EMPATHY FOR THE WORLD
by Fr Ron Rolheiser, O.M.I.
There's a story told, more legend perhaps than fact, about a mayor of a large American city in the late 1960s. It wasn't a good time for his city: It was facing financial bankruptcy, crime rates were spiraling, its public transportation system was no longer safe at night, the river supplying its drinking water was dangerously polluted, the air was rife with racial tension, and there were strikes and street protests almost weekly.
As the story goes, the mayor was flying over the city in a helicopter at rush hour on a Friday afternoon. As the rush-hour bustle and traffic drowned out most everything else, he looked down at what seemed a teeming mess and said to one of his aides: "Wouldn't it be nice if there was plunger and we could flush this whole mess into the ocean!"
He was being facetious, but I worry that we sometimes subtly think the same thing about our world. Too often we and our churches tend to see the world precisely as a mess, as caught up in mindless trivialization, as self-indulgent, as narcissistic, as short-sighted, as no longer having values that demand self-sacrifice, of worshipping fame, of being addicted to material goods, and of being anti-church and anti-Christian. Indeed, it is common today in our churches to see the world as our enemy.
And, far from feeling heartbroken about it, we feel smug and righteousness as we gleefully witness its downfall: The world is getting what it deserves! Godlessness is its own punishment! That's what it gets for not listening to us! In this, our attitude is the antithesis of Jesus' attitude towards the world.
Jesus loved the world. Really? Yes. Is this what the Gospels teach? Yes.
Here's how the Gospels describe Jesus' reaction towards the world that rejected him: As Jesus drew near to Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it saying: "If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes." Jesus sees what happens when people try to live without God, the mess, the pain, the heartbreak, and, far from rejoicing that the world isn't working, his heart aches with empathy: If only you could see what you're doing!
Looking at a world that's breaking down because of its self-absorption, Jesus responds with empathy, not glee; with understanding, not judgment; with heartache, not rubbing salt in the wounds; and with tears, not good riddance.
Loving parents and loving friends understand exactly what Jesus was feeling at the moment when he wept over Jerusalem. What frustrated, heartbroken parent hasn't looked at a son or daughter caught up in wrong choices and self-destructive behavior and wept inside as the words spontaneously formed: If only you could see what you're doing! If only I could do something to spare you the damage you're doing to your life by this blindness! If only you could recognize the things that make for peace! But you can't see, and it breaks my heart!
The same is true among friends. True friends don't rejoice and become gleeful when their friends make bad choices and their lives begin to collapse. Instead there are tears, mingled with anxious empathy, with heartache, with pleading, with prayers. Genuine love is empathic and empathy is never gleeful at someone else's downfall.
We are asked by our Christian faith to have a genuine love for the world. The world isn't our enemy. It's our wayward child and our loved friend who is breaking our heart. That can be hard to see and accept when in fact the world is often belligerent and arrogant in its attitude towards us, when it's angry with us, when it wrongly judges us, and when it scapegoats us. But that's exactly what suffering children often do to their parents and friends when they make bad choices and suffer the consequences of that. They impute and scapegoat. This can feel very unfair to us, but Jesus attitude towards those who rejected and crucified him invites us to an empathy beyond that.
Kathleen Norris suggests that we look at the world, when it opposes us, in the same way as we look at an angry 17 year-old girl dealing with her parents. At that moment of anger, her parents become a symbolic lightening rod (a safe place) for her to vent her anger and to scapegoat. But absorbing this is a function of adult loving. Good parents don't respond to the anger of an adolescent child by declaring her their enemy. They respond like Jesus did, by weeping over her.
Moreover a genuine empathy for the world isn't just predicated on mature sympathy. Mature sympathy is itself predicated on better seeing the world for what it is. The 17 year-old adolescent standing belligerent and angry before her parents isn't a bad person, she's just not yet fully grown up.
That's true too for our world: It's not a bad place; it's just far from being a finished and mature one.
Lord, tinatanggap ko na saan mo man ako dalhin, yun ang pinakamainam na lugar para sa akin, at hindi mo ako iiwan. Sinabi ni Yahweh kay Abram, lisanin mo ang iyong bayan, ang tahanan ng iyong ama at mga kamaganak, at pumuta ka sa bayang ituturo ko sa iyo. Gen 12: 1
God’s plan is always best, sometimes the process is painful and hard, but don’t forget when God is silent. He is doing something best for you surprisingly.
God creates out of nothing. Wonderful you say. Yes, to be sure. But he does what is still more wonderful: He makes saints out of sinners. –Soren Kierkegaard
Worry comes from dwelling on ourselves and our problems instead of God and His solutions. We need to be Christ-centered instead of problem-centered. Ed Hindson
Great is the person who does not show hatred over what is lost, but instead, shows gratefulness over what is left.
Whatever the reason for your broken intimacy with God, there is good news. Jesus waits to embrace you now in the arms of unconditional divine love. Charles Stanley
Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear. The brave may not live forever but the cautious don’t live at all. – Princess Diaries
Forget about all the reasons why something may not work. You only need to find one good reason why it will.
Happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we don’t have. – Frederick Koenig
Your greatest fulfillment in life will come when you discover our unique gifts and abilities and use them to edify others and glorify the Lord. Neil T. Anderson
Life does not have to be perfect to be wonderful. Just live each day with pure honesty and good intentions, and god will reward you with many blessings.
Be on your guard against all kinds of greed. A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. Lk 12:15
There are times when we never searched, but we discovered; we never wished but our desire was granted; we never asked but we got an answer, and we never wanted but we were showered with his blessings. Let us thank the Lord for seeing beyond our needs and desires.
If God solves your problem, you have faith in His abilities. If god doesn’t solve your problem, he has faith in your abilities.
Tough times are like physical exercise. You may not like it while you are doing it, but tomorrow you will be stronger because of it.
God always gives His best to those who leave the choice with him. Jim Elliot
Oftentimes we need to pray not because we need to change the situation but because we need God to change our attitude about the situation.
Possibility thinking faith tears down the walls, impossibility builds the walls.
I don’t know what your destiny will be but one thing I do know: The only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve. Albert Schweitzer
Don’t wait. Get right with God today. Woodrow Kroll
If we really believe in God’s constant forgiveness, then we must hold the truth that every moment, God calls us to forgive ourselves and those who sin against us.
No words could describe the overwhelming joy that reconciliation brings. This is exactly how joyful God feels when we find our way back to him. That is how important each person is to God.
Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute way, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, what you know that breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love and it will decide everything. Pedro Arrupe, SJ
God calls each one of us by name. Our name is sacred. It is our icon. For our name expresses our essence, identity and life. Ccc 203.2185
Challenges in life come in 3 broad categories: easy, difficult, and impossible. Those who take only the easy have a safe and boring life. Those who take the difficult are tough and have a sense of fulfillment. But those who take the impossible inspire others that it can be done.
Man is truly irrational. What’s worse, his mind is dependent on his feelings. It is, therefore, not surprising to see men saying one thing and doing another.
In that regard, I am still a normal human being then. I just came from a worship session, when I felt down for some mysterious reason. Why this? I asked myself, though I was not surprised at all. I’ve been through this a hundred times before. Yet the inconstancy still bothers me. Something after the feeling of high must have triggered me again. I knew I’d be gripped by self-analysis and possibly “analysis paralysis” any moment.
I’ll let the trigger of my sorrow a mystery for now, but there is another mystery to be resolved here: where did that irrational joy during worship come from? I myself was surprised. Considering the many things I had been going through that I could exploit as a reason to be depressed, I still managed to give my all in praising and worshiping God in song. There’s a psalm that says, “Worship the Lord in Spirit and truth.” It sounds abstract to the outsider, but to me, I understood what it means. It means worshiping God with all my heart, all my soul, all my strength – who cares who I am, who I have been, and what my troubles are?
I think this is where that mysterious mirth is coming from then: it didn’t come from me, for where in the depths of my corruption would I have the wherewithal to give my everything like that? It could only come from outside myself, outside my own effort, power, energy. It was a gift granted to me. It as pure grace! What made it fall from heaven and come down into my lap is my faith, my belief that it would be given me despite myself, my trust that God’s goodness and love know no bounds, and my sins and feelings of unworthiness won’t be a stumbling block for the outpouring. All I had to do is choose to believe and act according to that choice.
I was supposed to be energized by that soon after, and I was, but still, it didn’t prevent me from entering darkness and feeling down once again. As long as I am alive, I will probably be seized by dark thoughts and feelings. But who cares if I can ask for the gift again and again? That thought is enough to make me want to bounce back again and again too, and by God, I will.
Life will always be a roller-coaster for me -- there’s no telling what mood I would be in hereon in -- but I can always rely on God to be the one constant, no matter how I think and feel at the moment.