Practicing the Empathy of Christ

TUESDAY: Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time


Practicing the Empathy of Christ

The notion of Christ’s sensitivity towards the brokenhearted once more comes to the fore. The heart-wrenching episode of the widow’s tears over the loss of her only son evoked empathy in Christ Jesus towards the grieving widow. First, Christ embodied the grief of the bereaved widow; he consoled her; he reassured her of the Father’s love by raising her son back to life.

Those how have been there before know what it feels like burying a loved one. It is heart-wrenching. I have been there and I know exactly how it feels. After the death of my siblings and my parents, funerals took on an altogether new meaning for me. Finally, I was able to fit myself in my parishioners’ shoes and share one heart with them at the passing and burial of their loved ones. Funerals are more than just a ceremony for the dead. Funerals must offer hope to the living. They must give hope to the grieving and the assurance that God cares. We, the Church, are the Mystical Body of Christ in the world and we must be a sign of hope for the grief-stricken just what Christ did for the widow in today’s gospel.

The emphasis, of today’s Gospel, does not start and end with the raising of the young man back to life. No! The deepest and most meaningful expression, for me, is the empathy of Christ. Christ embodied the widow’s grief. Moved by her tears, Christ gave the widow hope and he encouraged her to trust in God’s divine mercy and love. At the same time, Christ pointed believers to the ultimate treasure God has in store for all who believe in him. He will raise us back to life on the last day (Jn.6:40).

This action of Christ is a prototype of the Church’s mission in the world. The Church exists to reveal the hidden mysteries of the kingdom, to console and strengthen the people of God in the midst of every crisis. In other words, Christ founded the Church to be exactly whom and what he is for the salvation of the world. She is a community that possesses the persona of Christ, commissioned to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the leopards, exorcise the demon-possessed, at no cost to the bereaved and the afflicted (Matt.10:8). Like Christ, the Church must be in a constant mode of empathy and solidarity with sufferers offering them a chance to experience God’s favour (Lk.4:18) and to respond in the same way as the crowd did at Nain: “A great prophet has appeared among us; God has visited his people”.

At present faith is fading, fast. Clericalism and indifferentism are rampant. The Church has lost its prophetic voice and its Christ-like touch to a highly secularized world where human suffering has escalated and hopelessness claims more lives than natural sickness. Nihilism, humanism, hedonism and individualism dictate the decline of conscience and morality. People no longer believe in an afterlife. The mysteries of God are trivialized and the concept of life after death is becoming increasingly irrelevant for our youths. How will the Church respond to the present historical, social, political, economic and religious dilemma confronting us?

Paul, in his First Letter to Timothy 3:1-13 gives us a beautiful prescription of the qualities required of the clergy and religious: we must possess a deep spirituality. We must be conscientious in conducting both our personal lives and the affairs of the Church; we must also be trustworthy stewards of the sacred goods of the kingdom entrusted to our care and become symbols of paschal hope and joy for the grieving vulnerable people of God in the world. The manner in which we welcome and treat grieving people and conduct funerals are indications of our sensitivity and level of empathy. As the Mystical Body of Christ in the world, we are the Way, the Truth and the Light for all men and women. When the world is hurting and people are suffering, they look to us for hope and consolation. Let us be that Way, that Truth and the Light for them.

Lord, teach me to touch the wounded with my heart before I can even touch them with my hand or an expression of sympathy.

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