Monday, September 16, 2013

A Faith for the Fallen: Compassion

Lately I've been thinking about compassion; it seems like in our society we are trying to substitute "awareness" for compassion. The problem is that there are too many different struggles/problems/diseases/crosses to be aware of them all. Instead of trying to be "aware" of every last condition, we should offer compassion for all, no matter what their circumstances. As Christians, we are all called to be compassionate towards one another and our selves. It isn't always easy to be compassionate, but I think I'm getting better at it. (I can now even handle stupid but well-intentioned comments about IF, knowing that the person offering them is trying to help, though they don't know how or what to say.) I still struggle with a temper when people are willfully nasty (blame the Irish heritage), but most people aren't trying to be hurtful.

You have 10 kids? I can't imagine what that is like, but there must be all kinds of struggles, from financial to organizational and more. You have 2/3/4/5 (more?) under 2/3/4/5? That must be tough! You are still waiting to find the man or woman you will marry? I remember that loneliness and pain, and I'm sorry you are still suffering through it. You are unemployed or underemployed? It is a struggle, and the job market is still challenging. You are suffering from the loss of a friend or family member? I'm sorry for your loss; may I pray for you and them? You are hurting because you made bad choices? We have all made mistakes and felt that sting; I hope you will be able to find forgiveness and healing, though it isn't easy. Compassion means simply "I'm sorry for your struggles and pain, even if I may not be able to understand." In some cases, we may be able to do more, to offer assistance: to babysit, provide a ride, spend time together, a lead or a connection to help in a job hunt, a casserole so that you don't have to cook, an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on. We may not always be able to offer that material aid, but we should always try offer emotional and spiritual support.

But here's the thing: we won't succeed, not all the time. While God is calling us to be saints, to listen to His Voice, and do His Will, He knows that we are not perfect. He knows that we will fail, sometimes spectacularly. We will fail frequently. That is why Christ was born, suffered, died, and rose again, to redeem our sins. That is why we have the sacrament of Reconciliation, to receive His forgiveness and find healing. It is all too human to compare ourselves to others, to wish that we had the good things that they have (even easier than ever with FB and the tendency of people to put just the highlight reel up for all to see); just because it is human and natural doesn't mean it is good or right, but it also isn't unforgivable. It may mean that it is time to consider how to avoid things that feed that jealousy or what you can do to better appreciate the gifts and blessings God has given. But it doesn't mean that you are a lousy Christian or a miserable excuse for a human being. It means that you are human, and a sinner. Sometimes it's hard not to beat yourself up for your failings (I do this far too often), but He offers this forgiveness to all us. Every single last one of us, as long as we ask.

Last year during Confirmation at our parish the Bishop asked one of the kids "Am I a sinner?" And the poor kid didn't know what to say, just stood there gaping until the Bishop answered his own question. "Yes, I am." We all are. So we go forth to struggle, trying to "sin no more," but knowing we will fail. 


  1. Stephanie - this is beautiful. Thank you for this reminder today! That poor kid though...but it was a good point the Bishop was making.

  2. A beautiful reflection - thank-you for sharing it!

    If infertility has taught me nothing else, it is that everyone we meet is carrying some sort of cross or burden, truly. (I know that's a quote, but it has been a true lesson for me.) And you are right, compassion is what is most desired. Not understanding, not a "fix," just someone to say "I'm sorry. I love you. I will pray for you."

  3. This is awesome, and you are awesome. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Beautiful, thanks for sharing. IF is such a struggle, and so often I fail to see any good in it. But in the past year I have realized that I through IF I am more empathetic and compassionate. Even though we all have different crosses, we are all on the journey to heaven together.