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  A Christian Faith Magazine April 2005, Volume 10, Issue 9  
Rev. Mark Connolly Compassion of Christ
Rev. Mark Connolly
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Every Catholic from the time he or she was baptized has heard about the passion of Jesus Christ. It is the greatest love story in the world. The passion of Christ includes the agony the scourging, the crowning and the crucifixion. This cross is a reminder that having undergone all that pain, Jesus Christ did it out of love for us. The passion of Christ is still the greatest love story in the world.

If you look at the life of Christ you will find that He cured the lepers, gave sight to the blind, gave hearing to the deaf, gave life to the dead. There is a beautiful author by the name of Max Lucado who talks about the compassion of Christ and he said, "Christ felt the limp of the crippled, the hurt of the diseased, the loneliness of the leper, the embarrassment of the sinner and once he felt their hurt, he could not help but heal those same hurts".

If you study the journey of Christ on the way to Calvary you might remember that he was helped by two people, Simon of Cyrene (Station five) and Veronica (Station six). Both of them saw Christ struggling while He was carrying His cross. With all the compassion in their heart, one reached out to offer Him a towel to wipe the blood off His face and the other reached out to help Him carry the piece of wood that was causing Him to stumble. Those lessons from the life of Christ, those lessons from Veronica and Simon, remind us there are other Christ's right in our own neighborhood who are struggling on their journey back to God and they are in need of a helping hand from each one of us.

Compassion has been defined as love at work in a crisis. Love at work in a crisis. In our world, there are many people you know who have shares in General Electric. There might be other people who have shares in General Motors. But as a Catholic priest I can tell you that while vast majority of people I have met over the years have shares in general trouble. If we are going to be other Christ's, if we are going to be like Veronica helping Christ or Simon of Cyrene helping Christ, we have to reach out to those in want and need. When you break it down, it is very easy to study all the cosmic problems of the world. Think of this, there are eight hundred million people on this earth who earn a salary of less than $400 a year. We know those people are in tile third world countries and the underdeveloped areas of the world. But right in our own back yard there are people who are in need of the Christ like compassion that can only come to you when you reach out to others. As a clinical psychologist for the last five years, we have been working with two hundred young men and women who have attempted suicide. It is ironic to me what we try to do is listen to them. That is one of the forgotten qualities of our generation. We don't want to spend the time listening to others. Those who have attempted suicide will tell you they never had anyone whom they felt would listen or anyone in whom they could confide.

I remember many, many years ago in one mental institution, we paid a dollar an hour to young men and young women who were troubled delinquents and all they did was talk into a tape recorder for about one hour. The vast majority told us after all of these strange sessions were over, that they felt better because they had the opportunity to unburden and to release the thoughts that were impelling them to violence. That is one of the secret powers of listening.

That is a talent that all of us must need in our relationship with our families. You don't listen with your ears. You listen with your heart, you listen with your eyes and your body language radiates interest. That is a form of compassion to those who are in pain. Compassion is a word that has many usages and varieties. Please explain this to me. I cover about many nursing homes and this seems very strange to me. Seven out of ten mothers and fathers in a nursing home never get a visitor from the day they enter until the day they die. We who were raised as Catholics we were taught the commandments and one of the commandments was honor your father and mother. Where is compassion in those families who have abandoned there mother and father? Let me give you another example, for years I went to this home for Jewish people in Riverdale, New York. It not only amazed me, it inspired me. Jewish children and grandchildren were there for birthday, holidays and anniversaries. Yet in our own Catholic nursing homes seven out of ten mothers and fathers never get a visit.

If you read the gospels of Jesus Christ he makes it very clear that in order to be a good Catholic you have to show compassion. Remember the famous passage when He said, "wherever two or three are gathered together there am I in their midst". Remember when He said, "I was hungry you gave me to eat, thirsty you gave me to drink and naked you clothed me". Those were not words that were to die during is time on earth. Those were words that we were intended to live by in the plan of Christ to reach out to those in want and need.

Do you remember the famous story of Father Damian the leper priest? This young priest and the island of Molokai? What he did would go to the shores at the ocean and the French ships would take anyone who had leprosy, throw them over board, he would go out with a little row boat, put them in the boat, bring them to land and treat them as best he could with whatever nursing materials he had. He did this for years. One day while he was shaving on a Sunday morning, he put his hand in a container of scolding hot water. He felt shear numbness. When he took his hands out he saw the hideous white sores of leprosy. He knew what had happened to him. That morning he went out and gave the shortest sermon in the history of the Catholic Church. He held his two hands before his audience and he simply said, we lepers. The congregation of lepers knew that Damian had become one of them.


When we think in our country of all the difficulties that people are experiencing, we have a war that is getting everyone quite nervous, we have an economy that is getting everyone quite nervous, we have a job market that is getting everyone quite nervous and when you stand back you have to recognize that many people in our country are lacking what we call plain peace of mind because of all the tensions in the country, in the church, in the community and in their families. If you go back many years ago you might remember that there was an old story missionaries used to tell when they conducted missions and retreats. The story was simply this, if we had some sophisticated, divine x-ray machine in this Church right now that enabled you to see the cross or the crosses that your neighbors were carrying, you would be contented to stay with the cross that you have at this moment.

There are many people right in your own community and in your own Church who are in need of your Christ-like compassion that is experienced when you reach out to them. Many years ago there was a young doctor that went to Southeast Asia. His name was Dr. Thomas Dooley and he saw the plight of the poor and the abject poverty of thousands. He wrote a poem that went something like this: "listen to the agony of mankind, I who am fed who never went hungry for day, I see the children starved for bread, I see them and I want to pray. Listen to the agony of mankind and know full well that not until I share their bitter pain, their living hell, shall God within my spirit dwell".

All of us know that we will never go personally to help the victims of the Tsunami tidal wave that killed over 200,000 people. All of us know that we will never go like Mother Teresa to some leper colony in Calcutta. God really does not expect each one of us to do that. What he expects each one to do is to have awareness that right in your own back yard, right in your own community, right in our own church there is someone in need of your compassion. As I said, compassion is defined as love at work in a crisis. You have that opportunity to bring the compassion of Christ to those who are right in your own family or neighborhood.

Listen to the agony of mankind
I who am fed, who never yet went hungry for a day,
I see the dead, the children starved for lack of bread.
I see and try to pray.

Listen to the agony of mankind
I who am warm, who never yet have lacked a sheltering home,
In dull alarm, the dispossessed of hut and farm
Aimless and transient roam.

Listen to the agony of mankind
I who am strong, with health and love and laughter in my soul,
I see a throng of stunted children reared in wrong
And wish to make them whole.

Listen to the agony of mankind
And know full well that not until I share their bitter cry,
Their pain and hell, can God within my spirit dwell
And bring America's blessing nigh.

Dr. Thomas Anthony Dooley

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