Compassion is a long, loving look at what is real. In this Year of Mercy, deemed as such by Pope Francis, Sister Cynthia Bauer points out that compassion is integral to mercy.

“Mercy invites circles of compassion, which goes deeper than mercy,” Sister says. “That’s why I’m so drawn to the word ‘compassion.’”

Indeed, it’s one thing to be merciful but to be compassionate is much deeper. Below, Sister Cynthia shares a reflection on how we might be more compassionate for the suffering, for the outcasts and marginalized, and for ourselves.

Compassion for the Suffering

Sister Cynthia Bauer

Throughout our lives, we are invited to offer compassion in our families, in our places of work, etc. Our Lord does not force us to do anything, but invites us to be compassionate. As we read in Scripture: “Whatever you do to the least of my brethren you do to me.”

Thus, whatever we do in the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, we do for Christ.

But, what does it mean really to be compassionate toward the suffering? It means suffering with others, feeling it in our hearts. And, not just feeling, perhaps, but actually doing.

Compassion goes deeper than mercy,” Sister says. “Rather than being restricted to feeling, it is an action based on an awareness of the path of others. We can’t offer compassion just because we feel like it. We must invite God into it.”

Compassion flows when humanity and divinity flow together. We can’t do it alone.

Who can we suffer with, and show compassion for, today?

Compassion for the marginalized.

Citing the example of Saint Catherine of Siena, Sister Cythia notes how she uninhibitedly ministered to lepers and prisoners, just to name a few.

Which begs us to ask: does our compassion have bounds? What about those who are not only suffering, but marginalized.

“In our country, we have many subcultures that challenge our desire to love unconditionally,” Sister Cynthia says. “I would venture that the answer that we all need to find within ourselves is this unconditional love for everyone. Some people will say, ‘You don’t really mean everyone, do you?’ I said everyone.”

Compassion for ourselves

Perhaps this is the most important one because this is the one we most neglect. Many of us don’t take compassion for ourselves seriously. In fact, Sister Cynthia admits that, for a long time, she didn’t either.

After being asked by her doctor to take a sabbatical, she attended a retreat that focused on care of self. As she puts it, “It stopped me in my tracks.”

“Everyone has enormous needs to be cared for in order to go back to their circles that they moved in for ministry,” Sister Cynthia says. 

According to Sister, “none of us has a fixed allotment of love” and that includes our ability to love and care for ourselves

“In fact,” she says, “our love is unlimited because of God’s love for us.”

Quite powerfully, Sister cites the Year of Mercy logo as an inspiration. In the logo, Christ carries Adam around his shoulders, not only looking at him but sharing an eye with him.

Year of Mercy logo

“The Good Shepherd in his mercy is looking at Adam, and they’re looking face to face,” Sister Cynthia explains. “His eyes and Adam’s eyes are beholding the beloved in each other.”

Thats how christ looks at us, and how we look at christ. Here we are seeing Adam contemplating in his gaze the love of the father.

Can we contemplate the same?

As we open to the rhythms our hearts, w meet a lifetime accumulation of sorrow, grief, and hurt. We encounter your capacity for rage and resentment, harshness and fear. Yet, we also meet a capacity for tenderness, for intimacy, and for joy. Thus, we are able to reach out to others in their sorrows and joys.

We realize that we, too, are beloved by God. As Pope Francis writes:

In this jubilee year, let us allow God to surprise us. He never tires of casting open the doors of His heart and of repeating that He loves us and wants to share His love with us.

Now, will you open your heart to God’s peace?

This article was adapted from a talk Sister Cynthia Bauer gave on Thursday, July 21, 2016 at Christ the King Parish as part of the 2016 Summer Speakers Series. Her full talk, “Compassion: the Heart of the Year of Mercy,” can be watched below.