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Compassion, not Confrontation

As a young seminarian, I learned Scholastic philosophy, especially the perennial wisdom of St Thomas Aquinas. Armed with the knowledge of philosophy and theology, I was pretty sure of myself in the early years of my priesthood. Things were clearly defined. Moral issues were clear-cut, black and white. I was convinced that I could convince anyone with my powerful arguments and make them embrace our Catholic Faith. After my ordination, I was rearing to go into the world to make converts.

As the years passed and I slowly matured in pastoral ministry, I learned a powerful lesson. Arguments do not convert anyone. The grace of God does. Whenever someone argued with me about faith, we parted ways hardly ever as friends. Neither of us was convinced of the other person’s position, and we were more entrenched into our own. The reason for this recalcitrance is that when we argue, we are not really listening to the other. We are more anxious to get our points across.

Both in our civil society and in the Church a persistent, vicious argument seems to be raging between the Left and the Right, between the liberals and the conservatives. We are yelling at each other. We are calling each other names. In our rising frustration, we tend to demonize each other. As a result, we are contributing to the fraying of our fragile democracy and to the dissolution of the Church’s unity for which Jesus fervently prayed at the Last Supper. We can no longer afford to permit this divide to persist. All people of good will must come together to lower the temperature of our public discourse and to strive to renounce confrontation and instead embrace compassion.

The Fathers of our nation desired that all citizens practice the virtues of the republic: civility, mutual respect, and willingness to engage in conversation. Hopefully even within the Church we can learn to manifest these virtues. Inspired by the words of the Master, all Christians should approach each other with deep reverence. Jesus said, “Whatever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do to Me.” If we take those words seriously, we will realize that if we disrespect someone for their views, then we are disrespecting Christ Himself. We need to echo the prayer of Jesus at the Last Supper, “Father, I pray that they may be one just as You and I are one.” We need to pray for greater unity not only among Churches but also within our own Church. 

Here our Holy Father, Pope Francis, shows us the way. Instead of being confrontational, he chooses to reflect the compassion of Christ Himself. No other Pontiff has been publicly criticized and vilified by a handful of his own cardinals than Francis. And yet, he exudes the love of Christ towards all. Some took issue with him when he made that famous declaration in an interview, “Who am I to judge?” That statement is his refusal to condemn even those who, according to some so-called good people, are living in sin. We need this approach towards those who disagree with us, the way of compassion.

By pronouncing those historic words, “Who am I to judge?” the Pope has provided an important lesson in our approach to people. Those words embody the correct pastoral method and reflect Jesus’ own attitude. In His ministry, Jesus never condemned any one. To the woman caught in adultery (John 8) Jesus says: “Neither do I condemn you. Go in peace and sin no more.” He criticized the Pharisees not because they were sinners; he took issue with them because, in their self-righteousness, they refused to see their need for conversion. Even as He preached the high ideals of the gospel, Jesus always welcomed sinners with compassion.

This way of compassion should be adopted by every Christian, by every priest, by everyone serving in the Church. We recognize the evils of abortion and the degradation of our permissive and promiscuous culture. We cannot turn a blind eye to all the bad things that are perpetrated every day in our society. However, we do not dismiss anyone because they committed those acts or call those individuals evil. God does not throw away a person just because of the sins he or she has committed. There is always hope for forgiveness. We leave judgment to God. He alone knows the hearts of people. He alone knows fully their history, their motives, and their struggles. His understanding is beyond comprehension, and His mercy knows no bounds.

Besides, we should pay close attention to Jesus’ words: “Do not judge and you will not be judged; do not condemn and you will not be condemned.” In another place, the Lord says that the measure we use against others will be used against us. That is why I would like to be very generous in my approach to others so that when I come to the Pearly Gates, the Eternal Judge will make greater allowance for my sins and failures. The Way of Compassion is the way to go. It is not only the way of Jesus, the way of the gospel. It will also serve us well in time and in eternity.

May we all follow the Way of Compassion that Jesus preached and that Pope Francis so effectively practices! 

Mission Statement: As children of God, living in a Catholic community of faith, we are united by the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. Aware that all we have is gift and grace from our Heavenly Father, we strive to give of our time, talent and treasure to build His kingdom on earth. We live this mission, challenged by the Word, nurtured by the Sacraments, and enlivened by the Spirit, to serve our brothers and sisters in peace, justice and dignity. All are welcome on this journey.

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St. Paul of the Cross

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Park Ridge, IL 60068


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