16th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B
Saint Paul the Apostle & Saint Barnabas, NYC
Weary from a long day’s work, a father and mother stumble into their house and collapse on the couch. No sooner have they done this, the summer camp shuttle arrives dispensing their preschooler and their 5 year old. Dad, prone to irritability after work, takes a deep breath. Mom, having planned on a martini to quiet her nerves, swallows hard. The children burst into the living room. “Mom, Dad! Come; see what we made at camp! Looking into their children’s’ eyes, the parents are moved with compassion, and with it, comes an unexpected flood of patience and understanding. They listen attentively to their children’s stories. And when the children finish behold, the children want to know about Mom and Dad’s day! Surprised, but quickly responding, the parents, filtering their stories to fit a child’s imagination, recount their respective days with animated zeal. How Daddy had battled with the mean comptroller and won! Mommy had prayed a prayer and was able to be kind to the nasty supervisor who called everyone names! The children listened with wide-eyed interest. They felt compassion, too. My goodness they were a family!
There’s true beauty when human longing meets holy compassion. There’s a movement to humility, and suddenly Energy! JOY! And so we find comfort in today’s readings. Jeremiah promises a new kind of Shepherd for the people, the Psalmist sings of this Good Shepherd, Paul decries that in Christ we have access in one Spirit to the Father. And the Gospel hits all this home:
Weary from all their preaching and healing, Jesus & apostles go to a deserted place to rest for awhile. But in come the Crowds filled with longing—for they, too, are weary. Weary from their troubles, weary from the Roman occupation, the in-fighting of their religious leaders. Perhaps Jesus sighs and envisions a jug of wine, but He is overcome with compassion and surrenders to God within Him. After all, He knew who He was and why He was here.
As for the crowds, they listened and were surprised—even startled, that Jesus speaks to them without condemnation. He does not berate or brow-beat them, but offers truth and loving challenges. How powerfully the Compassion of God overcomes our weariness and fatigue! How quickly it energizes us to act in that same spirit!
Today, who among us is not weary, weary, and weary of the world scene? The News these weeks—terrible! Terrible! WE turn to Christ in Word and Eucharist longing for compassion; assured of compassion. It’s ours for the taking. Nourishment offered freely to us. All we have to do is listening and ponder Jeremiah, David the Psalmist, Paul and the Gospel. All we have to do is take and eat. And through this, fatigue gives way to energy and possibility. To think, to dare, to dream, to act!
Yes, we do have a compassionate God! What if our world were as compassionate? What if the energy poured into business and profit were channeled toward world hunger? What if the militaries of the world channeled more of their resources into compassionate service: a United Nations Peace Corp with funds matching every nation’s military budget?
What if the Palestinians and Arab nations offered compassion to the Israelis, accepting their right to a nation of their own? What if the Israelis had compassion for the innocent Palestinian civilians and did not exact more than an eye for an eye a tooth for a tooth when confronting terrorism? The Holy Father Benedict XVI calls all peoples to pray for peace in the Middle East this weekend. Isn’t compassion for all sides and from all sides that we pray for?
What if the Muslim World moved from contempt for the Western nations to compassion for us? For compassion brings not only understanding but humility. It accepts no judgments or condemnations, but instead, invites self-evaluation and a willingness to acknowledge universal human sins in the course of courting empathy.
For the entire Arab world’s justifiable criticism of our overly-sexualized and violent culture, compassion would release them from their own demons! Who has not read of the terrible underground prostitution, pornography, child brides, humiliation and mistrust of women, in Muslim countries? Not to mention Muslim terrorists own rationalizations for violence! Compassion would force them to replace their own hypocrisies with a desire for mutual dialogue, collaboration on an international scale, joining panels of interfaith religious studies on sin and redemption, and cooperation with international human rights initiatives. Why “compassion” could move the darker shades of the Muslim and Arab worlds to acknowledge shared sins and misplaced values and deplete their energies for their ironic and inappropriately named “holy war?”
And as for us, engaging in this possibility, we must ask ourselves, "Does it have to take Muslim compassion toward our so-called Judaic-Christian culture for us to acknowledge our Western failings? What if all the time and talent used to exalt sexuality and glorify sexual expression in our country manifested in films and music, advertising, internet correspondence (all that pornography!) were poured into tools for better human relations, methods of mutual understanding --dare we say it—Compassion? What if husband and wives –and all those teenagers and persons of all ages and sexual persuasions so overtly and covertly pressured into sexual involvements outside of marriage—were freed to acknowledge that we are all oppressed and weary of this Sexual Inundation! Would we have compassion on ourselves and stop viewing our sexuality as competitive sport, forever condemned to exercises of heightened, ongoing pleasure where gratification is the goal in order to determine our self worth and value before God and others? What if, instead, American human beings surrendered anxieties over sexual prowess to cultivate more tenderness, kindness and respect for each person and his/her station in life? Would that Viagra become an undesirable nuisance, and the monies poured into America’s # 1 prescription drug go instead to Catholic Relief Services and Bread for the World!
What if we fully embraced compassion for the earth and environment? Today, in movie theaters around the country a documentary entitled “The Inconvenient Truth” is playing and making money on promoting care of the earth!! —Now, there some good news amidst all the wars in the papers! Did you know that, 5 years ago, the US Bishops Conference sent an official letter to Congress with that same agenda? Its wording was a compassionate challenge--no recriminations, no angry language over what we have failed to do, no call to wage war on those who have, for their own reasons or misunderstandings disregarded pollution’s advancement. Instead, the bishops called for compassion to move hearts, minds and money to what will give God greater glory. So every American could honestly say, “See what we’ve done for the earth you gave us, O God! See, Lord, how we treat your gifts and care for them and respect you and praise you?"
After all, the Bible says of the Good Shepherd “In verdant pastures he gives me repose; beside restful waters he leads me" (Psalm 23: 1-3) We understand, of course, these are clean waters, free of chemical wastes, free from wanton lusts, free from hatred, free from greed. All because our God is compassionate.
The Compassion of God is ours for the taking. Do we dare to be moved by it and be overwhelmed? Shall we make it the heart of our prayer? God’s compassion is relentless as the sea, as constant as the Word and the Eucharist. Yes, we are weary, but here human longing meets God’s patient, unconditional, unremitting Love: It’s called Compassion. It alone will move us beyond human desire to experience God’s will for the earth—“on earth, as it is in heaven!”