The late Archbishop Paul K Bakyenga once told us as Seminarians of the Archdiocese of Mbarara that, “the nature of humanity, its essence, is to feel another’s pain as one’s own, and to act, to take that pain away. There is nobility in compassion, a beauty in empathy, a grace in forgiveness.”
It is of recent that my students at St Mukasa Seminary have acted as a gleam of the words of the late Archbishop Paul Bakyenga in my life and have forced me to intrinsically go a mile distance and understand the meaning of being compassionate and its essence in a broad margin.
“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion,” the Dalai Lama wrote in The Art of Happiness.
St Theresa, “To me, God and compassion are one and the same. Compassion is the joy of sharing. It’s doing small things for the love of each other-just a smile, or carrying a bucket of water, or showing some simple kindness. These are the small things that make up compassion.”
Compassion literally means “to suffer together.” Among emotion researchers, it is defined as the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering. Compassion is not the same as empathy or altruism, though the concepts are related. Although this translates as ‘pity’, it is clearly compassion to which Aristotle refers. This is defined as ‘a feeling of pain at an apparent evil, destructive or painful, which befalls one who does not deserve it, and which we might expect to befall ourselves or some friend of ours’. Compassion is, according to Kant, ‘mere inclination’ and therefore not only morally inferior to actions motivated by duty, but moreover can negatively interfere with rational acts of reason.
St Augustine considers love and faith to be the basic components of compassion and believes that only through them can compassion be given to God’s creatures. Love for God is manifested in loving the people, and faith can create the desire for good.
A Greek philosopher Socrates believed that people don’t intend to do wrong. He claimed all the wrongdoings come from ignorance, not the intention to do wrong. According to him, wrongdoing hurts the one who does it, and no human being would bring it upon themselves. It’s human nature to look and act for self-benefit. Even when they do something other people believe to be wrong, they think they are doing it for the good that will benefit them.
Oriental tradition has always talked about compassion as one of the most important virtues for living a fruitful life. However, recently, even medical and scientific research also backs up this philosophy and highlights the benefits of practicing compassion. Being compassionate not only makes you find true happiness and peace but also makes you physically much healthier. Some scientists say that humans have a “compassion gene,” which means humans’ survival is impossible without practicing compassion at some levels.
Jesus fed the crowd out of compassion. God’s heart, Jesus’ heart, was moved when he saw these people, and he could not remain indifferent. Love is restless. Love does not tolerate indifference; love is compassionate. Jesus looks at each one of us with the same compassion.
Mercy is the fruit of compassion. It’s the gift given to the suffering by those living out their compassion. In the New Testament, Jesus is often moved to mercy through compassion. Jesus’ compassion prompts Him to act and He mercifully loves, heals and rescues. This is our primary goal as Christians in the year 2024.
Whenever you find yourself confused, lacking direction in life and spiritually hungry, Jesus gazes at you with the same gaze He offered this vast crowd. And His remedy for your needs is to teach you, also. He wants you to learn from Him by studying the Scripture, by daily prayer and meditation, by reading the lives of the saints and learning the many glorious teachings of our Church. This is the food that every wandering heart needs for spiritual satisfaction.
A compassionate attitude means we will not just choose ourselves, but we will choose others in their humanity. We will not close our hearts to others, but we will open them up to others – and in doing so we will open ourselves up to the gift of enhanced relationship and belonging.
Compassion, an intrinsic human quality, is the foundation for much of human life. It goes beyond mere sympathy, as it enables individuals to recognize and share in the suffering and joy of others. In a world marked by division and discord, compassion emerges as a powerful force capable of healing wounds, fostering unity, and promoting positive change. This helps us never to over rate our brothers and sisters in any given community. As the late Archbishop told us, being compassionate will help us appreciate the works of God and in turn help us shape our social lives.
Now let’s think about wisdom. Wisdom is more than knowledge. This is summarized by being compassionate. It includes the attunement of our character, responses, and habits (our being) to the deeper realities of the world. This is a kind of knowledge that incorporates our feelings. Feelings are not emotions per se, but a wider group of motivating responses. Merely knowing something is one thing. But feeling the truth of it is a way of making it intuitive. It is the difference between reading about how to ride a bicycle and the visceral experience of riding, getting your balance, building muscle memory, and feeling first-hand what the book describes. This is of what wisdom consists, but applied to life. It is this “skillful means” in facing the challenges of the world and our lives which many ancient practices, East and West, seek to help us develop.
They will neither hunger nor thirst, nor will the desert heat or the sun beat down on them. He who has compassion on them will guide them and lead them beside springs of water. – Isaiah 49:10.
In a nutshell, our primary vocation towards being compassionate is to follow the footsteps of Jesus Christ. The pinnacle of Christ’s compassion can be observed at the cross of Calvary where He lay down His life for the sins of the world (John 3:16). Those who put their faith in Jesus are born again spiritually and receive the Holy Spirit. We are made new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). This enables us to love God and our neighbors. We are commanded in Scripture to put on hearts of compassion as we relate to our fellow Christians (Colossians 3:12–15) and to those who have yet to hear the gospel and believe in Christ.
This compassion we are called to is not emotive only, but is a call to action. True compassion encompasses both a gut level feeling of sympathy and pity as well as positive action taken on our part to relieve the suffering we observe (1 John 3:18). One of the most compassionate acts we can do is to share the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ with those who do not know Him so that they might be restored to fellowship with Him. However, our compassion is not to be limited to the lost. We are commanded to have compassion on all people, but especially those who belong to the household of faith (Galatians 6:10) and more especially to those who are poor and powerless among us (James 1:27).
St Mukasa Seminary – PSY