To be able to mourn we need compassion

In La vita e’ bella Roberto Benigni plays the inmate of a concentration camp who, by accepting the suffering of his situation, succeeds in sheltering his young son from all the horrors of deportation and life in the camp. Like all true clowns, he is both tragic and comic, doing his best to make those around him smile and even laugh at the absurdity of their situation.

To live the second beatitude we need the virtue of compassion. Compassion, derived from cum + passio, suffering with, is the ability to suffer with others and do something about it. It goes beyond empathy or pity, for the compassionate person not only feels the pain, but lives it as something his or her own and tries to do something about it.

Compassion fatigue

Pope Francis speaks of the globalisation of indifference, while aid agencies speak of compassion fatigue. We are exposed to so much suffering in the world around us that there comes a point when we feel we cannot take any more. Our hearts gradually become insensitive, closed to the pain of others.

Lent is a good time to look into our hearts and find out whether this happens to us too, and why. Perhaps we feel too guilty at the injustice, or believe that in our modern world there is no place for pain, life should be all about joy and success; or we are so overwhelmed by our own problems that we feel we cannot cope with more. Or simply we have become so self-centred that we cannot care less.

Be compassionate like your Father in heaven

The real challenge does not lie in ridding the world of all its suffering, but in keeping an open heart in a suffering world. A heart that weeps with those who weep, and rejoices with those who rejoice, be they far or near. A compassionate heart will then find ways to reach out and express its compassion in concrete ways.  

When Jesus invites us to be like our Father in heaven, he tells us to be like him in compassion. He himself shows compassionate to an extreme, even when this came at a high price for him and his followers. By his wounds we have been healed, in the ultimate show of his compassion on the Cross.

Blessed are those who mourn, they shall be comforted!

You will find a transcript of Charlie Chaplin’s speech from the film ‘The Great Dictator’ here.