Sunday, July 10, 2016

compassion is surrender to God's mercy

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time C
Year of Mercy
10 July 2016
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
Daily Readings

I'll never forget my first spiritual direction appointment in seminary.  My spiritual director asked me which character I was in the parable of the good Samaritan.  I was initially relieved when after accusing myself of being either the priest or Levite, because I don't always have compassion or like to get dragged down by other people's problems, that he told me I was neither or those characters.  Since I was a new seminarian and had left a lot behind to be of service to God's people, the next option I hoped and thought, was for the Lord to use me as a Good Samaritan to heal and care for his people as a shepherd.  I couldn't have been more wrong.  After telling me that I was neither the priest or the Levite in the story, my spiritual director told me bluntly that I was the man in the ditch.  He told me that until I identified myself in that role, I would never be a good shepherd!

Boy was he right!  The key of course to being a compassionate person is to be able to see Christ, or one's self, in the suffering of others.  As a pastor, I was asked many times to accompany people through their suffering.  I would oftentimes ask God why there was so much, and why the suffering last so long, and why it was so unfair.  The answer continues to haunt me.  So big and stubborn is my pride, so persistent is my desire to be self-sufficient and independent like the priest and the Levite in the story, that I need the presence of constant suffering and vulnerability lest my soul be lost.  To put it another way, when I ask God the question of why there is so much suffering, he asks the question back of me - why are you so proud and stubborn?  Again and again, I see that I need the suffering of others more than they need my care.  Even after 17 years now since my admonition from my first spiritual director, I still don't see myself as the man in the ditch.

Jesus tells the proud young man who wishes to justify himself that if he wants life, he must love with everything that he has and everything he is.  Love is the ground of life.  There is life because God is love and He through Christ loves everything into existence.  So Jesus says it plainly.  If we love, we will live, and there will be a superabundance of life, welling up to life eternal.  If we do not love, we will die.

Moses told the people that the commandments of the Lord, the demands of loving God with all your heart, mind and strength, are not written in the sky.  They are written on the human heart.  They are closer to us than we are to ourselves.  The reason we are sinners is rather simple.  It is not so much that we resent the commands of God that are imposed on us from without. It is rather we do not have the humility to pray and to discover the commands of God that are written within ourselves.  St. Augustine perhaps put it best of all in his Confessions, saying that the Lord was within him, but he was outside of himself, and it was there that Augustine searched for God.

Certainly God can be found be looking at his creation, for as St. Paul says in his high theology for today Jesus Christ is the author of all creation.  Yet more intimately, perfectly and personally, Jesus is the Good Samaritan.  He is the one who is forgiving our sins, and binding up our wounds.  The reason we fail to be compassionate to our neighbor is really quite simple.  We are afraid to admit that we are the man in the ditch, that we need the Lord, and are afraid of being healed and set free by him.  Compassion can certainly be cultivated as a virtuous habit of the heart and will.  It is more spiritually and originally a surrender to the mercy of God.  

No comments: