23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time: Gospel – Mk 7:31-37

Compassion – How Do I Show it?"

Preached by Fr Philip Heng, SJ at Church of St Ignatius – Singapore
on 9th September 2012

Today’s Gospel speaks of God’s Compassion.  We hear of how Jesus took great pains in healing the deaf-mute with much tenderness.  We could reflect on today’s Gospel from several possible perspectives.  The first perspective could be to challenge ourselves to see whether the deaf-mute symbolises the different ways in which we too are deaf to God’s Word’s by not allowing it to challenge us in our daily living.  Weekly, we could listen to God’s Word proclaimed, but are not transformed by them as we may simply choose hear only what we want to hear.  If this is the case, then like the deaf-mute we too need the healing graces of God.

The second perspective could be to challenge ourselves to see how if we are silent and subservient to the injustices of our secular world, we are then embodying or are living examples of the mute in today’s Gospel who needs to be freed by Jesus so that we can be Christ’s mouth-piece of justice and truth in our daily living.

If you are old enough, you would have heard the songs of Cliff Richard.  He was born in India and brought up in England.  His Top Ten hits date back to the 1950’s.

Out of his great concern and compassion for the poor and needy, in the late eighties, Cliff was visiting one of the Bihari refugee camps in Bangladesh.  He shared that on the first morning of his visit to the camps, he must have washed his hands a dozen times.  He did not want to touch anything; least of all the people as everyone in the camps, including babies, were covered with sores and scabs.
                                                                                              Cliff Ricards

As Cliff was bending down to one of these sore covered little infant for a photograph, he was conscious of not getting too close to the child.  However, someone suddenly and accidently stepped on the child’s fingers; the child screamed in pain.  As a reflex, Cliff grabbed hold of the child; forgetting all about his sores and dirt.  He said, “I can still feel the warm little body clinging to me so tightly; he wouldn’t let go, but he had stopped crying instantly when he could feel my arms embracing him.”  In that moment I knew I had an enormous amount to learn about practical Christian loving, but at least that experience was a good beginning for me.  Cliff’s concern gradually got transformed into true compassion for others.  Some years later, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth for his charity works.

I would next like us to reflect on this poem that in many ways capture the deep meaning of what compassion is:
          I feel your pain
          and long to touch your hurt
          and make it melt away.
          Yes, I know that I can’t really see
          the breathe and depth
          of this dark valley you’re in.
          I can’t truly know
          just how sharp the knife is in your soul –
          for it is you in its path, not me.
          But, I have known other valleys,
          and in my heart
          still bear knife-wound scars.
          Even so, I would walk your road
          and take your pain if I could.
          I cannot.  And yet, perhaps
          in some way I can be a hand to hold
          in the darkness:
          in some way, try to blunt
          the sharpness of the pain.
          But if not – it may help a little
          just to know that I care
                     (Christine Rigden )

My brothers and sisters in Christ, compassion goes beyond pity.  Many people think they have a heart for the poor simply because they “feel bad” every time the pass a slum from inside a train or drive pass a beggar who is huddled in a corner in his rags or catch a glimpse of the sadness of a dying mother whose empty stares long for the days when her home used to be filled with the warmth and laughter of her children.  Compassion demands that you take the plunge and feel the aches and pain of the suffering pleading to you, “come taste the bitter tears that I cry, touch me with your human hand, hear me with your ear . . .”

This is precisely what Jesus did to the deaf mute in today’s Gospel.  Filled with compassion, He reached out to restore his sight and speech.  In the Gospels, we hear of different accounts of how Jesus felt in the pit of His stomach the hunger of His listeners and fed 5,000 of them.  How He felt in His very bones the ostracization and condemnation of the lepers, that He chose to defy the “Law” and touch them and heal them.  How He felt the sword piercing the heart of the widow of Nain whose young son had died and raised him back to life for his agonising mother.

“Compassion is accepting into my heart the misery that is yours, as your pain calls out to me, and wrenches my heart.  It awakens within me a pain that makes me one with you in your pain.  I may not be able to remove your pain, but at least bring some relief and enhance your dignity in the sharing of your pain.”  (Adapted Jean Vanier)

There is yet a third perspective of compassion that is relevant and worth reflecting on.  In a letter that Jean Vanier wrote to a Christian woman, Carl Jung, said, “When a Christian saw somebody hungry and thirsty, they saw Christ.  When they saw somebody naked in the street and clothed him, they saw Christ.  When they visited somebody in prison or in hospital, they saw Christ.  When they welcomed a stranger, they welcomed Christ.  But, how is it that a Christian does not seem to see that inside them, there is also somebody who is hungry and thirsty, imprisoned in their own fears, a stranger who reacted in unexpected ways the unforeseen source of anger and depression?  Do they not see that there is somebody sick inside them, somebody hated, poor, broken and needing to be clothed?  Do they not see that Christ is hidden in their own brokenness?  (Adapted Jean Vanier).


Thus, as I conclude, let us each continue to challenge ourselves to be Christ’s compassion to those who are in pain and suffering.  But, in doing so, let us very importantly not forget the woundedness within us that also needs Christ’s healing graces and compassionate affection.  It is when we are able to experience Christ’s Compassion within us that we can then be Christ’s Compassion to others effectively

Fr Philip Heng,S.J.


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