Henri Nouwen in the book "Compassion," draws on the beautiful hymn of Christ in Paul’s letter to the Philippians – today’s second reading- to help us see Christ’s role as servant and slave. He speaks of humanity’s seeming wish to have something "from on high" something unusual, spectacular, magical to deliver us from our fears – be it natural disasters, nuclear wars, or increased crime. But he says that Jesus did not reach down from above to pull us up, but rather he became one with us. Jesus did not become human to remove us from pain, agony and distress – but to walk with us as we meet life’s problems and challenges.
If we are to be Christ-like, we are not called to reach down to pull up others to our status, but rather to be willing to walk with them where they are.
What a radical thought that is! While we are not all called to live in a third world country, we are all called to walk with compassion with those we know who are in need. So perhaps that means not just offering to serve in a soup kitchen, but to sit down and share a meal. Perhaps it means not just donating money to the Red Cross, but to also spend time sitting with someone who is receiving a chemo treatment.
I think of the times in my life when I have been most touched by another. It is not when I was given financial help or a generous gift. It was when a friend shed a tear for my loss; it was when a handclasp let me know of concern, it was when a quiet word spoken in an anxious whisper told me my worries were not carried alone.
I think that if we root our lives in these simplest and genuine signs of compassion, we will continue to grow in our efforts to be more Christ-like and we may be able to better walk the path of our God who
" …became as we are,
and being as we are,
he was humbler yet
even death on a Cross."
Mary Lou Butler is a former staff member and is now a member of the Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center Board, Sierra Madre, California.