Being compassionate

READERS' VIEWS - The Freeman

Compassion means empathizing and caring for the unfortunate situation of others. When we have compassion, we put yourself in the shoes of others in their misfortunes and feel what they feel. Compassion is supposed to not only feel pity but also to try to remedy the sufferings of others.

When we feel compassion for a friend who has lost a loved one, we try to tell him we feel his sorrow and that we are united with him in his suffering perhaps with a word or two of condolence. We could not fully remedy his pain and our condolences are all we could offer. But it would be a big help to alleviate his pain.

St. Thomas Aquinas discussed the virtue of compassion in his Summa Theologiae by asking a question: “Whether pain and sorrow are alleviated by the compassion of friends?” The question may seem odd to the modern mind because the answer seems obvious. But St. Thomas reasoning however is enlightening. He offers two reasons. First, as mentioned it is to lessen the weight of the burden of others by telling them we are united with their sufferings. His second reason however is more positive. He argues that because the virtue of compassion is rooted in love, when a person who is suffering witnesses the love his friends have for him, he experiences a care that he has not experienced before. In short, it’s not just compassion but also love. The friends of the grieving person are therefore telling him, “We love you, that’s why we feel sorry for your misfortune.”

Being compassionate also means being generous with others or being helpful especially to those who are in need materially or spiritually. The Catholic Church lists down two kinds of compassionate actions that we could render to others that is based on Scripture. One is corporal or bodily in nature and the other spiritual. These are the corporal works of mercy and the spiritual works of mercy. The corporal works of mercy are: to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to give shelter to travelers or homeless, to visit the sick, to visit the imprisoned, and to bury the dead. The spiritual works of mercy are: to instruct the ignorant (especially with religious knowledge), to counsel the doubtful (especially giving spiritual advice), to admonish the sinners (correcting others with love or practicing tough love), to bear wrongs patiently (patience with the weaknesses of others), to forgive offenses, and to pray for the living and the dead.

Compassion seems to be the modern world’s favorite virtue. It is the slogan of those seeking social justice. We often hear of cries of compassion towards the poor and the marginalized, the downtrodden of society, the discriminated people such as those of different skin color other than white, the bias against women in the workplace, etc. These are good causes in themselves but sometimes there is a kind of compassion related to this that is misplaced. We refer to the kind of compassion that is used to justify abortion and euthanasia. With abortion some groups feel compassionate towards the distraught mother who perhaps could not afford to raise the child therefore the baby ought to be aborted. With euthanasia on the other hand, it seems to offer a stronger argument because they are trying to relieve dying people of unnecessary pain when death is inevitable. Dr. Peter Kreeft, would counter that the life of a person is more important than our feelings of compassion for the dying. We are not the creators of life therefore we have no authority to take it away. We can’t act like gods. Only God is God. As the Muslims would say in their Shahadah, there is no god but God. Therefore, only God can decide when to take away a person’s life.

Engr. Carlos V. Cornejo

Mary Our Help Technical Institute


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