Jesus Christ and his Divine Mercy
I have been meditating a lot on the topic of compassion, as it correlates to mercy very closely. It was pointed out to me recently that the root words mean "with suffering," essentially.
To have compassion upon a person does not mean pity. There is a distance in the feeling of pity. The pitied person is beneath you, like an ant. When you have compassion with someone, you suffer with them.
How does one suffer with another person? You sit with them, listen to them, feel the pain of the person, and share that pain with them by imagining how difficult their situation, how it must feel for them. You commiserate with them and let them know that you understand. You comfort them with your loving presence. Maybe you cry with them, if it moves you. You suffer with them. COM_PASSION.
American culture has, in some areas, bred a somewhat hard bitten Catholicism in which compassion is little practiced. Instead, a careful stoicism has taken its place. Expressions of unhappy emotion are discouraged. The idea of suffering with someone is received with alarm by many Americans and is considered an intrusion and a heavy burden. Americans are so invested in being entertained and "feeling good" that they aren't emotionally available to anyone who isn't cheerful.
This is just one way that the American culture has infected our Catholic faith and twisted it into a macabre version of itself.
I know someone who is not Catholic, but who epitomizes the compassionless culture in which we live. When faced with the depression of a family member, she chirped brightly, that "all you have to do is decide not to be depressed! That's what I do, and I'm perfectly happy all the time." This isn't true, of course. She is an alcoholic who can only access her emotional center when under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. Otherwise, she is a cold and calculating person with no feeling for anyone else's pain. She's locked hers away and thinks everyone else should do the same.
Locking up one's emotions is TERRIBLE for the human person, just TERRIBLE. To criticize someone for feeling bad is the worst thing one can do to them. When you tell someone to shut up their pain and just express "nice" emotions, you are telling them that you do not wish to be a confidant, you want some distance from the person, and that you consider there is something wrong with the sufferer because they have emotions or life situations that aren't fun and entertaining. In your opinion, the sufferer needs to be fixed, not the situation. You are saying that you can only tolerate conversation that makes you feel good.
If you are "she who must be made to feel good," it puts everyone else on tenterhooks, creating unnatural tension and sucking the life out of the room. How does one talk to a person if one has to edit out everything that one thinks that person might consider negative or unpleasant? It is an impossible task.
I DO know someone who needs psychiatric care and is not receiving it, so they are on a continual whining wheel of complaint because whatever it is that is really bothering them has not been dealt with. This is a DIFFERENT way of shutting off their pain. They put it in a room in the back of their mind and then run a continuous loop of complaints about petty things so they never have to discuss what is really bothering them because it is just too big. It is the monster in the closet. It is the real pain.
None of us is equipped to deal with psychiatric issues like this. The person in need of psychiatric care become testy if the continuous loop is interrupted. If the tape is stopped, the real pain might POP UP, and the sufferer doesn't want that. Trying to change the topic and inserting a suggestion that they seek counseling would NEVER fly, mostly because their sense of self is already so compromised that it would just be received as a heinous criticism.
Compassion, in the above case, is listening when I can, as much as I can, expressing kindness, and getting off the phone. Someone closer to this person has to be the one who gets through and gets this person to a psychiatrist. I don't think it will ever happen because of the sufferer's domineering personality disorder, but who knows? In a few years, after repeating the tape a few thousand times, they might stop and have an actual conversation with me in which I am allowed to be compassionate and share the pain, whatever it is.
In any case, whatever the source of someone's pain, it has become fairly clear to me that having compassion with someone NEVER solves the problem that has induced the suffering, nor is it meant to. Compassion, kindness, listening, sharing warmth, being sympathetic and being with the sufferer will heal the heart, bit by bit. It won't improve their finances or their health or their family relationships, except, perhaps in an incidental way, but it WILL give them the strength to tackle whatever it is that is hurting them because they know they are loved, cared for, and understood. Being with someone in a compassionate way gives them a sense of security and that is valuable.
Advising people to wall themselves up with their pain and don't bother others with it has no value. In fact, it is detrimental and unchristian. If YOU feel that YOUR mission is to endure all pain and suffering without ever confiding in anyone but Christ, you're a saint. Go do that, and mazel tov to you. Just remember that in scripture there is nowhere it says that a suffering person, a disabled person, or a poor person ought to be lectured to be more cheerful.
In this year of mercy, show some mercy to your fellow human beings. Take the time to be compassionate. Take the time to share the suffering of someone else. After all, every suffering person is a reflection of our Lord who suffered for us all. And no, you're not to say, "This is nothing, just think what Jesus had to go through!" The suffering person IS the suffering Jesus. Act accordingly.
Silver Rose Parnell
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