Papal retreat master says true compassion involves a “physical pang”
ROME — It is Sunday evening and three days have passed amid an immense sense of emptiness and a sea of tears. The face of the woman coming to the tomb is tear-stained too, and the sight of the stone rolled away only increases her anxiety. A voice stops her: “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom so you seek?” (John 20:15).
So began the papal retreat master’s meditation on Thursday morning, as Pope Francis and members of the Roman Curia entered day four of their Lenten retreat in the Roman hillside town of Ariccia.
After setting the scene for the morning meditation, Fr. Ermes Ronchi reflected on God’s way of acting in the face of human suffering and pain.
Three key words of compassion
Jesus is risen, the papal retreat master said. “He is the God of the living,” and he “takes interest in the tears” of Mary Magdalene. “In his last hour on Friday, on the Cross, he took interest in the pain and anguish of a thief; and in the first hour of Easter, he took interest in the suffering and love of Mary.” This is the way of “Jesus, the Man of encounters,” Fr. Ronchi said. For he “never looks for a person’s sin but focuses instead on their suffering and need.”
The papal retreat master then asked: “How can we see, understand, touch and be touched by the tears” of others? “By learning to take on the gaze and gestures of Jesus, which are those of the Good Samaritan: See, stop and touch: three verbs never to forget (…) to see: The Samaritan saw and had compassion. He saw that man’s wounds, and he himself felt wounded (…) Hunger has a why, migrants have a mountain of whys, the tumors of the ‘Land of Fires’ have a why. Disciples are called to question the causes. Be a presence where people are weeping (…), and then look together for how to reach right to the roots of evil, and tear them out.”
Don’t “pass by”
In many scenes in the Gospel Jesus sees human suffering and has compassion. This word, Father Ronchi said, in the Greek text translates into feeling “a stomach cramp.” True compassion, he said, isn’t an abstract and noble thought but a physical pang. It is what causes the Good Samaritan not to “pass by,” as the priest and Levite do. Another reason not to pass by, Fr. Ronchi added, is because “further on there is nothing, least of all God”:
“The real difference isn’t between Christians, Muslims or Jews; the real difference isn’t between the one who believes or the one who says he doesn’t believe. The real difference is between the one who stops and the one who doesn’t stop before the wounded; between the one who stops and the one who keeps walking (…) Were I to spend just one hour taking on the suffering of another person, I would know it better, I would wiser than someone who’s read every book. I would be wise about life.”
Mercy is never at a distance
The third word: Touch. “Each time Jesus is moved, he touches,” the papal retreat master said. “He touches the untouchable,” a leper — the first human throwaway. He touches the son of the widow of Nain and “violates the law, does what one should not do. He takes the dead boy, brings him back to life and gives him back to his mother”:
“A heartless gaze produces darkness, and then triggers something even more devastating: turning the invisible into the guilty ones, transforming the victims — refugees, migrants, the poor — into the guilty ones and the source of the problem (…) And if I see, I stop and touch. If I dry a tear, I know, I don’t change the world. I don’t change the structures of iniquity, but I have injected the idea that hunger is not invincible; that the tears of others have rights over each person, and over me; that I don’t abandon and leave adrift those in need; that you are not thrown away; that sharing is the form most proper to man. (…) For mercy is all that is essential to human life. Mercy is a matter of the heart and the hands. And this is how God forgives: Not with a document, but with hands, a touch, a caress.
Diane Montagna is Rome correspondent for Aletiea’s English edition.