Compassion gives meaning to our life, and our death

10:55 am | Sunday, November 2nd, 2014

This weekend we observe one of the country’s most revered traditions, “Undas” or All Saints’ Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls’ Day (Nov. 2).

This feast is pretty much like Christmas and Holy Week, in the sense that everyone gets into the mood of the occasion. Filipinos from all walks of life take a break from the daily grind to visit the graves of departed family,  relatives and friends.

I believe there is wisdom in contemplating the mystery of death. Death as the great equalizer is an oft-repeated line.
One can interpret this from various perspectives, but allow me to propose for reflection, for this Sunday’s Gospel, the Parable of the Final Judgment in Matthew 25: 31-46 for the Feast of All Souls.

Begin with the end

This parable’s message is simple. At the end of one’s journey, our life will be measured only one way: Did we live a life of compassion?

Let me add context to our reflection. “Seven Habits” guru Stephen Covey talks of always beginning with the end in mind.

Part of the tradition of a monastic order is placing a skull in the room of monks as a reminder of one’s mortality. Another tradition is seeing the image of monks slowly digging their own grave.

These may seem morbid, but there is wisdom when we begin with the end in mind.

However, we also need to understand that there is more to life than death as its ending; there is meaning in death when one lives life with meaning.

In one of our reflections three years ago, we told the story of a young Jesuit saint who was asked, while playing a game similar to handball, what he would do if he found out he was going to die soon.

His reply: “I will do what I am doing now.”

Repentance and forgiveness are graces always available to us to the very end; but these do not really make for an inspired life, if our end is simply all about repentance and asking for forgiveness.

Rather, the ideal end is the image in today’s Gospel: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you… For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink… (Mt 25: 34-35)

Fr. Joe Galdon, SJ, taught us in Jesuit Juniorate class that compassion must be second nature to us, a way of life, if it is to be authentic.

Compassion also means to enter the chaos of another person, and within it help the other make meaning out of the chaos—to heal and reintegrate, be whole and rediscover meaning.

Genuine compassion

When I was a young boy, I used to stay with my grandparents on weekends and summer vacation.

My grandfather was an old-school government employee. He was very nationalistic and down to earth.

My grandmother was very religious and frugal. Perhaps because of her frugality, she tended to be hard on the household staff.

One night, my grandfather, who rarely stood up during meals, went to the kitchen to get something. Then he stormed back to the dining room, furious at my grandmother.

“How many times must I tell you that our staff must eat the same food we eat? If not, it is either we have become too selfish or we cannot afford what we are eating,” he huffed in Filipino.

This incident made such an impression on me that it influenced much of my own values and principles about being Filipino. It taught me the need to work for equality in Philippine society. It opened my eyes to the need for fair and equal treatment of all.

It also gave me one of the core values of compassion, not just to enter the life and experiences of others but to share in the same experiences.

From St. Matthew, we see the core to compassion. To hunger, the response is to give food; to thirst, to give drink; to nakedness, to clothe.

Genuine compassion inspires a genuine response. It is not a photo-op moment but an intimate moment of being with and for the other person and giving what he/she needs.

Often in these moments we discover the poverty of our own situation, perhaps not material poverty, but the spiritual poverty that humbles us and introduces us to the authentic virtue of compassion.

Not many, but much

To paraphrase the prophet Micah, compassion is to stand humbly before and with the other and to journey with the other, doing what is right and just.

This true story happened in a social enterprise business or for-benefit organization. The members worked in various teams assigned to different parts of the country.

The team that completed the most projects and reached the most number of beneficiaries far outstripped the others.

The other teams, however, whose numbers were simply okay or good, noted that the communities they worked with were far happier and became more empowered faster.

After evaluation, an observation was made. While efficient service deserved merit, compassionate service had more value and was more life-changing.

It was a classic application of “not many, but much.” The more effective teams did not have many numeric achievements but they did much in changing the lives of the people they not only worked for, but also worked with. They empowered them.

This is how Mother Teresa of Calcutta effected more significant social change than most noisy activists.

This is how Rosa Parks sat in front of the bus, refused to move back and became a catalyst in the history of the civil rights movement.

They did not accomplish many, but much. This is how we will be measured when we stand in judgment before God.
We must realize soon that it is our destiny to live a life of compassion.

Compassion is what gives meaning to our life. Compassion gives meaning to our death.

(Suggested readings: 1 Wisdom 3: 1-9; Psalm 23: 1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6; Romans 6: 3-9; Matthew 25: 31-46)

Tags: All Saints Day , All Souls Day , Compassion , Holy Week , Mother Teresa of Calcutta , Rosa Parks , Sunday Gospel , “Undas”

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