Friday, July 24, 2015
In ancient Greece, people loved beautiful things, beautiful women, beautiful kids. It’s all too natural and spontaneous. Such a love called "Eros" was widespread in the ancient Greek, Roman and Assyrian-Babylonian cultures. With Jesus, we have a revolution. He does not suppress "Eros" but he brings to us a new notion called "Agape." The human being is not a way to play around but he is an end in himself. We see Jesus in the Gospel healing paralytics, casting out demons, showing a preference to the marginalized. This is Jesus. Without him, we would not have known social justice, human rights and respect of the person.
In the suburbs of Cairo, Beirut, Rome, Paris or Toronto, billionaires live in luxurious compounds and travel all over the world for fun, while entire families are packed in one room and try to survive with a few dollars a day. When you read the gospel, you cannot accept such a situation.
From the beginning of the Church, the principle of keeping nothing for oneself was practiced by the Christian community. At the time, sharing everything with others was a totally new notion. When persecution of Christians ended in the 4th century, St. Basil started what we call today hospitals. It was not 5-star hospitals, but halls and rooms where the sick, the poor and the hungry were taken care of.
With Jesus, religion becomes compassion. The good news does not consist of telling the suffering « some day you will rejoice in heaven with God and his angels » but going right now to the poor, the distressed, the hungry and treat them as your brothers and sisters.
Do we know that all that started with Jesus? Do we know that the Universal Charter of Human Rights is essentially inspired by the Gospel? Do we know that the principles of the French Revolution - liberty, equality, fraternity – have their roots in Christianity? Try to discover such principles in the other religions around you. Liberty is reserved to rulers and masters. Equality between man and woman, rich and poor, persons belonging to other religions does not exist. Fraternity is based on blood, and is reserved to the members of one’s clan, group or community...
Saint Paul makes it clear that everyone is equal to everyone else. « There are neither rich nor poor; neither man nor woman, neither free nor slaves… »
Let’s think of Vincent de Paul in the 17th century. This nobleman struggled to buy slaves and free them. You have no idea how horrible was their situation at that time. They were sold like merchandise or animals in the market places of Zanzibar and Gorée Island, next to Dakar in Senegal, then sent from Africa to the Americas to be sold there. They were laid on top of each other inside the ship carrying them where they would vomit or excrete feces on each other for days and weeks.
Vincent de Paul cared for them to the point of himself becoming a slave for two years due to his activities for which they wanted to get rid of him. This man inspired scores of people willing to share Jesus'compassion for the belittled.
Egypt would not have been what it is today without this army of religious men and women who struggled to build hospices, hospitals and schools. Their sense of total self-giving is rooted in Jesus’ teaching. It’s not easy to give your whole life when you could get a great job, gain money, become rich.
When we see misery around us, we can no longer settle around a hot meal or get under a warm cover in the cold night without saying: “Why me and not the others?” A few weeks ago, I was very tired. When people came to visit me I said to myself "Why me and not the thousands of other sick persons in Alexandria?" When I see the medicines I consume to recover and the cost of the hospital, I say: "Why so many people cannot afford such expenses?”
Jesus came to reveal us God's compassion. The word “compassion” comes from the Latin – compatire which means “to suffer with, to feel empathy with”. So many people visiting a sick person sell words and say nice expressions without true feeling. Oftentimes it’s a comedy of compassion. If somebody visits me when I am sick, I know immediately if he really communes with me or not. This is why the Lord sometimes allows us to suffer tragic incidents... so that when somebody says "I suffer" we really understand him and feel empathy with him. True compassion is badly lacking today!
Recently I visited a sick person in a far hospital. Alone and rejected by his family, he was feeling terribly hungry. When we brought him food, a large smile appeared on his face!
Mother Teresa insisted that we should go “to the poorest of the poor". All her followers try to embody her wish. I am in deep admiration for so many young sisters leaving their homes and countries to help our poor in Egypt. This is extraordinary.
Lord, give me a heart of compassion... a heart that beats with those who suffer… a heart able to make their suffering mine. Along with material help, let me feel true compassion for them. Let me show them respect, regardless of their appearance and social status.
The Gospel is a revolution. We do not know what the world would have been without Christ. We, who are supposed to be his followers, have a long way to go until we become real Christians. If Christianity is to continue its powerful presence in the world, it is by its appeal to the dignity of the human person, created in the image of God.
Lord, you said "I came to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!" (Luke 12: 49). Is not this the fire of the Holy Spirit blazing in the heart of humanity to heal it? Is not this the fire that Christ baptizes us with in order to return ours to his everlasting joyful heart?
Lord, Give me a heart of compassion like yours...
Original in French :