Compassionate accompaniment

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|| By Robert Jalbert, M.M.

Jesus tells his followers, “Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate” (Luke 6:36).

What is compassion? Author Christina Feldman offers a beautiful definition in her book, Compassion: Listening to the Cries of the World (published by Rodwell Press). Compassion, she writes, is “the force of empathy in your own heart that allows you to reach out and touch the broken heart of another.” Compassion, then, is a way of identifying with others in their suffering.

Early in my missionary experience while serving in Kenya in 1985, I mistakenly thought that identifying with the poor meant I was called to provide them with whatever was lacking in their material lives. When during a famine our relief supplies had been exhausted and an increasingly large number of people kept coming to us for help, we eventually had nothing remaining in our storeroom to meet their basic material needs. The longer the famine lasted, the more my own personal reservoir of compassion decreased.

Suddenly I realized in a conversion moment that “identifying with the poor” didn’t necessarily mean doing for them out of my plentiful material resources. Rather, it meant literally being with them on their difficult journey as I felt the weight of my own poverty and powerlessness. The more I recognized my inability to remedy the situation, the more I depended on the supply of God’s compassion for me to share with the people I served, and we struggled together. I literally “borrowed” from God’s compassion in my life and passed it on to others.

This issue contains many examples of today’s followers of Jesus “borrowing” God’s compassion and sharing it with those who need it most: Father Kevin Conroy and Sister Leonor Montiel accompanying Cambodians emerging from long years of war and oppression, Lay Missioner Rick Dixon walking the unpaved roads of San Salvador to share daily life with his neighbors and Brazilian volunteers putting
aside their own material poverty to lend a hand to poor U.S. residents in Kansas City.

We have witnessed how natural and humanly created disasters at home and overseas have brought forth an outpouring of empathy for the victims. We are also called to touch broken hearts in less dramatic ways. How will you respond to Jesus’ daily call to compassion?

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About the author

Robert Jalbert, M.M.

Father Robert A. Jalbert served four years in the U.S. Air Force as a Russian linguist in Italy and Turkey before earning a B.A. in English Literature from Holy Apostles Seminary College in Cromwell, Connecticut. He entered the Maryknoll novitiate in Hingham, Massachusetts in 1973, and after training in Tanzania earned his M.Div. in Theology from Maryknoll School of Theology, New York, where he was ordained in 1979.