In Gethsemane Christ tried to awaken his Apostles, not because they could take away his agony, but because they could give him their compassion ~ Caryll Houselander, English mystic, poet, and spiritual teacher
How often we go through our day to day lives seeing people in need of relief from their suffering, and we truly want to help; however, we either do not know how to help or the help we have to offer is not wanted by the suffering soul. So in frustration, we move on. Maybe we express anger or indignation. Maybe we pass judgment. Maybe we give constructive criticism. In reality, not all suffering is within our power to alleviate. Christ did not give most of us the gift of healing, and that’s okay. For when we are unable to help; when the talents we can offer are too limited for the situation at hand; we can offer the one thing that Christ does want from us. It is the same thing he wanted from his Apostles who could not stay awake in the garden. He wants simply our compassion.
We can always offer sympathy, concern, kindness, and consideration. Those things require no special problem solving skills. They require no money. They require only the will to bury our pride and our own conviction that the person suffering doesn’t deserve compassion; that they have earned their pain. Maybe they have. Maybe that person has made a real mess out of their lives making one devastating choice after another. Perhaps they truly have a flawed character or ill-formed conscience. Feasibly something awful happened in their life that shaped their disposition and their inclination towards whatever reality is causing their pain.
And, true, when we offer our kindheartedness, there is the very real possibility that the suffering soul is going to reject it. Conceivably that person might even perceive such charity as weakness and attempt to hurt us further. That slap in the face will test Christ’s direction that we turn the other cheek. But what if that course of action suggested by Our Lord was meant as part of the remedy for his suffering child?
It’s not easy. Some people who hurt us the most are the people who should love us the most; a spouse, a parent, a child, a friend. Abuse is its own scourging at the pillar, and when that has happened to us, we are indeed the ones who need compassion from others. Yet even at the height of his suffering on the cross, Christ didn’t lose his sense of compassion. He could not cure the hatred of those who condemned him as they had the gift of freed will so he uttered “Father, forgive them.” He offered compassion to the good thief on the cross, and notice how he did not condemn the bad one.
Consider this. How we respond to someone might be their hope of salvation. If we truly believe that we do have an advocate in Christ, then when that wounded spirit faces their own eternal judgment, perhaps the key piece of evidence that Our Lord will use is that someone determined that person worthy of the primary gift that he so desired during his own passion, that being compassion. St. Veronica offered Our Lord a sip of water and a cloth to wipe his face. She couldn’t stop his suffering but could only acknowledge it, and one can only imagine the gratitude Jesus felt for this simple, humble act of kindness.
Oh the passion of Christ was not a historical, one-time event a couple of thousand years ago. His passion continues to play out day after day. We all get our turn reflecting the suffering Christ. We all have the freedom to stay alert and give the gift of compassion, or we have the freedom to turn away, to close our eyes as if we, too, were asleep and unaware.
Now there are those who will hold fast to the idea that if compassion is offered to the sinner, then one is tacitly giving consent to the sin. Yet Christ did not approve of the sins of the woman at the well. He did not give a free pass to the woman caught in adultery and set to be stoned. He never said it was okay for Peter to deny him three times. No, in each case he gave them his compassion.