‘This Sunday’s Gospel passage (Mark 1: 29-39: 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2012) gives us a glimpse into the compassion of God. God is not distant. He is not a stranger to us. Our compassionate God is made visible to us in Jesus Christ. “A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said, ‘If you wish, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, ‘I do will it. Be made clean.’ The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean” (Mark 1: 40-42).
The words ‘moved with pity’ appear throughout the gospels and they help us to understand the compassion of the Lord. Moved with pity expresses a movement of the heart much more profound than simply a feeling sorry for someone. Instead, what is being expressed here, is a movement of the heart that goes to the very depths of one’s being. “When Jesus was moved to compassion, the source of all life trembled, the ground of all love burst open, and the abyss of God’s immense, inexhaustible, and unfathomable tenderness revealed itself”(Henri Nouwen, Compassion– A Reflection on the Christian Life, p15).
Jesus raises from the dead the only son of the widow of Nain because of this profound movement of his heart (Luke 7:11-17). The Good Samaritan stops and takes care of a man in need because he was moved with compassion (Luke 10: 29-37). This same movement of the heart drives the father to run toward his returning prodigal son, embracing and kissing him (Luke 15: 11-32). “As soon as we call God, ‘God-with-us,’ we enter into a new relationship of intimacy. By calling God ‘Immanuel’, we recognize God’s commitment to live in solidarity with us, to share our joys and pains, to defend and protect us, and to suffer all of life with us. The God-with-us is a close God, a God whom we call our refuge, our stronghold, our wisdom, and even, more intimately, our helper, our shepherd, our love. We will never really know God as a compassionate God if we do not understand with our heart and mind that ‘the Word became flesh and lived among us’” (Compassion, p13).
This is why we need to meditate over and over again on the mystery of the Incarnation until all of its consequences penetrate our entire being. We must be convinced, existentially, that Jesus is real and that I can have a personal relationship with him. As Saint Augustine so beautifully affirms, “To fall in love with God is the greatest of all romances; to seek him, the greatest adventure; to find him, the greatest human achievement.”
When Jesus is just as real to us as he was to the leper that he cured, our frustrations, discouragements, fears and loneliness will vanish. We are never alone, because our God is a God of unconditional compassion. Our God is a God who is always with us. The compassion of Jesus calls us to live our lives in the same way.
Something in our modern society is causing us to be broken and separated from one another. Neighbourhoods filled with cheerful children playing in the streets have been replaced by the silence of isolation. Perhaps the on-going exposure to every crisis in the world has caused many to become numb and angry. “Massive exposure to human misery often leads to psychic numbness” (Henri Nouwen, Compassion, p51). Community is the answer. Left alone, modern man remains powerless. Wherever the Christian community is formed and developed, compassion should be the result. “Jesus Christ is and remains the most radical manifestation of God’s compassion” (Compassion, p50).
Throughout the history of the Church, visible reminders are given to us in the lives of the saints who strove to imitate the Lord within the daily circumstances of their practical existence. Contemporary man is moved more by witness than by argumentation. Such is the case of Mikhail Gorbachev who made a private visit to Assisi in order to pray at the tomb of St Francis. According to a March 19, 2008 article in ‘The Telegraph’, Gorbachev said, “St Francis is, for me, the ‘alter Christus’, the other Christ. His story fascinates me and has played a fundamental role in my life. … It was through St Francis that I arrived at the (Russian Orthodox) Church, so it was important that I came to visit his tomb. I feel very emotional to be here at such an important place not only for the Catholic faith, but for all humanity.”
Both Jesus and Francis embraced a man afflicted with leprosy. Perhaps we will never have an opportunity to do the same thing. Nevertheless, we are surrounded with people with all sorts of needs. Our family members, our co-workers, our friends at school, our neighbours and our parishioners; these are the people that are in need and these are the people that need our compassion each and every day.’
Fr. James Farfaglia, February 2012