The virtue of compassion is essential if we hope to achieve strong and healthy relationships. However, putting it into practice with those closest to us is no walk in the park. It is more like climbing a steep mountain, many times due to the hardness of our hearts. The word compassion comes from the Latin word “com” (with) and the word “pati” (suffer). It means “to suffer with.” It speaks to us about an action.
To do as St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans, to “…rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).
The human person is made for relationship. Just like we need air, water, food, and shelter, we need intimacy and connection. We experience this from being in relationship with God and with others. It is a biological need inscribed in our hearts by the Creator himself from the beginning. In Genesis 1:26, we read, “Then God said, ‘let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness.’ ” The verse says, “Our image,” “Our likeness,” because God is a community of three persons in a perfect relationship. God The Father, God The Son, and God the Holy Spirit, who fully give themselves to each other in a total and sincere gift of themselves. Made in the image of God, we are each called to be a total gift of ourselves for the good of the other. In Gaudium Et Spes (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World) Number 24, we read that “…man…cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.”
When we are compassionate, we are living out our calling to be a total gift of ourselves. We are fulfilling God’s plan and purpose for our lives. It requires practice. It requires us to be intentional in our efforts. Practice makes progress! It requires praying for God’s grace because we cannot do this by our human strength. In Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, (The Joy of Love), he tells us that “More than anywhere else, the family is where we daily experience our own limits and those of others. A perfect family does not exist. The family, where we keep trying our best to be the best version of ourselves and loving one another despite our limits and sins, thus becomes a school of forgiveness.”
In family life, we must admit our mistakes and ask for forgiveness, and accept apologies...on a daily basis. When this becomes difficult, we must pray away our anger and frustration, saying to God “Please take away my anger and frustration and give me compassion instead.” The Catechism (#2843) tells us that “It is not in our power not to feel or to forget an offense; but the heart that offers itself to the Holy Spirit, turns injury into compassion, and purifies the memory, in transforming the hurt into intercession.”
In the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8), we encounter the compassion of Jesus. Jesus tells the woman that he does not condemn her, and He has something else to say to her, “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.” The mission of Jesus was a mission of compassion; to show us how much we do sin, how much our sin hurts us, and how much it hurts others. To call us away from sin and into holiness. Hence, we can say with certainty that lovingly yet firmly confronting sin in our closest relationships is an act of compassion. In marriage, we are called to serve one another, and to help one another become the best version of ourselves. One way of doing this is confronting sin and accompanying each other back to the Lord.
Think about the last time you showed compassion to another. Who was that person? What did your action mean to them? What did it mean to you? Now, think about the last time someone showed you compassion. Who was that person? What did their compassionate gesture mean to you? Did it make your burdens just a little lighter?