November 1 seemed an appropriate day to repost this blog I wrote in January of 2014
With tears in her eyes a friend approached me in the parking lot after mass. She was reaching out to comfort me and express her concern for our family celebrating our first Christmas without our dads. She knew that both my husband and I lost our fathers this last year. We moved into a conversation that caused her to ask “where has all the compassion gone in our world?” When acts of violence and hatred seems to be on the news daily, I wanted to look further at the virtue of compassion.
Several years ago a very good friend of mine, at 20 weeks along in her first pregnancy was told by her doctor that her baby had a fatal chromosomal condition. Heartbreak doesn’t clearly express the impact that news had on my friend and her husband. After many consultations they were told with almost certainty the baby wouldn’t survive too full term and surely beyond birth. They were given the option to terminate the pregnancy. Through prayer they decided to carry the baby, as long as God would choose. On Thanksgiving Day that year, on her delivery date, she delivered a beautiful baby boy who was already resting in the arms of the Heavenly Father. Benedict’s funeral was emotional for all in attendance and yet the faith demonstrated by my friend, her spouse and both sets of grandparents was a testament to their faith. The priest who presided made the comment “some people live an entire life and never make an impact and yet this little boy wasn’t even able to live one day and his life touched the hearts of hundreds.” Over the years I have always wrestled with how to keep his memory alive. I wanted to honor his life, yet respect my girlfriend and her privacy and pain. Finally I opened the window with my friend and acknowledged the anniversary of his life and then I allowed her to take the lead. She shared that Benedict’s life deepened their roots in Christ and through their beliefs; they found true joy for the life they shared with this child for 9 short months. They also shared a heart of gratitude for all the people who recognize that little boy’s life as a gift, no matter how short. Benedict’s parents took comfort and reassurance in God’s plan through this passage.
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD.
Plans to prosper you, never to harm you;
plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
I think we can all relate to the uncertainty of what to say to a friend, when they have experienced loss or a disappointment. We have all known someone who has lost their job, lost a parent, had trouble with a teenager, stress in their marriage, a child is born with disability, a family member is suffering from addiction or depression, a new mother is wrestling with postpartum the list of life challenges is endless. Finding the right words to reach out to them or acknowledge them can be filled with uncertainty. Starting with thoughtful consideration of the circumstances, along with prayer may be a good start. I have always appreciated a hand written note, a hug and a friend who can lend a listening ear.
Shortly after my husband lost his father, we had attended a middle school basketball game. We were surprised when an 8th grade boy, named Jack with no hesitation came directly up to my husband, extended his hand and said “Mr. O’Flaherty I am so sorry for your loss.” I looked over his shoulder to see his parents, who may have nudge him over to express compassion, yet his parents were no where to be found. Jack’s efforts were directed from his own heart. Jack’s ability to demonstrate compassion shows that he was taught and formed with compassion as a value. At 13 years-old he showed maturity of heart, he took a risk that was driven by concern for another person’s life circumstances over his own feelings. I believe Pope Francis is encouraging us to extend the church from the circle of our family out into the world. Evangelization is spreading the gospel of Christ and that is best done through our loving actions. Simply following Jack’s example of extending compassion is a good start for all of us.
So to my dear friend in the parking lot, I am hopeful that compassion still exists in our world. The feast of the baptism of the Lord, reminds us of our own baptismal promises. We are called to actively engage in extending love and compassion to others. Taking a step to acknowledge another person’s pain can be risky, It can absolutely be uncomfortable. It requires extra effort to extended yourself for others. Yet, I feel the benefit can transform our world.
Here is Benedict a Thanksgiving gift to our world.
Who would benefit from your compassion today? When you step onto the train today or into the elevator or get cut off by another drive, however might a smile or kind word change their day? Find a chance today to be good and kind.