This Sunday, we again encounter the image of the Good Shepherd. While the Gospel does not make mention of the Good Shepherd, it refers to the shepherd and to what is a key characteristic of a shepherd as leader or missionary: compassion, the ability to feel with and for others.
If you google the word, you get 71,800,000 results in 17 seconds; clearly a very popular word. (Love has 8,110,000,000 in 17 seconds.) Our world is not wanting in talk about compassion, but how do we improve on walking the talk?
Ignatius of Loyola advised the early Jesuits who were trying to save souls, as the language then would put it, that if they wanted to influence people spiritually, enter their door, and take them out through your door.
I often discussed this wise Ignatian counsel with teachers and parents at the Ateneo de Manila High School. It was a key Ignatian principle in education: Enter their door, enter the world of the students and understand them in the context of their world.
As one enters the door or world of others, an essential part of compassion is the ability to listen and to see—listening with our ears and with the ears of our heart and soul, and seeing with our eyes and the eyes of our heart and soul.
In one of our formation sessions, a participant shared what I would consider moments of compassion. He cited two experiences in a period of two days.
One Monday morning, on his way to a meeting at Eastwood, he passed by the shrine of Padre Pio. He was very conscious of the time since he did not want to be late for his meeting. It was, for him, an in-and-out-prayer visit.
His attention zeroed in on the line leading to the statue of Padre Pio, and he was delighted that there was a short line. As he made his way to the statue, he was thinking of his petitions and was starting to pray and quiet down.
An elderly lady slowed him down along the single path to the statue. She was being helped by female and male companions, and she had a cane.
Slow and labored
A stroke patient, perhaps, he thought to himself. Her walking was very slow and labored. His in-and-out-prayer visit plan was definitely thrown off. But he kept his focus on his petitions. As they got to the line, the lady and her companions were in front of him.
It was then that he started to shift his focus, and started to be more aware of his surroundings. The stroke patient before him and her companions who helped her with so much care were reminiscent of the friends of the paralytic who carried him to Christ, climbing and opening the roof.
Another lady with a cane who was then praying by the statue, holding Padre Pio’s hands while praying, then wiping her body and legs with her hands, reminded him of the poor widow who offered her mite. Around eight other groups and individuals were seated, kneeling and deep in prayer.
All of a sudden he was overcome with a sense of shame and humility. He became aware of the people around him. In the silence of the chapel, he could hear and see their pain, their struggle, their faith, their hope.
As he was sharing this, he said he first thought of the famous story and the line, “I cried because I had no shoes, until I saw someone with no feet.” But it was not quite it. While he was there to unburden his own needs and problems and to pray for “the Lord to rescue,” while it was true these people he saw seemed to be more in need and seemed deeper in prayer, he said it was not quite this shoes-feet thing that was tugging at his heart.
He assisted the stroke patient to a pew to sit after she prayed, since the lady companion stayed behind a while to pray. He made the male companion go ahead and say his prayers, since he was not able to do so as he was holding the lady while she was praying, and he had to assist her after she prayed.
As he made his way to pray, he was filled with faith—the faith of the people around him. At that point he was praying for his petitions, but looking back, he was praying with the Spirit within him, the Spirit of faith and hope that these people with him in the chapel had as they came and prayed.
He left humbled, and very much at peace, with shared faith and hope with these people in prayer inside the chapel.
As he was leaving, he saw a line from Padre Pio etched on the glass panel: “I can refuse no one, how could I if the Lord himself never refuses me anything?” The line spoke to his heart and soul.
The whole day he faced all things with equanimity and peace.
The following day he found himself in a shrine of Our Lady that he would visit once a week on his way home. But what was unusual and funny about the visit was, he was a day early. He would visit this shrine every Wednesday to light a candle and pray at the shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, then pray in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel.
He would confess in the sharing that all of that day, he thought it was a Wednesday. He had prayed the rosary for a Wednesday, the Glorious Mysteries, meditated over the Wednesday Gospel, and had planned the visit to the shrine on his way home. All set for the day, he realized at the end of the day when he attended Mass that it was Tuesday!
He said to himself in jest, “Dadaan na rin ako sa shrine; baka magtampo ang Mahal na Birhen.” (I might as well pass by the shrine; the Blessed Virgin might feel bad if I don’t.)
As he was praying in the shrine after lighting a candle, a woman awaited him. She was holding papers, and she asked for help for her sick mother as he walked to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel.
Somewhat matter-of-factly, he told the woman to write down the name of her mother, who had a stroke, and the contact information, and he promised to refer her to the PCSO. The woman broke down in tears as she rushed to write the information.
Then another elderly lady walked up and also showed her papers for her heart condition. He asked her to do the same, but since she could not write, he had to write down the information himself. He told them that people would contact them the following day and process their needs.
The two ladies were in tears and the first, the daughter of the patient, kept on saying, “Hulog po kayo ng langit!” (You are heaven sent!)
He could not respond, because by this time he was again overcome with a sense of profound humility. All he said was, “Pagdasal niyo po ako at ang trabaho ko. Hindi bale na po kung sino ako.” (Please pray for me and my work. Never mind who I am.)
As he knelt inside the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and as he started to pray, he broke down in tears. He did not know why, but at that moment, all that he could feel, hear and see in his heart and soul was that God is a compassionate God, a faithful and providential compassionate God.
This is compassion at its purest, to realize how God has been so compassionate toward us and share this compassion with others, knowing it is not ours to keep, but only ours to give.
This man’s story is the story of Christ and his disciples in this Sunday’s Gospel. They had worked hard and worked well to serve others. They were quite focused on taking a well-earned break, perhaps to prepare for the next round of missionary work. They deserved everything they had planned for.
But, as the story goes, Christ teaches them the one most important “rule” for service, in living out our mission.
Ignatius of Loyola, centuries later, phrases it as “entering their door.” The Gospel story gives a deep insight on this: “When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd…” Christ and company then set aside all their plans and ministered to the people’s needs.
This is Christ’s compassion. This is our God. He listens, sees, feels and acts with his heart and soul. He enters our door, stays with us and shares with us his compassion and love. This is our God.
“I can refuse no one, how could I if the Lord himself never refuses me anything?” said Padre Pio.
May this grace accompany us as we walk the talk of compassion—and love.