Time for Compassion

Liturgically, today is the day pious Roman Catholics dedicate to the Sacred Heart---the Feast of Sacred Heart, as they label it.  I know this because I follow the lectionary (daily readings) from the tradition of the Benedictine monastic tradition.  I have found this helpful, especially since my own Quaker tradition does not have something like the lectionary.

The lectionary offers a way to provide routine guidance for particular readings from the Bible and other spiritual resources.  Of course, it is not necessary, but if I don’t have something like this, I have to pick and choose on my own.  And I must admit, I like doing something that aligns me with what so many other folks around the country and world are doing.  It enables me to have a communal experience as I sit alone in my chair.  I like that.

I understand a little about the Sacred Heart because I know some Christian history.  Let me explain a little about it and, then, connect it to what I believe is central to its message, namely, compassion.  The focus on the Sacred Heart is nothing more than a focus on Jesus, the central figure in the Christian drama of God’s action in the world.  The church holds and I believe that Jesus was a real human being---a real guy.  Of course, a large number of people also believe he was somehow divine, but I am not going to deal with that right now.  Let’s stay with the fact that he was a real human being.

As a real human being, he had a heart---certainly, a physical heart.  But as we know, the language of heart also points beyond the beating physical heart.  The word, heart, also becomes a symbolic way of talking about the human being himself.  We use the symbolical language in many different ways.  We say athletes “played their hearts out.”  We claim hard workers “gave their whole heart.”  And the phrases go on.

We also claim that some people have “a big heart.”  I think this phrase explains who Jesus was and what Jesus was doing.  He had a big heart.  In fact, the heart of Jesus was so big he was willing to give his life on behalf of the people of the world.  In so doing, he was embodying what God desired for all the people of the world.  Remarkably, Jesus did not limit his heart only for his friends or only for the good people of his day.  Apparently, he was willing to offer his heart to anybody and everybody.

The action of Jesus I have just described was remembered and many of the stories about his heartfelt action were recorded in the gospels and, then, became part of the continuing story of the Christian Church.  As it was recorded, the action of Jesus came to be seen clearly as the action of God in the world.  The heart of Jesus was nothing more than the heart of God at work in a world that needed some divine love and care.  What God had intended for people had not gone well.  Instead of a bunch of saints, most of us became sinners.  Instead of God’s will, we had charted our own agendas.  Most of us are not thieves and murderers, but we are committed to our own ego plans.

Jesus started with this kind of reality and cared.  Where condemnation might well have been in order, people were offered compassion.  With that word, compassion, we have made the transition to the language of the Sacred Heart in our world.  The life and work of Jesus was nothing less than a life of compassion expressed frequently and concretely in compassionate acts.  The church talks about it as the Sacred Heart in action.

The most important thing that can now be said is this action was not just a historical action.  It continues in our own day.  The compassionate action of Jesus continues because the Spirit of God is as much alive and at work today as in the day of the historical Jesus.  And even more good news is we are all capable of the same kind of life and action we see in Jesus.  Of course, that does not mean you or I are god---to the contrary.  But we can be vehicles of God’s spirit---we can be servants of the compassionate God.  As such, we become compassionate servants.  We have seen what that looks like.

At least, for me it means I have to be careful not to be judgmental.  It may be ok to make some judgments.  For example, some of us might need to quit doing some things or, even, start doing some things.  But if Jesus is my model, no one is beyond receiving compassion.  Compassion is the love and care for someone, regardless of whether they deserve it.  Literally, compassion means to “suffer with.”  In that sense I understand offering compassion might not mean I change someone’s situation.

Compassion is a powerful gift.  Indeed, compassion is the gift of my heart to you.  It means support, not disinterest.  Compassion means presence, not abandonment.  Ultimately, compassion means God is on your side.  That’s as good as it gets!

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