The Price of Compassion
Many Australians are marvelling at the great strides the American pro-life movement has made in recent years. Their current successes have been attributed to a variety of factors - the energy of a new generation of pro-lifers, many of whom have grown up in large pro-life households; a greater sense of unity among pro-life organisations, with a renewed commitment to avoiding public displays of discord; and a greater sense of compassion for abortion-minded mothers and post-abortive women. All of these innovations reflect the message that is at the heart of the culture of life, and of the Gospel message itself: that every person has dignity, because he or she is made in the image and likeness of God. This dignity, when recognised, drives us to greater compassion for our neighbour, and to make a special effort to love sinners. So it is always disappointing when compassion is presented as a weakness instead of a strength and as a hindrance to pro-life work, instead of as an animating force.
Accusations from within the pro-life community that compassion undermines an individual’s responsibility for sin are fortunately rare, although disturbing. These accusations add to the heavy price that compassion already demands of us: there is a personal cost to withholding the desire to judge, to developing self-control, to making the decision not to keep a tally of finances and energy expended in the course of our pro-life work. On top of these ‘costs’ is the risk that our work will not be appreciated and will not help stop abortions. Even saints struggled with the sorrow that results from ingratitude; our need to stop searching for results requires an often incessant tug-of-war with our pride.
Mother Teresa spoke often about a sanctity gained through cheerfulness, kindness and compassion; she place little importance on education and qualifications. She believed that it is possible to change the world through love; she didn’t drag people’s sins into the spotlight, dissect their lives and expound upon the consequences of their every action. This saint left the people she helped with a great deal of freedom to accept God, or reject Him, to amend their lives or to continue in sin. But she always helped until she could help no more. And always with great compassion.
People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway.
If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow.Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway.
For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.
St. Teresa of Calcutta
These simple words should inspire us to continue working with love, rather than being fearful that a misplaced compassion will only add to the rise of the death culture. It is out of a misplaced compassion that a woman will drive her pregnant friend to an abortion centre for a termination. Misplaced compassion may lead a Catholic to support same-sex ‘marriage.’ Misplaced compassion may stop a person from expressing concern over the IVF procedure of an infertile family member. But true compassion allows us to see a situation as it really exists: to see that an abortion-minded woman is not acting from a place of perfect liberty or even thinking rationally; to recognise the deep woundedness of many homosexuals, or to sense the longing for a child felt by infertile couples. True compassion allows us to express the truth in a loving way. And it shows us how to separate a sinful action from the dignity of the sinner.
Our Faith tells us that Christ was humble and obedient ‘unto death’ (Phil 2:8), and we are astounded at the compassion He showed to Simon Peter and to Judas, as well as to the many sick He knew would be ungrateful. He paid the ultimate price for His compassion - He endured unimaginable suffering and finally death. It is appropriate for us to imitate His great depths of love.
This passage from Corinthians is commonly read at weddings, and so is perhaps over-used, but has a very important lesson for us - as Christians, and as pro-life Catholics.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and knowledge, and if I have a faith, so as to remove mountains, but I have not love, I am nothing ….. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
(1 Cor 13:1-2, 7)
The last verse speaks so clearly of the attitude required for effective pro-life work: acceptance, endurance, faith and above all, hope. Hope that our little efforts will add to the efforts of thousands of other people around the country. Hope that people will be touched when we reach out to them in kindness. Hope that when we err on the side of compassion, people will see the love behind our actions. Hope that even our mistakes can be used by God to do good.
If we are serious about ending abortion in Australia, and about building a true culture of life, then we need to make a commitment to start living the Gospel of Life. We need to examine our motives for doing the work we do; for writing, speaking, assembling, lobbying. Our motives must be pure to withstand the scrutiny of a very cynical and jaded death-culture. And all our work must be directed at building the movement, rather than tearing it down.
Criticism, endless ‘seeing through’ to perceived underlying issues, failure to account for human frailty, and even unbridled contempt and jealousy are all at work in Australia within pro-life circles. These undermine our good work and validate the public’s suspicion of Christians.
But we must never fear discord. A clear conscience and the assurance of God’s presence are all we need to sustain us.
The personal toll of showing compassion may be high, but it will never be as great as the price paid by Christ for our redemption.