16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mama passed away in the midst of this pandemic, when people were supposed to be staying home still. We explicitly told our relatives and friends that they need not come to the wake – for obvious reason. But we were deeply touched when a lot of our friends came in person, in spite of the pandemic, to console us. Many of them came out of their homes for the first time since the start of the community quarantine.
There was this very close friend of mine who upon seeing me, said, “You know how much I want to embrace you, but that is not prudent because of our situation.” “I just want you to feel my presence.” Hearing it, I just started crying in his presence. And he was just there crying with me. He did not attempt to say words of reassurance and hope – the usual things people say when they try to console somebody who is mourning and grieving.
That moment with a friend reinforces what I have always believed: We receive real comfort and consolation in moments of pain and suffering, of mourning and grieving, when someone stays with us and cries with us, someone chooses to suffer with us. My friend crying with me, mourning, and grieving with me, making his compassionate presence felt, without any action or word of advice, just the simple presence of someone who cares, gave me real comfort and consolation.
It is important to reflect on this idea of “suffering with the suffering” for us to understand better today’s gospel message.We are told that when Jesus saw the vast crowd he was moved with pity – he was moved with compassion. The word compassion is derived from the Latin words pati and cum, which together mean “to suffer with.” Jesus is someone who suffers with the suffering. He is someone who shares in our vulnerability and woundedness. He is someone who makes his compassionate presence felt. Today’s gospel calls us to be like Jesus: to suffer with the suffering, to share in other’s vulnerability and woundedness, to make our compassionate presence felt.
Henri Nouwen has this beautiful reflection: “When I reflect on my own life, I realize that the moments of greatest comfort and consolation were moments when someone said: ‘I cannot take your pain and suffering away, I cannot offer you a solution for your problem, but I can promise you that I will not leave you alone… I will hold on as long and as I can, as well as I can.’” That is the gift of compassion. Compassion is the pain of love which enables us to suffer with the suffering.
Well, one of the hardest things about “suffering with the suffering” is the feeling of weakness and helplessness. When we see the suffering of someone significant to us, we long to be able to do something tangible, we want our presence to be ‘useful’ and ‘productive’ by being able to help in easing the pain and suffering. According to David Runcorn, a spiritual writer, it is important to examine ourselves on this matter – saying: “We may have to face the question of whether our longing for an intervention or a solution is more to satisfy the terror of our helplessness and powerlessness.” “But if we accept our helplessness for what it is we become, in that moment, a fellow sufferer.”
Henri Nouwen tells us, “Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into places of pain… to share in the brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish of the other person.” “Compassion challenges us to cry with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears.” “Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, to be vulnerable with the vulnerable, to be powerless with the powerless.”
I truly believe that it is often in simple, unpretentious, humble presence to each other that we receive real comfort and consolation in moments of suffering Simply being with each other is difficult because it asks of us that we share in each other’s vulnerability, that enter into the experience of weakness. It is a real challenge to overcome and let go of our need to be “the strong” helping “the weak.” Only by being at peace with our helplessness can we suffer with the suffering, and let suffering itself be a teacher.