Compassion--"They are like sheep without a shepherd."


Could there be any more pathetic image than sheep without a shepherd? Sheep are a true example of the herd-mind, not one of them can do anything if all of them do not decide to do it and because they are sheep none of them has the sense to decide anything at all. Even cows are smarter than sheep who will stand and be plucked off one by one by a predator because they simply don't know any better.

Add "sheep without a shepherd" to the answer to the question "Am I my brother's keeper?" and you have the point of compassion. In fact, each of us is responsible for the people around us. We are all the images of Christ. Each of us an image in miniature. If so, then we are each shepherds of a small flock, a small number of people with whom we come in contact and interact every day. It is part of our vocation to holiness to the the shepherds, the tenders, the ones who care for, feed, and guide to the extent possible our brothers and sisters. And like the Good Shepherd we need to do so in truth and in love.

Love is not love without the truth. Compassion is telling the truth in love. Part of this truth-telling is a matter of timing. We don't sit down with the woman who is mourning her divorce and tell her that if she hadn't slept around before marriage, she would have had a better chance. We don't scold the woman who is mourning the abortion that made her sterile by reminding her of the sin--she's already learned the truth, now it is time for compassion and support.

The truths of Christianity can sometimes be very hard truths. Sometimes it is difficult to understand that one cannot do evil that good might come of it. It seems reasonable and logical that if by breaking one person you can save twenty-thousand it is something you ought to do. But "the good of the many exceeds the good of the one," is a principle that may only be chosen, not forced upon a person. If my personal sacrifice might save twenty-thousand, then it is legitimate--but I may not choose to sacrifice another that the twenty-thousand are saved. These are hard truths.

Compassion is about loving our brothers and sisters and speaking the truth in love. More often than not, we need not use words to speak the truth. With a sympathetic ear and a loving heart, they will often work out for themselves where and what went wrong. And our duty and privilege is to be there to help them live through the consequences and set out on a new path where similar things will not happen.

Compassion also extends to loving those who haven't the means or opportunities we have. Some desperate situations are not the choice of the person involved, but the result of societal conditions prevelant in the area. The starving poor of Bombay, Calcutta, or Appalachia do not choose this situation for themselves. In a sense, there is no truth to speak here except that they are beloved children of God. To speak that truth, we must find a way to feed and care for those who do not have enough for themselves. Some theories of government suggest that this is a governmental enterprise. But the Christian truth is that it is our responsibility. The sad truth is that most of us, regardless of our view of the government, do rely upon the government to support these people. As a result, the people never really feel compassion, merely obligation.

We are each sheep and shepherds. Those who know a bit more and understand a bit better are obligated in a greater way--"To those to whom much has been given, much will be expected in return." That means most of us at St. Blogs have a greater obligation than the majority of humankind. Most of us living in the wealthiest and most privileged nation on Earth are required to give of that wealth to help our brothers and sisters. And this giving should not come through the involuntary redistribution of wealth that is our tax-and-spend government system, but through our direct encounter with the needs of those around us who have less.

Compassion is reaching out in love. Shepherding requires sacrifice--sacrifice of time, energy, money, even of self in some sense--that the sheep may prosper grow and follow the right path. Think of our obligation as a kind of peer shepherding. Responding to the call of the One Good Shepherd we, though sheep ourselves, take upon us the duty to shepherd those even less aware of the divine. It is a hard job and not one that is particularly well-paying or recompensed in any way. Indeed, we are often despised and hated for doing it. Nevertheless, it does not remove from us the obligation to serve as we have been served, to be Christ for brother and sister, and to do it personally in whatever way God has given us the strength and wisdom to do.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on November 21, 2006 9:14 AM.

Re: Catholic Manicheeism was the previous entry in this blog.

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