A Catholic Convert in Ottawa

Posts Tagged ‘compassion

As I pushed my cart through the store aisles this morning, Duffy’s song “Mercy” began to play over the loudspeaker.

It got me thinking about mercy—how we experience it, how we show it to others, and how we benefit from God’s mercy.

As children, we might think of mercy as that game where people try to bend back each other’s hands until they give up and say, “Mercy!” When we’re older, we might think of mercy as the kindness we show to those in dire need—such as the victims of a natural disaster, war or persecution—or as something a leader or a judge exercises in sparing a prisoner from a harsh sentence.

Every day, whether we realize it or not, we benefit from God’s mercy. Every day, we fall short of his expectations. Deliberately or not, we hurt others; we fail to show kindness even when it would cost us little; we refuse to recognize others’ needs, rights, dignity and humanity. Yet God continues to give us opportunities to learn from and correct our mistakes. To do better. To become more like him.

Do we ever wonder why? Read these words from Psalm 103:8-12*:

The LORD is merciful and gracious,

slow to anger and abounding in mercy.

He will not always chide,

nor will he keep his anger for ever.

He does not deal with us according to our sins,

nor repay us according to our iniquities.

For as the heavens are high above the earth,

so great is his mercy toward those who fear him;

as far as the east is from the west,

so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

Since we’re called to become more like Christ, if that’s what we truly want, then why do we hang onto our anger or hold grudges or vow to make others pay for their wrongs against us? Are we like the unmerciful servant who, forgiven his own debt, threw a fellow servant into prison until he paid what he owed (see Matthew 18:23-35)?

If God held onto his anger, if he paid us in full for our sins, if he insisted on our being able to repay what we owed without giving us the chance to repent and be forgiven, would we be able to stand before him?

May we remember these words of the Lord as he passed before Moses, being thankful that he is a merciful God and striving to be more like him:

“The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy and faithfulness, keeping merciful love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin. . . .”

~ Exodus 34:6-7

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, 2nd Catholic Edition.)



Familiar with the definition of insanity—the one where a person does the same thing over and over and yet expects a different result?

I’ve been living it out on a small scale lately.

Three times I’ve ordered the same dish from a restaurant I liked. The first time, the food was so spicy it made my lips burn and upset my stomach. The second time, there were few vegetables and the protein looked like it had seen better days. And the third time was not the charm. With heartburn on the horizon, I swore off visiting this restaurant again. Three strikes, and it’s out.

Thankfully, God doesn’t work on a “three strikes” rule. He gives us second, third and fourth chances, and many more. God’s way is the definition not of insanity, but of compassion.

When we make poor choices—acting out of anger, frustration, loneliness, and so on—he offers us forgiveness, if only we’ll ask for it.

sleepy kitties

Loki let Skittles snuggle up to him, even though Skittles often nipped at him, pestering him to play. That’s forgiveness.

When we say hurtful things and think unkind thoughts, forgiveness is ours for the asking.

When we ignore the right path and choose our own, we can still seek his forgiveness.

And even though we come to him in need over and over again, he keeps offering his love and mercy and compassion.

Think about Peter’s question about forgiveness in Matthew 18:21-22*:

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.”

This is the mercy God offers us. The kind of mercy we need to extend to our children, spouse, family, friends, and neighbours.

I pray that we would give thanks for the love and mercy and compassion God shows us, and that we would grow in these qualities and in our capacity for showing them to others.

The LORD passed before [Moses], and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy and faithfulness . . . .”

~ Exodus 34:6

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)


“Cleanliness is indeed next to Godliness.”

~ John Wesley, in his sermon “On Dress,” quoted in “Cleanliness is next to Godliness”: The Talmudic Source

Those who have read my posts before know I like bringing order to chaos, like the Borg of Star Trek fame. I like to have a place for everything and everything in its place. And I like to have a clean house.

cleaning supplies

Some of my cleaning supplies…

And so I read with interest today’s quote in the “Quiet moments, daily inspiration, feasts, and fun for November” article in the current issue of Catholic Digest:

“Compassion, my dear Brother, is preferable to cleanliness. Reflect that with a little soap I can easily clean my bed covers, but even with a torrent of tears I would never wash from my soul the stain that my harshness toward the unfortunate would create.”

In a culture perhaps more concerned about sanitizing surfaces and keeping everything smelling fresh than about showing compassion, this quote from St. Martin de Porres should strike a chord with us.

We see and hear so much tragic news that we can harden our hearts, purposefully or not, to protect ourselves from being saddened by it. Thinking that there’s nothing we as individuals can do, how often do we fail to show compassion on even a small scale? How often do we hesitate to get involved?

I recently read in Sirach 17:22* that “A man’s almsgiving is like a signet with the Lord, and he will keep a person’s kindness like the apple of his eye.”

Could we let down our guard for a little while to extend kindness to someone else?

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Offer our condolences to and check in from time to time with a friend or family member in mourning.
  • Go through our family’s winter clothes to see if we have any items to donate to charity.
  • Volunteer to serve as an in-school tutor or a friendly visitor at a retirement residence.
  • Make and carry out a plan for charitable giving at home or in the workplace.
  • Pray for the faithful departed during this month dedicated to the souls in purgatory.

I pray that we would remember God’s compassion toward us and want to extend that same compassion to others.

He has showed you, O man, what is good;

and what does the LORD require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,

and to walk humbly with your God?

~ Micah 6:8

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

My library picks tend to be mysteries. Lately, though, I’ve found myself reading autobiographies such as Michael Ignatieff’s Fire and Ashes: Success and Failure in Politics and Olivia Chow’s My Journey, soon to be followed by Silken Laumann’s Unsinkable: My Untold Story.

Why would I read the stories of other people’s lives? Maybe in part because they’re public figures, but mostly because I’m curious about how people moved from there to here. How they’ve come to terms with the way they were raised or drawn on those experiences. How they’ve overcome obstacles in their personal or professional lives. How their faith has influenced their choices and relationships.

And I find common threads in these life stories: admiration for the courage of immigrant ancestors in starting new lives, the influence of family members on their personalities and career choices, meetings with people that affected the course of their lives. But also struggles with illness, the death of family members, the failure to achieve some goals and the need to set new targets.

In short, these public figures are people like us.

So if we envy the fame or success athletes, performers, politicians or business people enjoy, we need to keep in mind that, however happy or successful or powerful or wealthy they might seem, they have their own troubles:

If every man’s internal care

Were written on his brow,

How many would our pity share

Who raise our envy now?

~ Pietro Metastasio, quoted in the The Book of Positive Quotations, 2nd Edition

Even in the Bible we can read about public figures who struggled: King David, who outlived several of his children (see 2 Samuel 12, 13, 18) and faced challenges to his rule (see 2 Samuel 15-18, 2 Samuel 20, 1 Kings 1); King Solomon, who began to worship other gods (see 1 Kings 11); and Saul (later known as the apostle Paul), who was educated in the law but persecuted Christians before his conversion (see Acts 22). To name just a few.

In the 24/7 media age, where their triumphs and tragedies are instant news items, public figures need our compassion and our prayers for wisdom, courage, strength and faith.

Created in the image of the one God and equally endowed with rational souls, all men have the same nature and the same origin. Redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ, all are called to participate in the same divine beatitude; all therefore enjoy an equal dignity.

~ s. 1934 of the Catechism

Food for Thought

(Y)ou do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that.” ~ James 4:14-15

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