church of a different tradition. Join in this act of worship and reflect on what riches God has shown you through this different experience of worship together.

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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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