Sunday, November 9, 2014

Evangelii Gaudium: 7 statements of Pope Francis on compassion

Evangelii Gaudium: 7 statements of Pope Francis on Compassion
Since the theme of Pope Francis's pontificate is mercy and compassion, I gathered seven statements from his Encyclical, Evangelii Gaudium which talks about compassion:

1. For the Lord has comforted his people, and will have compassion on his suffering ones

This statement is from the book of Isaiah (49:13):
4. The books of the Old Testament predicted that the joy of salvation would abound in messianic times. The prophet Isaiah exultantly salutes the awaited Messiah: “You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy” (9:3). He exhorts those who dwell on Zion to go forth to meet him with song: “Shout aloud and sing for joy!” (12:6). The prophet tells those who have already seen him from afar to bring the message to others: “Get you up to a high mountain, O herald of good tidings to Zion; lift up your voice with strength, O herald of good tidings to Jerusalem” (40:9). All creation shares in the joy of salvation: “Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth! Break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the Lord has comforted his people, and will have compassion on his suffering ones” (49:13). (Evangelii Gaudium)
The most beautiful passages in Isaiah are those of the Suffering Servant (Is 53), which speaks of the suffering of the Messiah.  In the fullness of time, God, out of his compassion for his people, sent His only Son to suffer with them, for that is what compassion is etymologically: to suffer with.  Christ underwent the three temptations that afflict humanity (Mt 4): love for comfort (turn the stones to bread), love for fame (jump from the temple height), and love for power (all the kingdom of the world will be yours).  But Christ defeated the temptations, not by showing his power as God as how God revealed his majesty and glory to Job, but only as Man by quoting the relevant Scripture passages.  The final temptation of Christ is love for life in exchange for departing from his mission: "the Son of Man* must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days."(Mk 8:31). Peter rebuked Christg for saying this, but Jesus in turn rebuked Peter: “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do."  In the end Christ died and his death became the salvation of many.  As Isaiah prophesied: "Because he surrendered himself to death, was counted among the transgressors, bore the sins of many,and interceded for the transgressors." (Is 53:12)

2. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.

In trickle-down economics, the government supports big business with tax breaks and economic benefits hoping that these businesses would employ people from the lower classes and the benefits obtained by the rich business owners would also be shared by the poor in the long run.  But according to Pope Francis, this macroeconomic view may cloud our vision to the suffering of the poor, thinking that we have already helped them by helping the rich business owners.  To remedy this problem, Pope Francis suggests that we listen directly to the cries of the poor:
54. In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting. To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us. (Evangelii Gaudium)

3. In this effort we may need but think of some ordinary human experience such as a joyful reunion, a moment of disappointment, the fear of being alone, compassion at the sufferings of others, uncertainty about the future, concern for a loved one, and so forth. 

The context of Pope Francis's statement is really for priests and pastors. In delivering homilies, the priests and pastors should not just strive to say something interesting to keep his flock awake, but must seek to become sensitive to their problems, so that he can choose stories that would resound more fully in their hearts and call them to conversion:
155. In this effort we may need but think of some ordinary human experience such as a joyful reunion, a moment of disappointment, the fear of being alone, compassion at the sufferings of others, uncertainty about the future, concern for a loved one, and so forth. But we need to develop a broad and profound sensitivity to what really affects other people’s lives. Let us also keep in mind that we should never respond to questions that nobody asks. Nor is it fitting to talk about the latest news in order to awaken people’s interest; we have television programmes for that. It is possible, however, to start with some fact or story so that God’s word can forcefully resound in its call to conversion, worship, commitment to fraternity and service, and so forth. Yet there will always be some who readily listen to a preacher’s commentaries on current affairs, while not letting themselves be challenged. (Evangelii Gaudium)

4. The pace of this accompaniment must be steady and reassuring, reflecting our closeness and our compassionate gaze which also heals, liberates and encourages growth in the Christian life.

In social media, we hide behind fake accounts or pseudonyms to stalk other people, so that our online interactions are mediated by our personally chosen masks or icons. But despite these, it is still the duty of priests, religious, and laity to be sympathetic at others--such as the plight of Christians persecuted by ISIS in Iraq or the sufferings of Christians under Communist China--and accompany them in their sufferings.  The goal of this accompaniment, Pope Francis continues in Art. 170, is not to encourage their self-absorption, as shown, for example, by endless selfie pictures in their Facebook timelines, but to lead others in a pilgrimage with Christ to the Father:

169. In a culture paradoxically suffering from anonymity and at the same time obsessed with the details of other people’s lives, shamelessly given over to morbid curiosity, the Church must look more closely and sympathetically at others whenever necessary. In our world, ordained ministers and other pastoral workers can make present the fragrance of Christ’s closeness and his personal gaze. The Church will have to initiate everyone – priests, religious and laity – into this “art of accompaniment” which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other (cf. Ex 3:5). The pace of this accompaniment must be steady and reassuring, reflecting our closeness and our compassionate gaze which also heals, liberates and encourages growth in the Christian life. (Evangelii Gaudium)
5. Only through such respectful and compassionate listening can we enter on the paths of true growth and awaken a yearning for the Christian ideal: the desire to respond fully to God’s love and to bring to fruition what he has sown in our lives. 

Compassionate listening is difficult, for it does not only requiring listening to the longings of the other, but also finding the right response be it a word or a gesture.  But this requires patience on the one who listens, because helping individuals make decisions require a step by step process, in the same way as when a mother helps his child first learn to walk by letting him make one small step while she holds his hands lest he falter and fall.  Such small acts cannot immediately bring results.  That is why, teachers, for example, need to instill good habits that would help their students make good decisions on their own.  The same is true with pastors: St. Jean Vianney was not able to convert the whole Ars in just one day of preaching; it too him years, which required not only his patience, but also lots of prayers and fasting:

171. Today more than ever we need men and women who, on the basis of their experience of accompanying others, are familiar with processes which call for prudence, understanding, patience and docility to the Spirit, so that they can protect the sheep from wolves who would scatter the flock. We need to practice the art of listening, which is more than simply hearing. Listening, in communication, is an openness of heart which makes possible that closeness without which genuine spiritual encounter cannot occur. Listening helps us to find the right gesture and word which shows that we are more than simply bystanders. Only through such respectful and compassionate listening can we enter on the paths of true growth and awaken a yearning for the Christian ideal: the desire to respond fully to God’s love and to bring to fruition what he has sown in our lives. But this always demands the patience of one who knows full well what Saint Thomas Aquinas tells us: that anyone can have grace and charity, and yet falter in the exercise of the virtues because of persistent “contrary inclinations”.[133] In other words, the organic unity of the virtues always and necessarily exists in habitu, even though forms of conditioning can hinder the operations of those virtuous habits. Hence the need for “a pedagogy which will introduce people step by step to the full appropriation of the mystery”.[134] Reaching a level of maturity where individuals can make truly free and responsible decisions calls for much time and patience. As Blessed Peter Faber used to say: “Time is God’s messenger”. (Evangelii Gaudium)

6. Our personal experience of being accompanied and assisted, and of openness to those who accompany us, will teach us to be patient and compassionate with others, and to find the right way to gain their trust, their openness and their readiness to grow.

Art. 172 appears to be the key in Francis's often misquoted quote "who am I to judge?"  For Francis, compassion means we can only judge the objective evil in the person's actions, but not their responsibility or culpability.  This means for example, that we can judge the contraception, abortion, and homosexual acts as objective evil, but we cannot make a judgement on their intentions and motivations, unless these things are revealed to us by the person himself, and this revelation usually only happens in the Sacrament of Confession.  Sin, for it to be mortal, requires three things: the subject must be a grave and serious matter, full knowledge, and complete consent.  If one of these is missing, the sin is not mortal.  A mad man, for example, has no full knowledge when he murders people.  As the Catechism explains: "2352...To form an equitable judgment about the subjects' moral responsibility and to guide pastoral action, one must take into account the affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety or other psychological or social factors that lessen, if not even reduce to a minimum, moral culpability."
172. One who accompanies others has to realize that each person’s situation before God and their life in grace are mysteries which no one can fully know from without. The Gospel tells us to correct others and to help them to grow on the basis of a recognition of the objective evil of their actions (cf. Mt 18:15), but without making judgments about their responsibility and culpability (cf. Mt 7:1; Lk 6:37). Someone good at such accompaniment does not give in to frustrations or fears. He or she invites others to let themselves be healed, to take up their mat, embrace the cross, leave all behind and go forth ever anew to proclaim the Gospel. Our personal experience of being accompanied and assisted, and of openness to those who accompany us, will teach us to be patient and compassionate with others, and to find the right way to gain their trust, their openness and their readiness to grow. (Evangelii Gaudium)
7. By her very nature the Church is missionary; she abounds in effective charity and a compassion which understands, assists and promotes.

Before his Ascension, Christ gave his Apostles the following commandments: "Go, therefore,* and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit,20i teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.* And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”" (Mt 28:19-20) The book of Mark has a different formulation: "“Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.17 These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages.18 They will pick up serpents [with their hands], and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” (Mk 16:15-18)  The last sentence is important: "They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover."  Thus, the Church's mission is not just to proclaim the Gospel, but also to be compassionate by healing the sick--though technically, this is only a sign of the truth of the Gospel.  But Pope Francis takes up this theme:

179. This inseparable bond between our acceptance of the message of salvation and genuine fraternal love appears in several scriptural texts which we would do well to meditate upon, in order to appreciate all their consequences. The message is one which we often take for granted, and can repeat almost mechanically, without necessarily ensuring that it has a real effect on our lives and in our communities. How dangerous and harmful this is, for it makes us lose our amazement, our excitement and our zeal for living the Gospel of fraternity and justice! God’s word teaches that our brothers and sisters are the prolongation of the incarnation for each of us: “As you did it to one of these, the least of my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40). The way we treat others has a transcendent dimension: “The measure you give will be the measure you get” (Mt 7:2). It corresponds to the mercy which God has shown us: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you… For the measure you give will be the measure you get back” (Lk 6:36-38). What these passages make clear is the absolute priority of “going forth from ourselves towards our brothers and sisters” as one of the two great commandments which ground every moral norm and as the clearest sign for discerning spiritual growth in response to God’s completely free gift. For this reason, “the service of charity is also a constituent element of the Church’s mission and an indispensable expression of her very being”.[144] By her very nature the Church is missionary; she abounds in effective charity and a compassion which understands, assists and promotes. (Evangelii Gaudium)
SUMMARY

Compassion is rooted in Scriptures, such as in the Book of Isaiah, which talks about the coming of the Messiah who will show God's compassion on His people, by suffering with them and for them, in reparation for sins.  For Pope Francis, compassion requires a listening heart to those who are suffering.  Pastors would be able to deliver more effective homilies if they listen carefully to the plight of their flock and use stories carefully to deliver more forcefully the message of the Gospel.  The task of pastors, religious, and laity is to be compassionate to others, not by encouraging their self-absorption, but by patiently leading them with Christ to the Father.  But this requires patience, because conversion of hearts is not achieved in a day.  That is why those in charge of others must learn how to instill good habits in their charge, so that they would soon learn to make mature decisions on their own. We can judge the objective evil of the acts, but not the full consent and knowledge of the person doing those acts, unless the person reveals them during his confession to a priest, and then the priest can make a judgement on whether the sin is mortal or venial and pronounce the penance and absolution.  But we who are not confessors of the persons can only limit our judgment to the objective evil of the acts, but not on the hearts of the persons who committed such actions.  This is the essence of Pope Francis's statement, "Who am I to judge?"  The Church is a missionary, but its mission is not just to proclaim the Gospel but also to have compassion on those who are suffering.
The Joy of the Gospel: Evangelii Gaudium (Publication / United States Conference of Catholic Bishops)
The Joy of the Gospel: Evangelii Gaudium (Publication / United States Conference of Catholic Bishops)
The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology
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One Economics, Many Recipes: Globalization, Institutions, and Economic Growth
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Sermons of the Curé of Ars: Sermons for all the Sundays and Feast Days of the Year
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The Culture of Connectivity: A Critical History of Social Media
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Rise of ISIS: A Threat We Can't Ignore
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Ethics as a Work of Charity: Thomas Aquinas and Pagan Virtue (Encountering Traditions)
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Manual for Confessors
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The Church of Mercy
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The Joy of the Gospel (Specially Priced Hardcover Edition): Evangelii Gaudium
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Sacred Liturgy: The Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church
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