Brother René Sanctorum, S.C.
We live by a charism, which must profoundly unify our life. At the root of this charism is the spirituality of the Heart of Jesus, which inspires and energizes our personal life, our community life and our apostolic life. Now, it is certainly possible to summarize what is essential in our spirituality by the term COMPASSION. The word is more and more often heard everywhere and from many different sources. Look in the newspapers and in the recent reviews regarding social problems. This frequent use of the word compassion is without doubt explained by the fact that it corresponds to a deep need of our times. That is why I would like to reflect with you on this essential attitude for us. I will do this in two parts: compassion, why? compassion, how?
I. COMPASSION. WHY?
A. Compassion, our profession
I will take the privilege of beginning with a game of words: compassion by profession, that is to say according to our religious consecration, our religious profession and above all our baptismal profession, and compassion according to our professional work, of our profession, which is to say our job.
1. What is compassion?
First, it is important to know what we are talking about when we use the word compassion. It is not about a passing emotion or about a gesture of short-lived tenderness. To be compassionate means to turn towards those who are aff1icted, with an open and understanding heart that is full of goodness in looking to provide some relief and help. Because compassion is active: “The brothers actively support the interests of the poor, the oppressed, the neglected,” says the Rule of Life, #50, and, in #82: “...Material and spiritual sharing among us, though, would not be in harmony with the Gospel unless it brought about a concern for helping the disadvantaged in a real way...” Compassion is a look that leads to a deep feeling as well as to an action, or at least that raises in us the question: what can I do? even if the circumstances do not allow us to immediately realize something concrete. That is the compassion of Christ, as it was for the two blind persons of Jericho: “Moved to pity, Jesus touched their eyes and immediately they recovered their sight.” (Mt: 20-34)
A short story still will help to show what we are talking about: A young 19 year old French soldier was taken prisoner in East Germany during the Second World War. One day, the eve of a feast of the Virgin Mary, he went to the town church in the evening to pray. But, after twelve hours of working in a factory, he fell asleep. Suddenly, he woke up with a start. An elderly grandmother was next to him, smiling, and handing him a nice red apple!
The soldier, who had become a priest, still recalled the incident 60 years later, as if it were yesterday. In this story, we have a parable of active compassion, which I will represent by three equations:
Equations of Active Compassion
SMILE minus APPLE = easy and passing compassion, superficial emotion and maybe hypocrisy
APPLE minus SMILE = pure technique or simply humanitarian
SMILE plus APPLE = true active compassion
2. Our religious consecration commits us to compassion.
It is not without good reason that we keep our eyes raised on Him whom we have pierced, including in this vision the whole daily life of Jesus in his relations with people. Because the crucified body of Jesus takes us back to every situation and to all the events of his life, in the same way as we say that the entire life of an elderly person has become encrusted in his face, in his features, in his look. Through this contemplation, we understand through faith that God loves us with a human heart, that he went to the very extreme of love, to death, where he meets humankind at the decisive point of his existence. Thus, in imitation of John, we exclaim: “We ourselves saw and we testify that the Father sent his Son as savior of the world. (1 Jn 4:14)... We ourselves have known and put our faith in God's love toward ourselves.” (1 Jn 4:16)
Shaped by this love, we allow ourselves to be identified with Jesus. We also wish to become part of the passion of God for the man who manifested Him to us in the incarnation and in the life of Jesus. This incarnation, it is we who prolong it. For the material presence of Jesus during his earthly life was greatly limited: to the people of Nazareth, of Jerusalem, to a small number of others who were taught by Jesus on the banks of the lake or who met him along the road. Thus, we allow Jesus to continue to love people now as he loved them then, thanks to our own wounded and open hearts. It is not an option for us, but a vital necessity. Without this identification with Jesus, we lose the very sense of our life. By our baptismal profession and religious profession, we are men and women of compassion.
3. Our apostolic work, that is to say Evangelization, commits us to compassion.
a) Compassion, if it is this movement of nearness to others and in particular to those who suffer or who are in need, is a way of evangelization. In the story of the disciples of Emmaus, Luke tells us how Jesus went about evangelizing: “Jesus himself drew near and walked along with them” (Luke 24:15). No evangelization is possible without this solidarity: we must journey with, and first and foremost with the poor. Michel Rondet states: “In this world of religious indifference, those who have alleviated hardship by positive action might perhaps say something about the living God.” The privileged places of God's revelation are the places of compassion. This is absolutely clear when we look at Western society. Most of our contemporaries are hardly concerned about God, of the person and of the message of Jesus. It is useless to speak to them about this important question. They are deaf, not hostile, but deaf. They do not want to ask themselves this question. Why would they? It is like asking them how we could live on Mars? But the day in which they are faced with unemployment, the day when they learn that they have aids or cancer, the day when their son or daughter commits suicide or simply (if I may say it) refuses to continue to live at home or when they are found drugged, then, in this situation, when their fragility suddenly becomes evident, it is then they often become receptive, but receptive first of all to a word of solidarity, of empathy and sympathy. The Church encourages us, we religious, to be close to the poor, to be able to hear the “immense cry of the poor.” Gaudium et spes had already said in 1965: “Most of the world is still suffering from such misery that Christ himself, in the person of the poor, is begging in a loud voice for the charity of his disciples.” Our profession of evangelizers thus helps us to enter into the way of compassion.
b) But it is necessary to go further. Because by speaking in this way, it is possible to give the impression of taking advantage of the distress of others to “sell our goods,” if I may be allowed to use this crude expression. In this sense, compassion could be a pretext for allowing us to evangelize, this last aim being our only goal and the only work worthy of really occupying us. It is as if people would be taken hostage because of their deficiency and would be used for other things, as if the suffering or privations of human beings, whoever they may be, are not enough to require all our efforts. I have noticed that in the Gospel, Jesus never “profited” from a healing to invite another to follow him. On the contrary, we see him sending away the person of the country of Gerasene he had healed of possession: “Go back home to your people and announce to them what the Lord in his mercy has done for you.” (Mk 5:19) It is still more evident in an episode like that of the ten lepers or that of the paralytic of Bethzeda, in the gospel of St. John (5:1-16). Questioned by the Jews, the paralytic professed to not knowing the name of his healer, because Jesus has quietly disappeared into the crowd without making himself known or demanding anything of the crippled man. Thus, compassion cannot be a tactic at the service of the Good News.
Again, the formula “our work of evangelization puts us at the service of compassion” hides another trap. If only the ultimate goal, evangelization, is considered, it would be discouraging every time there is no explicit preaching of the Good News. We would think that we have not reached the goal of our mission, and we would feel sad, bitter or guilty.
In reality, it is necessary to understand well that not only compassion is a way of evangelization, but that it is a form of evangelization, even if it cannot arrive at naming God or Jesus at the moment. To sympathize, at least for us Christians who let ourselves be identified with Jesus, is already to evangelize.
B. Compassion, a basic attitude of André Coindre
For many devout people, from St. Francis of Assisi to Madeleine Sophie Barat, including Francis de Sales and John Eudes, the contemplation of Jesus on the cross has been a way into the Mystery of God and has made daily life fruitful. It is exactly the same for people like André Coindre. With him, there is a constant call to interiorize the attitude of Christ on the cross. To let ourselves become identified with Christ, image of the love of the Father, such was his desire. Thus, it is compassion that impelled him to found his communities. As a young assistant priest still in Bourg-en-Bresse (he had just been ordained), he distinguished himself by his care for the poor: “After two and a half years as assistant in the city, (he) was missed by all the parishioners, who had a great esteem for this priest (which was not true for some other priests of the city) who devoted himself to Charity (that is, to Charity Hospital) before the Sisters came.” (Mayor's report) A little later, a report by the vicars general of Lyon, Courbon and Bochard, inform us “that he (André Coindre) gave himself to preaching and completely devoted himself to good works, notably to the Roanne and St. Joseph prisons.”
In the Rules of the Sisters of Jesus and Mary, he wrote: “Do not send anyone away unhappy, even should it be the poorest of the poor who is inconveniencing you; respect in this unfortunate the price of the blood of Jesus Christ; so that no one might accuse you of having discouraged or despised him/her” (Rules IX, 9).
It is not surprising then, that he was so affected by the misery of children and young people. The story of his gathering up the two little girls at St. Nizier almost by reflex seems to me to be particularly significant. How many others might have passed these children without the slightest reaction? Why he, the preacher, why did he react? After all, it was not his business: to each his specialty! Why? if not because compassion was impressed on his heart and body. His reaction was not momentary and skin deep, but was immediately changed into a reflex of solidarity that demands action, which immediately calls for responsible action: what can I do?
Providing care for delinquents shows this attitude in a vivid way. For it is surely for them that he intended his work. A Lyonnais historian says this: “(The Pieux-Secours was founded) especially for young delinquents who wished to do better.” (Abbot N. Bez, La ville des aumônes [The City of Charity], Lyon, Christian Bookstore, 1840) About this the Founder wrote: “Guilty at an age when a child is more thoughtless than bad, more absent-minded than incorrigible, we should never lose hope of their changing; it is necessary to provide them with a helpful environment to form them to good... So, what must be done? They are being turned away everywhere. The respectable institutions refuse to admit them. All the religious houses are closed to them, even when they are offered considerable amounts of money to take them in and train them. Must they be left to go back to their former ways and see disappear all the fond hopes that they had gained, because a decent place cannot be found for them? No, it is worthy of Christian charity to bring them in and to offer them suitable housing in a charitable foundation...” (Prospectus on the Pieux-Secours [pious establishment], 1818, p.2).
This concern for the most destitute is clearly seen in the way in which André Coindre acted when meeting young boys and girls. To the brothers responsible for the former, he recommended firmness, surely, but also kindness and forgiveness: “Temper force with kindness.” When he goes to Fourvière, no matter how much time he has to spend there, he stays twice as long with the workshop children (the poor) than with the well-off boarders who occupy the other half of the house.
Finally André Coindre's compassion is clearly seen in the way in which he treats the Brothers. His letters – they should all be read – show us to what degree he shares the sorrows, the worries and the difficulties of everyone and how he tries to console and encourage the Brothers.
C. Compassion, a basic attitude of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart and their lay colleagues, today as yesterday
Our superior general, Bernard Couvillion, reminded us in the closing homily of the General Chapter of 1994: “To contemplate the wounds and the sufferings of Jesus should lead us to contemplate the sufferings and the tears of the young. The object of our spirituality should not be only the Sacred Heart of Jesus, but the Heart of Christ just as He is present in the heart of the young. We will be effective Brothers of the Sacred Heart to the extent that we are of one heart with the young towards whom we go in mission.”
a) Our present Rule of Life also shows this essential characteristic of the Brother. I will give here only a few significant citations:
- “The Brothers manifest great kindness in their dealings with others. They have a special affection for the lowly, the poor, the oppressed, and the unloved.” (126).
- “We work to promote the natural and supernatural growth of all, especially of the poor and of victims of injustice.” (150).
- “The experience of our own personal limitations gives us greater sensitivity toward the spiritual and material suffering of others.” (152).
- “Among the diverse calls which reach us, we give preference to deprived children and less developed regions.” (155).
b) Let us add that these principles are effectively applied by our Brothers in many places. I do not have the time here to give you examples of this use of compassion, but without doubt you yourselves can give many examples.
In seeing them act thus, I said to myself: the compassion of Christ is not extinct! The sons of André Coindre – with so many others! – live and act every day, there where they are, in the grips of compassion.
Thus, the Brothers of the Sacred Heart that we are, and their companions in spirituality and work, men and women, we are dedicated by our very consecration to a way of compassion. Our Founder took this way, inspired by a deep spirituality of the Heart of Jesus. The sons of André Coindre follow him in the same way, moved by the same Spirit.
Compassion – why? Because we are Brothers of the Sacred Heart in the footsteps of André Coindre! It is of the very fabric of our vocation.
II. COMPASSION. HOW?
If then we are convinced of the necessity to live compassion, for us as disciples of André Coindre in following Jesus, as a demand of our Christian and religious life and of our mission in the Church, we can ask ourselves what does this mean practically in our daily lives. Because it is not as easy as we might first think to give ourselves to following this path. You know what I mean.
1. To suffer without losing our indispensable Joy
a) There is immense human misery in our world, and it is intolerable. Every day the media presents it to us with horrible pictures, which cause us to become depressed. Yet, it would not be good to rid ourselves of this painful feeling by refusing the tragedy of the world. On the contrary, it is important to plunge deeply into the human situation without suffocating and drowning: that's a difficult balance! Many, in order to free themselves from what seems unbearable, prefer to see nothing and to avoid thinking about it. Maurice Bellet speaks about “the anesthesia, which makes it possible for us to bear the outrage of the world, not to see, not to feel, and to make a safe place in the midst of the atrocities of the world.” And he adds: “Well! the first effect, paradoxically, of the word of love and of the announcing of the kingdom in such a world, is to awaken pain. Jesus, by coming into the world, does away with anesthesia.” And we, disciples of Jesus, prompted by his word, allow ourselves to get in touch with the misery of the world.
We refuse to be anaesthetized: we let our heart be touched by the misery of the world. We recall also that the misery of the world depends on the sin of the world and on our own sin, which is the cause of the misery of others. Who of us can pretend to be completely innocent of the evil that is widespread in the world? Are we not also a little responsible to some degree (to what level? to what degree?) for injustice, for violence or for death, all of which we deplore and denounce, and even fight against. We are living in a paradoxical situation by fighting against an abominable situation to which we, in some way, contribute by a hidden complicity. For instance the western countries buy products from the South paying as little as possible (shameful injustice), and then subsidize those plundered countries. Raoul Follereau said: “It is because we do not love enough that we are forced to help.” In this sense, the suffering that we experience in feeling the distress of others bears a kind of redemptive value.
– Any way, all compassion entails some suffering. “Compatir,” if we look at the Latin, means (pâtir) to suffer with. This suffering should not be seen as a useless feeling. Active compassion is, as we have said, different from a passing emotion, a skin-deep reaction. But a long-lasting suffering, that is something very different. It is an initial stage of action. Too often we consider action only as an aid. And certainly, it is indispensable. But there are situations where it is impossible and where compassion can consist in nothing other than “a suffering with.” What, for example, does it really mean to be compassionate towards a sick person in anguish because he/she is condemned to die in a very short time, if it is not to accept, to take on a little of that agony on oneself? What other kind of help can we think of? The sick person will not be delivered from the sickness, but he will be stronger to bear it, because another is bearing it with him. “To be compassionate.” says Jean Vanier, “is not to suppress suffering but to bear it with the other.”
And finally “suffering with,” at the origin and heart of all compassion, can also be a gift of God to make us understand his own compassion. The burning feeling of compassion allows us thus to discover the tenderness of God at work in us.
b) It is not possible then to be compassionate without suffering. And yet we must not lose our joy. How can we maintain this paradox?
You have known for a long time that joy, in the Gospel, characterized the attitude of the apostles and the disciples when the risen Jesus appeared to them. The word comes back again and again in the stories of the apparitions. It comes back also in The Acts of the Apostles, when conversions happen and when there is the baptism in or the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Joy is, in reality, the sign of the Christian who puts all his faith in the risen Jesus. Thus, if you experience joy, do not be ashamed as if you feel that you have not merited it. For sure, you have not merited it: it is a pure gift of God, which manifests the presence of the Spirit in you. It is not because you state that most people do not have the possibility of experiencing joy, that yours becomes a sort of shameful illness. Should the person who rejoices over his arms and legs cut them off to be like the handicapped?
Moreover, let us not think that this joy offends others or that it seems arrogant to them. If it is truly the joy of the Risen Jesus, not only does it not burden the person in distress, as another reason for feeling inferior or excluded, but it offers the opportunity to form a relationship. Others clearly sense that our Joy comes from elsewhere, that we are neither the authors nor even the owners of it and that through us, they receive a certain amount of it. How can someone who is overburdened be helped by another who is also under much stress? On the contrary, our smile, which springs up from our interior joy, carries with it a mysteriously therapeutic power. How many times have you not experienced that a smile causes another to smile?
2. To act without challenging its impotence
Faced with the immensity of the task, our arms fall limp. How can our so small contribution help? How can we promote, through our work as Brothers and Christian educators, even just a little education, justice, solidarity, mutual help, community, and still more, the faith in Jesus and the love of God? What we build up on one side is torn down on the other. And even if we seem to succeed a little here or there, what is that in comparison to the enormous needs we see. We have the same reaction as the disciples at the multiplication of the loaves: “How many loaves do you have? Five, and two little fish. But what is that for so many people?” And yet, this pathetic contribution is enough for Jesus. God does not ask more of us than our five loaves, but, on the other hand, he cannot do without them. Our five loaves, that is our so poor but stubborn contribution without dreaming of changing the whole world. The temptation is to withdraw: what will that accomplish? Once more Mother Teresa gives us some good advice: our action is just a drop in the ocean, but if this drop were not there, it would be missing!
As we recalled at the beginning, Jesus, by the very fact that he was human, touched very few people. But he nevertheless carried out his mission: “My Father works unceasingly and I also work.” We keep doing in spite of our evident weakness and in spite of the strong feeling of powerlessness, which so humbles and discourages us. When people tell us: “But, brother, madam, sir, you obviously see that your work is useless. Not only do things not develop, but they are even regressing.” In a good number of cases, we are obliged to admit that it is only too true. We can do nothing.
It does not at all mean that we must refuse our state of powerlessness. It is a reality. But it means to view it with a clear and believing eye. First, it is not true that our work is worth nothing, even if it appears to be trivial. Our founder wrote to the first Brother director who was always complaining about the Brothers for whom he was responsible, the Brothers whom he considered incapable of doing better: “It is true, my dear friend, that the Brothers do not behave as well as might be expected, that they do not pray perfectly, that they do not always keep the Rule. But they are nevertheless living the essentials of their vocation: they are united, they work, they get along together. This way of acting is not as common as you think.”
But more important yet, our powerlessness places us in truth before God. Our weakness corresponds well to what we really are. “We experience our weakness.” And we recognize that there is but one power in the spiritual order, that of the Holy Spirit: “It is God who makes the grain grow.” To feel our powerlessness is to feel our weakness, that is to say, to lose our illusions and to become aware of our real condition. That is why Brother Bernard Couvillion invites us in his circular To the Young Brothers to “cultivate a spirituality of littleness.” The lilies of a hidden field provide an abundant harvest; the mustard seed seems tiny; yet when planted, it produces a large tree: it was unexpected! ...The invisible leaven makes the whole loaf rise.
3. To effectively aim at efficacy without being swallowed up by technique
Many generous people desirous of being helpful offer themselves for various pastoral or charitable activities (from the teaching of religion to the care of drug addicts) by declaring themselves ready to do anything and to give themselves fully. But a certain number do not realize that good will is not enough or is no longer adequate in a world where problems are becoming more and more complex. It is not right today to try to respond to difficult questions by simplistic answers. Not only is it permitted to be intelligent in having compassion, but also it is necessary. Not only is it recommended to reflect before beginning to act in favor of the deprived, but also it is indispensable to do so. An action, even generous, can bring about undesirable effects. You all know examples of this kind: sacks of rice are freely distributed to the population in a region of Africa badly hit by drought. With this, the little farmers producing rice no longer find buyers for their crops and thus become unemployed!
Thus, it is necessary to be educated on how to respond in a suitable way to the needs presented to us. You just don’t suddenly become evangelizers or councilors, teachers, educators or agents in a service program in favor of the homeless or the drugged. Now we have seen in certain areas of the Institute, – I think that this is no long- er the case – young brothers who, not having been able to obtain their academic degree to teach, “make do” in parish activities, in the teaching of religion, in movements, etc., without anything else than their good will... This is not a reproach aimed at them, but I think that the superiors have not taken all the means available to them. To teach secular matters, sure knowledge and solid methods are required, approved by difficult exams, but to work in the service of the Church, it is possible to “make do,” to come up with just anything. I know that all of you are well enough aware of this need. An active compassion thus demands a competence and therefore a formation, not just some kind of worthless diplomas, which sometimes serve to fool others, but which do not guarantee a true formation. And, as we know, formation in the world today does not end until we appear before God!
Similarly, an active compassion rests also on institutions (I use the word in its broad sense). Do not be afraid of this word. The institution is a general way of functioning when a group action is envisaged. Four young people who group together constitute an institution insofar as they have a common goal with regulations and means of action. But naturally it is necessary to distinguish institutions that might be called “heavy” (a union, a high school, for example) and others that might be called “light” (a reflection group, a reading club). The institution makes possible a much greater efficiency, because it organizes, shares responsibilities according to competencies, best manages the efforts of each and the material resources, especially the technical means, assures the continuity of services beyond the people presently doing the job, compensates for absences or vacancies, etc… Thus the institution is indispensable and is good. But, ...every institution runs the risk of losing sight of the original purpose and of making itself its own end. And, the heavier the institution, the greater the impending danger. Thus it is for our big schools. What a risk to sacrifice personal contact, helping the students having trouble in school, or involvement with hard-to-handle students, for discipline, for success in the exams, for prestige! What a risk for our administrators to judge only according to economic criteria! Making money is not a Christian value. How can an institution pretend to evangelize if it is not first and foremost itself evangelized? In the face of the large number of students and other persons who stand in need of help, it is possible sometimes to completely lose this attention to each person and treat everyone as a number: “Who’s next?” Now, according to Jean Vanier: “Compassion is a quality of presence.”
It would be sad and even almost scandalous not to use every technical and institutional means in our power, because it would imply that what we are doing for the poor is always good enough for them. In the same way as it would be catastrophic to use those means to the detriment of the human relationship which requires taking time with someone, taking an interest in their life, in what they are saying, even in their ramblings. I have always remembered what I read about Mother Teresa’s attention to the dying of Calcutta. Instead of going from one to the other giving to each a few minutes, she remained at the bedside of one dying person accompanying her/him to the very end. As to the others, she gave them over to the mercy of God. We must not practice an industrial compassion, all-inclusive or distant. To be compassionate, before to “do for,” is “to be with.” In brief, our compassion becomes an attitude before becoming an action.
4. To become personally deeply involved without neglecting the community.
Compassion obviously supposes a personal response to the suffering of the deprived, the young in particular. But starting there, we have the choice between an individual action, where we react alone, and an action that is involved in the group, the institution, or the community.
Many of us are action people, with plenty of initiative, of creativity, and even of fight. We dream of doing big things in the service of those for whom we are responsible; we are often convinced of having found the right answer and we are very irritated not to see our confreres or colleagues follow far behind. Also we are sometimes driven to go it alone, either “doing our own thing,” or acting with others (teaching, education, animation, teaching religion, for example) but doing everything our way.
The first objection to such a way of acting is, whatever we say about it or whatever we think about it, is the lack of effectiveness. The popular saying: “There are more ideas in many heads than in one” can hardly be questioned.
But even if, in fact, it would happen that a certain brother acting alone is the best possible solution and that everyone agrees with this, it would still lack an important dimension, that of mission. We do not give ourselves a mission: we receive it; and we receive it in the Church, through the intermediary of the Institute and of the community. For us religious, to act separately from the community is in a certain way to miss our vocation. The active compassion of a freelancer risks witnessing to himself only. The active compassion of a community points beyond itself, to the Church, and through it, to Jesus.
It is not the place here for me to speak of community in general: it would take hours. It is because of its connection to our profession of compassion that I will speak of it. The regular tendency when aging is the centrifugal force of slipping into individualism. But it is not a reason for letting this happen. For it is certain that every attack on community life reflects on apostolic life.
It is sometimes believed, naively, that the quality or absence of quality of fraternal relations has no effect on apostolic work. That is a big mistake. In the same way that an unhappy or confused child or adolescent in his family cannot usually do good work in class and acts strangely, sometimes abnormally, you know what I mean, so the educator who does not have satisfying community relations does not do his apostolic work with as much enthusiasm and efficacy .
It seems to me that religious apostolic institutes would profit by reflecting more on community and putting more effort into it, not so as to create cocoons where each one feels very “comfortable,” but for mission: witness and service.
This leads me, in concluding this section, to say a word about the sharing of responsibilities. Unlike what we often see, the sharing of responsibilities does not mean giving to each person a particular part over which he has complete control, which becomes a private domain. Surely everyone does actually receive a particular area of apostolic action according to his abilities, his competencies and his availability, and it is important to give him as much initiative as possible, but the person who has charge of this or that service tells the whole community about how he/she is doing his/her work, about his/her feelings, his/her successes and his/her failures. And the others listen to the one who is speaking, show interest in his/her work, also express their feelings especially to congratulate or encourage him/her, rather than thinking: “that’s his/her business; that’s his/her concern!” Paradoxically, it was with a team of priests that I found the best example of this community sharing of responsibilities. Usually in these teams, a sector of the work is confided to each one: to one the baptisms and marriages, to another the youth movements, to a third, the pastoral ministry to the elderly and sick, etc... Each acts as the absolute master: “do not trespass on my territory!” But in this large parish, the priests devote every Monday morning to sharing everything that happened during the previous week (or on what was seen coming in the days ahead) and how they reacted, and it was all discussed. Each one felt responsible for all the ministries of the parish; each allowed the others the right to comment, even to question something. Useless to comment on the affection that existed among these priests: it was nice to be in such a house!
5. To give of oneself without withdrawing
It may happen that there are Brothers mostly preoccupied with themselves and not much aware of the needs of those around them: their Brothers, the young they care for, the people next to them, near or far. There exist also those who, on the contrary, give all they have without holding back anything for themselves, so much so that in the last analysis, they are no longer themselves. To give of oneself, it is necessary just the same to have a little concern for oneself, to have some firmness, to stand up, to be reliable. There are teachers who become sick or at least sad when vacation comes: they need the students to be themselves, to live. On the contrary, the good teacher, it seems to me, is happy to go to school and even happier to leave it! That’s healthy!
Compassion is lived first of all for this particular member of Jesus Christ that I am. We need rest, relaxation, leisure, at least a little, not by a vain indulgence in ourselves, but precisely because of our mission. Let us not be pretentious or naive. We need to receive if we want to be able to give. One of our Brothers, the director of an important school, reserved no time at all for himself, even during vacation. Naturally, he did not have time to join in the annual community retreat. One day when I was speaking to him about a book I had read, he replied: “You have the time to read, you? It’s easy to see that you have nothing to do!”
Here is another case, that of one of my former students who became a religious teacher, intelligent, refined, clever. In her first year of profession, she was assigned to a children’s home in an important city. Immediately, she began working in the parish: an unexpected godsend for the local clergy! Groups, catechism, liturgy: the little sister never said no. No longer a moment for herself, nor did she have time for the community. The demands multiplied, she wanted to be part of everything. What happened, you can well imagine, it is all too common: it wasn’t long before she quit the religious life: I think she was worn out.
Brothers and sisters, how I distrust devotedness! Either it kills the person, as I have just shown, or, and I will say a word about it now, it hinders a person from coming to know himself/herself.
In fact, it happens – and unfortunately it is not rare – that we throw ourselves headlong into the apostolate, as it is said, not by an uncontrollable zeal or a wild passion for Jesus, whom we want to be known by more and more people, but in order to escape from ourselves. I could tell you many stories about this, but you know as many as I do, or even more. Now, it is necessary to be very clear: in as much a person is perturbed, to that degree he/she cannot help another. When someone is sick (I am talking about sickness “in the head,”) – and no one can pretend to be exempt from depression, obsession, scruples or other small or big disorders – when one is sick, he/she must be treated, and it is not then the time to go out to save others. Does the fireman leave his burning house to go elsewhere to put out a chimney fire?
Surely you understand well that I am not talking about some little passing trouble, a vague melancholy, a fit of the blues: in these cases, on the contrary, it is necessary to refuse self-pity and to work hard with much determination. But, if these gnawing feelings subsist and worsen, then it is necessary to stop to take the proper measures to get well, and not to thrust oneself headlong into apostolic activities.
Be careful of pretences! Those who are seriously involved in this for the sake of others, wishing unconsciously to resolve their own problems, often find the best reasons in the world to fake it. In the Gospel we find: “Whoever loses his life, will find it; whoever wishes to save his life, will lose it.” We can see this in the example of the saints, André Coindre, for instance, etc.
But certain attitudes are suspect. The most evident is the desertion of the community or the withdrawal into silence: such conduct is unequivocal. Also evident is the habit of using expressions of regret or of contempt for what the others are doing or, at least, of judging others, which tends to become more and more categorical. Usually a commitment causes the development of a spirit, the opening up of the heart and a growing goodness towards others. But, in this case, it is just the opposite, the personality grows narrow, a sign of the lack of authenticity. There is no longer much compassion for the people in the house, I mean of the community, even while there is the pretence of a showing a great compassion for everyone, especially those farthest away. As to the one closest by, oneself, there is absolutely no compassion for him/her, no pity: no self love at all! To give oneself, it is first necessary to be OK to oneself and in oneself, and not a stranger to self.
To love the others, we must first love ourselves.
How do we live the compassion which flows from our spirituality of the Heart of Jesus? We said it in the beginning: by contemplating the open Heart of Jesus on the Cross. Because it is there that we will discover the compassion of God for us, and this experience is indispensable so that we be converted to compassion.
Let us repeat over and over again, in faith, our deepest convictions on this point.
First, Jesus loves us, he loves us very much. Do not forget Isaiah: “You are precious in my eyes!” Jesus loves us and he is proud of us, of our work, of our perseverance, of our staying power in trials.
Then Jesus wants that we should love ourselves, each one of us personally, that is to say that we have compassion on ourselves too, that we accept, that we recognize our worth (not through vanity, but to give thanks, as Mary in her Magnificat), that we understand, that we pardon ourselves (read St. Francis de Sales, and in particular his letters). Let us dialogue with ourselves, which means let us dare to claim our own feelings and to give to ourselves our reasons for living, our hopes, and the motives for our joy.
Finally, let each of us put ourselves completely into the hands of the Father like a well-beloved daughter, a well-beloved son in the well-beloved Son.
Brother René Sanctorum LYl50704
Tr.: Brother Marcel Riviere LYO40598
Revised: MRBSL 3l0504