Compassion and Mercy


Father Jim points us to an on-line Thomistic Manual which attempts to make sense of some of the complicated concepts of Christian Theology.

These are compassion for the evil which another is suffering, especially when he suffers without his own fault. But compassion may embrace even sinners, not as regards the voluntary sin, for pity concerns the involuntary evil, but as fault has attached to it that which is involuntary. So the Lord had compassion for the multitude (S. Matt. ix. 36).

He that loves, regards his friend as a part of himself, and his friend's evil as if it were his own.

He "rejoices with them that rejoice;" and he "weeps with them that weep" (Rom. xii. 15). Anger and pride oppose this virtue, because the first lifts above the apprehension of evil; the other, because it leads to contempt of others, and to the notion that they suffer worthily.

(Emphasis added)

Now, the line above is simple enough with regards to those to whom we are naturally inclined, although even then we do not so readily take it on as we might. However, think about it in terms of yesterday's gospel reading. How easy is it for us to love, in these terms, our enemy?

And yet, as Christians to love one's enemy is not an option, it is a requirement. And the gate to that love might be through the natural springs of compassion and mercy. While we may detest the person, what the person does, or the company a person keeps, we can, nevertheless, put ourselves in the place of that person--a beloved child of God and a fellow-traveller and sufferer in this vale of tears. If we can for one moment be selfless, we can see in those who afflict us the children that they are.

Flannery O'Connor demonstrates the operation of compassion in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find." At the end of the story the whining and commanding Grandmother who has brought about the extinction of her family looks at the Misfit.

from "A Good Man is Hard to Find"
Flannery O'Connor

She saw the man's face twisted close to her own as if he were going to cry and she murmured, "Why you're one of my babies. You're one of my own children !" She reached out and touched him on the shoulder.

This action precipitates the finale of the story. It is, in fact, an act of compassion, the first truly selfless act that the old woman takes in the course of the story and, perhaps, in the course of much of her life. In it she becomes aware of an identity, a connection that does not really exist, but which reaches out to the Misfit in an attempt at redemption. While she does not affect the Misfit, the action itself may be seen as her own redemption. She has transcended herself and in a moment of transcendence attempts to bestow some small part of what God has imparted to her.

Compassion is the desire to share the sufferings of another not merely to suffer ourselves but to lift the other out of suffering and into knowledge of the greater good that alleviates suffering.

Compassion is one of the virtues that arises when we learn to love well and properly. And learning to love is a life time occupation.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on February 19, 2007 8:10 AM.

A Joint Effort was the previous entry in this blog.

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