Category Archives: compassion

The compassionate face of Christ

Last night I had a strange dream in which I was playing “O Sacred Head surrounded,” a Lenten hymn, on an organ. I was playing it without sheet music.

I woke and the hymn went through my mind numerous times.

When I woke up I brought an image of the Head of Christ I have and placed it in my prayer corner. Before praying I listened to five different renditions of the hymn.


Gazing on the head of Christ, I am reminded of the compassion, the compassionate mercy of God for us. God wishes to be with us, born poor, living and dying poor.

Today just happens to be the feast of Mother Teresa of Kolkata, who saw the face of Christ in the poor, in the least of these.

But I think she could do this because she sought to place herself in the presence of God and, though she suffered a long dark night of the soul, I believe that sustained her.

Today I also watched the ABC program of the pope speaking with people from the margins in Mac Allan, Texas, Chicago, and Los Angeles. It is worth the 45 minutes. Here in English; here in Spanish

One young man asked him how to respond to the pain and suffer. Before he spoke about some practical responses, he first urged him – and all of us – to look to Jesus.

May we learn to gaze upon the Sacred Head, “surrounded by crown of piercing thorn,” and upon the faces of all those who suffer and respond with a love that is real, rooted in an encounter with Christ and directly with those who suffer.

A great lake of beer

Today is the feast of a great Irish saint, Brigid of Kildare, who died in 525.

Little beyond legend is known of her life. Probably baptized by St. Patrick, she was the abbess of a double monastery – with both monks and nuns.

But what comes across is her compassion and generosity to the poor. There is a legend that she was a slave when she converted to Christianity, but her owner soon freed her because she was giving away so much to the poor.

Each day I try to read about the saints in Richard McBrien’s Lives of the Saints and Robert Ellsberg’s All Saints. What strikes me is how often the saints, especially bishops, are noted for their generosity to the poor.

Brigid is no exception. She is said to have wanted “to satisfy the poor, to expel every hardship, to spare every miserable person.”

One year she distributed beer for 18 churches out of one barrel, from Holy Thursday until Pentecost. Another time a women with leprosy asked for milk; Brigid had none but gave her water which turned into milk; when the woman drank the milk she was healed.

So today, if it is your custom, have a beer in memory of Saint Brigid but, more importantly, find a way to share with a poor person.

In this way we can live – and not only pray – the prayer of Saint Brigid:

I should like a great lake of beer for the King of Kings. I should like the angels of Heaven to be drinking it through time eternal. I should like excellent meats of belief and pure piety. I should like flails of penance at my house. I should like the men of Heaven at my house; I should like barrels of peace at their disposal; I should like vessels of charity for distribution; I should like cheerfulness to be in their drinking. I should like Jesus to be there among them. I should like the three Marys of illustrious renown to be with us. I should like the people of Heaven, the poor, to be gathered around us from all parts.

Fear of death

Today the Catholic world remembers the dead. We pray for them – mindful of our need for the prayers of all the community of faith. We are in this together.

But fear of death permeates our lives and, I believe, paralyzes many, especially in the US. The Letter to the Hebrews rightly notes that through “fear of death” people are “subject to slavery.” But Christ Jesus, the Compassion of God, has delivered us from the paralysis of fear.

As Henri Nouwen wrote, in  Letter to Mark about Jesus,

“The great secret in life is that suffering, which often seems to be so unbearable, can become, through compassion, a source of new life and new hope.

“God has become human so as to be able to live with us, suffer with us, and die with us. We have found in Jesus a fellow human being who is so completely one with us that not a single weakness, pain, or temptation has remained foreign to him.”

And so death does not have to be feared.

Some people have asked me about insecurity here in Honduras, especially about my upcoming move out to the countryside. Sure, I have some concerns but I can’t let myself be paralyzed by fear. But I also feel that my greatest source of security here, outside of God’s Love, is the love and hospitality of the people I work with.

Yes, I’ll die some day. I am sixty-six years old. And so I take comfort in Nouwen’s words in In Memoriam:

“Why do we think that Christian death is an easy death? Why do we believe that a hope for a life with Christ will make our death a gentle passage? A compassionate life is a life in which the suffering of others is deeply felt, and such a life is a life that may also make one’s death an act of dying with others…”