Compassion takes on many forms

Guest Column
Sister Margie Lavonis, CSC
We have a loving and compassionate God and Jesus calls us to practice these virtues in our lives. This is our mission as Christians.  Here are some practical ways to be more holy and compassionate so as to fulfill Christ’s command.
When I was growing up we learned about the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.  They were tools for living a good Christian life. They show us how to be loving and compassionate.
Jesus tells us about the corporal works of mercy in chapter 25 of the Gospel of Matthew.  He challenges us to feed the hungry; to give drink to the thirsty; to clothe the naked; to visit the imprisoned; to shelter the homeless; to visit the sick and to bury the dead. We will be judged by how we do these things.
At first glance we might think that we are rarely presented with opportunities to exercise these many of these good works. But, if we look a little closer, we might be surprised how often we are presented with ways to do some of these actions.  For instance, feeding the hungry and the thirsty does not have to be limited to literal food and water. People have all kinds of hungers and often thirst for many things. A common hunger that we all share is the hunger for love. We can help satisfy that hunger by reaching out to people, especially the lonely and being kind and generous to others when it would be easier not to be involved. Maybe there is someone at work or at a place I volunteer who needs my time and/or friendship. It could even be a family member who I tend to neglect or overlook.
Another hunger that we all share is the hunger to be listened to and have people really care about what we say. This hunger is often so great that some people resort to paying for this service in therapy when all they might really need is a listening ear. Begin by giving your whole attention to people who are speaking to you.
There are also people who thirst for affirmation.  How many times are you presented with opportunities to affirm the gifts of others, to let them know that you notice the good that they do, but never get around to it?
We can also clothe the naked. It might be as easy as opening my closet and deciding I don’t need 20 pairs of slacks and several dresses that I haven’t worn for years. A priest told me that he has a ritual he does every Good Friday. He goes through his clothes and gives away everything he hasn’t worn for the past two years.
The next question is how do we visit the imprisoned?  We don’t have to literally go to prisons or jails. That is good, if the opportunity arises, but there are other ways people can be imprisoned. Maybe I could confront those who are imprisoned by drugs or alcohol or other addictions and encourage them to get help. Another group of “imprisoned” persons are the elderly or disabled who could use a visit, call, or e-mail.
To shelter the homeless might mean volunteering at a shelter. Sometimes you may have opportunities to visit the sick but something holds you back. I may not like hospitals and funeral homes? If so, maybe we can at least send get well or sympathy cards.
Even more challenging are the spiritual works of mercy. They call us to admonish the sinner; to instruct the ignorant; to counsel the doubtful; to comfort the sorrowful; to bear wrongs patiently; to forgive all injuries and to pray for the living and the dead!
At first glance these seem very overwhelming. You may feel hypocritical admonishing a person when I do many things that are not great. One way might be to point out another’s destructive behavior — not in a righteous way but out of true care or by saying something or at least changing the subject when we find ourselves in a negative conversation. To instruct the ignorant might mean sharing my beliefs with people who have little or no knowledge of Christianity. And one way to comfort the sorrowful is to acknowledge their pain and to be there for them.
To bear wrongs patiently is not easy. It takes much strength not to lash out against those who treat us unjustly. Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek is down right hard and takes a lot of practice. A suggestion is to pray for them.
A related spiritual work of mercy is to forgive all injuries, even if we have been hurt deeply. There are times when I have felt this to be impossible. I try to remember what one of my spiritual directors said. Sometimes we are so hurt that we have to pray for the desire to forgive.
Finally, compassionate people express their concern for others in prayer. During these days of Lent it might be helpful to focus on one or two of these works that needs to be strengthened in our lives.
(Sister Lavonis is a freelance writer for the Sisters of the Holy Cross.)