“And as all Christians know, there is a another way of giving to God; every stranger whom we feed or clothe is Christ.” from The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis
To recognize another’s need is one thing, but to act upon the need is an entirely different story.
If we look around and notice others who may be lonely, hurting, hungry, thirsty, or restless, our first reaction may be to pity them or even to pray mindlessly for them. But if we, as Christians, allow ourselves the grace to dig a little deeper and grow out of our comfort zone, we may become aware of an emotion emerging within us. I describe it as the most mature feeling a person can have for another – namely, compassion.
Compassion doesn’t take the place of love. Instead, it accompanies love and allows us to act with love.
Compassion is a tenderness and sensitivity that puts another person’s needs and desires ahead of our own. It allows us to see the suffering in others and impels us to act with a selfless love.
One of my favorite examples of this compassionate love can be seen in the life of St. Veronica. During Jesus’s agonizing journey to Calvary amidst a violent mob of brutal soldiers, St. Veronica quietly walked to Jesus and, with a simple gesture, wiped His bloody face with her veil. What a brave act of compassion! What a holy act of compassion! What a LOVING act of compassion! She placed the dirt, blood, and sweat of Jesus’s tortured face ahead of her own fear of being ridiculed and harmed.
How often do we do that? How often do we respond compassionately when we see someone at home, someone at work, or even a stranger needing kindness or understanding? Do we give selflessly by listening to, comforting, or loving them? Or do we pity them in our thoughts and pray away their need so that we give our hearts an excuse to walk away? What are we afraid of? Are we afraid of being ridiculed and criticized? Or are we afraid that we’ll be asked to give much more than we’re ready to give?
With grace, I’m learning to stay and give. I’m learning to act with the grace of compassion, to see the torture, dirt, blood, and sweat in others, to understand how others may be in pain – hurting, struggling, hungry, or thirsty.
Compassion sees the good in others. It allows us to be the good for others. And as C.S. Lewis reminds us, this is “another way of giving to God.”