What is the mark of our faith? The cross on our lintel … the one we wear around our neck? Our weekly participation at Mass … our Lenten forbearance? How does the world know us as disciples of Christ?
The song of the Psalmist today gives a resounding warning:
“ ‘I find no fault with your sacrifices,
your offerings are always before me.
I do not ask more bullocks from your farms,
nor goats from among your herds.
‘But how can you recite my commandments
and take my covenant on your lips,
you who despise my law
and throw my words to the winds?’ ”
The externals of our faith are important: they are outward manifestation of the inward glory of our faith in God. But just as roots and stems precede flowers, so must we tend to our interior life of grace and ensure that it is driven by a life of faith, hope and love. With healthy stems and strong roots planted in the fertile soil of living faith, the external manifestation of our faith will blossom and bear the fruit of eternal life.
The word ‘compassion’ finds its origins in the Latin compassio, meaning ‘to suffer with’. So it is that, when we call upon the compassion of God we encounter Christ in His Passion and death. For being a man like us in all things but sin, Christ not only knows our suffering as the omniscient God but has also experienced our pain, our grief, our fear, our weakness, our distress – indeed, our mortality. When we suffer, God in this compassion suffers with us, for he has already suffered for us in the ultimate sacrifice that brought about our salvation.
Our call to be compassionate as our Father is compassionate is not, then, a call to some kind of abstract pity or notional sympathy, however well intentioned. True compassion is an act of sacrificial love; a self-giving that enables us to experience, in a real way, another individual’s suffering, and to connect with them in the sharing of our common humanity and brokenness before God.
The true compassion, to which we each are called, is suffering with Christ as he suffers with and for us. Our compassion for our fellow man thus becomes a participation in that redemptive suffering which leads to the joy of the resurrection and life eternal – “Be ye compassionate, therefore, as God your Father is compassionate” (Lk.6:36)
The command to love is not easy, for we are enjoined to love as Christ loves and whom Christ loves. And whom did Jesus love in the world? Of course he loved those closest to Him, even when they misunderstood Him, let Him down, betrayed Him, denied Him, and deserted Him. But it was not just those closest to Him that Jesus loved. (How easy a mandate would it be to love just our families, friends, and fellow believers?) No, Jesus loved the sinner and the outcast; the poor and the sick; the Roman and the Samaritan; and those who despised and rejected Him. And he loved them with a perfect love – that love which finds expression in complete self-giving.
Who do you love? How do you love? Are there those you cannot love?
May the Lord bring to us this Lent, those we would not ordinarily choose to love, and may we love them with the abundance of love we have received from God; that we may be perfect vessels of the love of God in the world – that you “may be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt.5:48).