He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. - Aeschylus

Monday, July 11, 2016

Love it to Death: The Compassion of Love

This weekend, the Gospel reading at Mass was the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  What struck me wasn't that Jesus told a parable in which the man who showed love for his neighbor was a Samaritan who would have been despised by his fellow Jews, though that's worth thinking about.  And what struck me wasn't that we so often pass by those who are suffering without helping them, though that too is worth considering.

Nor was I struck by the fact that the man who was saved by the Samaritan was headed to Jericho, known to be a sinful city, his plight an allegory of what happens to us when we decide to journey toward sin and away from God; we become vulnerable to a great many sufferings because we have many things to lose in this world the more we are attached to worldly pleasures.

Instead, I was struck by the cross and Christ's sacrifice for us.  The Good Samaritan is much like Christ in many ways: he was an outcast to the Jewish religious leaders, he was despised by many of them even though they had common ancestors, and he nonetheless showed great love and willingness to sacrifice for the most vulnerable among them.

Like Christ, the good Samaritan had compassion on those who were hurting deeply, even when they might have been heading in a sinful direction when trouble befell them.  Like Christ, the good Samaritan took care of those who were considered a burden to others, and bore their burdens for them.  Like Christ, the good Samaritan suffered to carry the weight of sinners whom he had no obligation to help.

To have compassion is to suffer with those who are hurting, in body, mind, heart, and spirit.  We enter into their sufferings and bear them up just as the good Samaritan did, using our resources to support them as we journey with them to a place where they can heal of their wounds.  This is what Christ did for us; he entered into the brokenness of human existence and into the sufferings of our daily lives, using His divine powers to support us as He journeys with us to a place where our bodies, minds, hearts, and spirits can be healed.

Just as the good Samaritan took on the sufferings of the man beaten, robbed, and left for dead, so too Christ took on the sufferings of we who are beaten down by worrying about our daily tasks, robbed of the riches of joy by our hatred of those who have wronged us, and left dead inside by our reliance on the transient pleasures which can never fill our hearts with the light of compassion.

Christ did not take up His cross alone; he bore the crosses of many so that they might be healed, uniting Himself to their sufferings so that they might be redeemed.  His suffering was the suffering of Love, the suffering of one who loves others who cannot possibly repay Him for the gifts He brings to them.  Like the good Samaritan, Christ gives generously to those of us who are beaten, robbed, and left for dead so that we might be healed, and asks nothing in return; He invites us to accept the healing which He offers to us and pays the price for us.

Each time we enter into the sufferings of another person, bearing their cross with them, we act with the compassion of Love who bore the cross and suffered with us even unto death.  Each time we lift up those who are beaten down by worry, robbed of joy, or dead to divine love, then we participate in the ultimate act of compassion which was the death of Love on the cross.

Each time we unite our own sufferings to Christ, especially the sufferings we bear for and with His least brothers and sisters, we enter into the compassion of Love.

When we participate in the compassion of Love, we are transformed so that we might be adopted into the heavenly household.  It is in practicing the compassion of Love that we are healed so that we might journey away from sin and journey toward the divine love He has shown to us.  It is the compassion of Love which brings us back from the brink of inevitable death and gives us new life!

By growing in the light of the Compassion of Love, we love to death all those parts of us which do not reflect the light of Christ, transforming us into ever more beautiful Icons of Love.

Note:  The above is an image of The Good Samaritan by French artist Aimé Morot (1880).

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