Maybe it’s the person on the shoulder of the road with car problems or stuck in the snow. Or, maybe it’s the homeless person at the street corner seeking money, food or work. It could be a family member with a problem. Sometimes it’s a news story about people in crisis or pain that disrupts our peace of mind.
Whatever the case, when has the interruption moved you to compassion — to pull over, to help or volunteer your time? And when do you just pass by?
The Gospel parable of the Good Samaritan is Jesus’ response to the question: “And who is my neighbor?”
The Samaritan is good because he is moved with compassion to interrupt his journey and routine to give comfort to another human being in need. Compassion moved him to act in a way that he hadn’t planned. Compassion helped him treat a stranger as a neighbor. Compassion evoked a response that transcended social norms and the typical ways of being around strangers.
Jesus said that compassion is the way that God loves and compassion is the way we love our neighbor: “Be compassionate as your Heavenly Father is compassionate” (Luke 6:36).
In his book “Compassion,” Catholic author Henri Nouwen wrote: “The mystery of God’s love is not that he takes our pains away, but that he first wants to share them with us. Out of this divine solidarity comes new life. . . . The truly good news is that God is not a distant God, a God to be feared and avoided, a God of revenge, but a God who is moved by our pains and participates in the fullness of the human struggle.”
Way of compassion
During Lent, we get to immerse ourselves in the way of Jesus — the compassion of God. Jesus walks with us, suffers with us and rises with us to eternal life. The way of the cross is the way of compassion that transforms darkness and sin into the light of Christ. Jesus loves his neighbor by giving of himself.
Lent is a season designed to interrupt our regular routines so that we may deepen our love for God and be moved to compassion for our neighbors both near and far. Serving one’s neighbors out of compassion is much different than serving them out of guilt, coercion or seeking praise. The question of the parable of the good Samaritan is still relevant today: “And who is my neighbor?”
I was reminded of this call to compassion on Ash Wednesday when I attended a special presentation at DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis. Semaj Moore, a junior, received a first-place award in the 2012 high school essay contest sponsored by Maryknoll Missionaries.
Moore’s essay addressed the question, “How might Jesus respond to bullying?” He spoke of his experience of being bullied in elementary school. Eventually, he realized the teasing came because “some of the children lead really bad lives at home.”
His response was to try to understand and know the bullies. He said, “When you endure things like that [bullying], God gives you wisdom and empathy so you can treat others kindly without judging them.”
His experience taught him to suspend judgment and seek understanding. He continued, “This takes a lot of strength and it’s scary, but that’s what Jesus taught us to do. Being bullied has actually helped me become less judgmental of others.”
Jesus is the compassion of God who shows us the way of God’s love that reaches beyond the borders that divide and separate us. It is the way of the cross.
How is God interrupting our lives to move us toward compassion and meet the face of God in our neighbors both near and far?
Deacon Mickey Friesen is director of the archdiocesan Center for Mission.