By Marlon Bobier Vargas SVD
One afternoon while I was running alone on the Chicago’s lakeshore, I encountered three teenagers. They looked at me and shouted something. When I removed my earphones to understand what they were saying, I realized that they were cursing me.
One guy gestured obscenely, approached me and hit the back of my head. I thought of fighting back, but I followed my instinct to run away. No one else was nearby and I thought that they might be carrying a weapon. When I was far away from them and felt safe, I called 911.
After a few minutes, I saw a police car moving towards the teenagers. While I did not have a serious injury, I was worried that the teenagers might do harm to others along the lakeshore.
That evening I had difficulty sleeping. My memory of the incident bothered me. I was filled me with mixed emotions: fear, anger, vengeance, distress. Why did the teenagers harass me? What motivated them to harm strangers?
Such an experience can take away our capacity to be compassionate. When others harm us, it’s a challenge to be merciful toward them. I did not take the chance to know personally those teenagers who harassed me, but they may have been raised in their family with a lack of values. They might have grown up without parents or guardians who could teach them to show respect and kindness to neighbors. Perhaps, they were upset with the kind of life they had due to financial, emotional or psychological family conditions.
As Christians, our response should be one of compassion for all who are suffering. We are called acknowledge their agony and pain. It requires us to be courageous for those who are afraid, strong for those who are weak, generous for those who are deprived, prudent for those who are confused and hopeful for those who are despair.
Compassion is an intrinsic aspect of human nature. The word compassion is derived from the Latin words pati and cum which mean “to suffer with.”
Compassion is not sentimentality when we see an act of kindness in online viral video. Clicking “likes” and emoji reactions. Posting comments on social media cannot genuinely and whole-heartedly express compassion. We must live out compassion through direct human connections, not virtual connections.
Our society needs compassion that calls for justice and forgiveness. All three are necessary in the process of bringing about reconciliation. Domestic violence, gun violence, mental illness, racism and poverty cause wounds of division that call for healing and reconciliation. If we strive for compassion with strong conviction informed by our Christian faith, it can lead us to realize that we can be greater than the society we have now.
The two founders of my religious-missionary congregation, the Society of the Divine Word, taught me what it means to be compassionate to others. Saint Arnold Janssen taught us to serve others so that the heart of Jesus would live in our hearts and the hearts of all. Likewise, Saint Joseph Freinademetz taught us that, in relating with different people, the only language that is understood by people everywhere is the language of love.
They were impelled by Christ’s compassion to serve their neighbors in mission. The heart of Jesus is filled with compassion. It is the love of Christ that enables us to be compassionate with others. As disciples, we are also tasked to clothe ourselves with compassion by doing what Christ did (Colossians 3:12).
We have to let Christ live and remain in us. As St. Paul says, “I live now not with my own life but with the life of Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2;20). Like Christ, we carry out our vocation as disciples by accompanying those who are in misery, feeling lonely or are mourning. Let us not allow self-centered prejudice remains in our hearts.
During a weekly general audience in Rome, Pope Francis said that Jesus’ compassion toward people in need is not a vague sentiment. Rather, it is a calling for Christians to bring compassion to others. He urged each one of us to share in Christ’s compassion.
As human beings created in the image and likeness of God, we are compelled by Jesus to serve others with the compassion of Jesus. Let us ignite compassion in our hearts as our concrete act of solidarity with others that will help eradicate social conflicts and heal the wounds in our relationships. Let us allow Christ to be the focus and guide in our path toward compassionate living.