Lenten Refelections 5: Compassion as integrative love-force
By Hedwig Lewis SJ
Compassion transports us from the dynamics of sympathy-empathy-altruism to an extraordinary level of caring for others. Its true nature is spiritual. To be compassionate is to acknowledge the presence of God among us. “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (1 John 4.12).
Compassion is the purest form of love. Genuine love essentially expresses itself in action. Compassion is that unconditional giving of oneself in love. Since all pain and suffering are created by repression or absence of love, compassion counterbalances the damages through its healing powers. Love-deficiencies debilitate us, leaving us fragmented by anger, greed, envy, and so on. Compassion de-fragments us, and by transforming our scattered energy fields, integrates our being, and directs all our energy toward unconditional love
For Jesus, “God is Compassion”. His challenge to his followers is: “Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate”. “The compassion of God and not holiness is the principle or ‘ethos’ which has to inspire human action. Jesus does not deny the holiness of God, but what qualifies that holiness is not the separation of the impure, the rejection of what is not holy. God is holy and great not because he excludes the pagans, sinners, or the impure but because he loves without excluding anyone from his compassion. For this reason compassion is not one more virtue for Jesus but the only way to be like God, the only way to see the world, to feel for people, and to react to human beings the way God would.” (J.A. Pagola SJ)
Jesus was Compassion personified. He translated and transferred the love of the All-Merciful Father to humankind. His compassion was magnetic. It attracted people to him, especially those seeking release from pain and guilt. His compassion was salvific, redemptive, and therapeutic. It addressed both the “spiritual roots” and “social consequences” of the problems he encountered. He brought hope to those who had abandoned hope. He declared forgiveness to those tormented by guilt. He restored the health of the sick. He gave food to the hungry.
Jesus’ single-minded formula for the exercise of compassion was. “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lk 10:27), without caveats or conditions. Since our “neighbor” is every other human being on this planet, near and far, compassion is intrinsically all-inclusive and universal. He instructed us to “love our enemies” – for they are our “neighbors” too.
Jesus compassionately embraced everyone as children of God; he visited the rich (even the Phar9sees) and dined with them. He had a certain proclivity and predilection for the “least” members of society. He was a “friend of sinners” and reached out with tenderness to those who were socially ostracized or were accused of moral failure. He respected the dignity and freedom of people:
An effective way of developing a compassionate mind, heart and soul is to repeatedly remind ourselves that all human beings are members of a global family – the ‘others’ are our brothers and sisters. We are all connected and related to each other. All of us have a variety of common needs, drives, desires, doubts and struggles.
An important facet of compassion is of loving your neighbor “as yourself”. Authentic compassion overflows from one’s own experience of being compassionate to oneself. Self-compassion entails our being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, or fail, or feel inadequate. We do not ignore our pain or flagellate ourselves with self-criticism.
Self-compassion effectively means being non-judgmental of ourselves. Judgment contradicts compassion. To sit in judgment over ourselves is to affirm that we are bad or wrong because have adopted certain feelings or behaviors. In exercising compassion for ourselves we acknowledge that we have good reasons for those feelings and behavior, and it is within our right and power to respond to them proactively.
In similar fashion, we can view others with compassion: We can remind ourselves every time we become aware of entering the judgmental mode: “Like me, this person desires happiness. Like me, this person wants to be free from suffering. Like me, this person has experienced grief, loneliness, and sorrow. Like me, this person is trying to get what he or she needs in life. Like me, this person is evolving.”
A judgmental outlook shrivels the inner being, leaving no room for life. Compassion offers a safe space, free from judgment, condemnation, ridicule, hatred, a space of simple acceptance. Love is extended to others, just as they are, right at the moment. No conditions, no demands that they change in certain ways, or stop behaving as they do.
Psychological research had documented the healthy impact of compassion on our body, mind and soul, as well as in our relationships. When we develop a compassionate approach to those closest us, there will be amazing results. People will feel more comfortable around us; drop their masks and be themselves; they reveal parts of themselves they have never before dared to open up.
When our soul is “moved by compassion” like Jesus, we connect with our Divine nature. Compassion becomes an increasingly powerful integrative love-force.
(Fr Hedwig Lewis, a Jesuit priest, is a former college professor and principal. He is an author of international repute, with over 40 psycho-spiritual and professional books to his credit, including the bestsellers At Home With God and Body Language: A Guide for Professionals. His books have fetched good reviews in many Church newspapers and periodicals. He resides in Ahmedabad, India. His website: http://joygift.tripod.com and email: firstname.lastname@example.org)