This article by Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Galea-Curmi was published in the Sunday Times of Malta on 25th July 2021.
God’s ‘style’ has three traits: “closeness, compassion and tenderness”. These were the words of Pope Francis, during his reflection last Sunday, before the recitation of the Angelus. In these past months, he has consistently mentioned this triad as an expression of God’s style, and urged Christians to give witness to a life that reflects the style of God.
It is Jesus who fully reveals God’s loving heart. In the Gospel, we always find Jesus close to the people. He shows them that God is not indifferent, watching from a distance, but he is near and is able to understand the heart of his people. This is how God works. He visits his people, and draws near to them. Jesus is particularly close to those who are vulnerable or marginalised, those who are victims of social exclusion. He breaks down every barrier that prevents people from being in relationship with him, with others and with themselves.
When God visits his people, he is described as “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, overflowing with loyal love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6). As we read in last Sunday’s gospel, seeing the large crowd, Jesus “had compassion on them” (Mark 6:34). Compassion means having a sympathetic concern for the suffering of others. It is a feeling that moves to action.
Pope Francis, speaking on Sunday, said: “… only a heart that does not allow itself to be taken over by hastiness is capable of being moved; that is, of not allowing itself to be caught up in itself, and by things to do, and is aware of others, of their wounds, their needs. Compassion is born from contemplation…if we cultivate a contemplative outlook, we will carry out our activities without that rapacious attitude of those who want to possess and consume everything; if we stay in touch with the Lord and do not anesthetise the deepest part of ourselves, the things to do will not have the power to cause us to get winded or devour us.”
Compassion … is a feeling that moves to action.
In Scripture, the Hebrew word for compassion (rachamim) is related to the word for womb (rechem). It invites us to imagine a mother’s tender feeling for her vulnerable infant. In a dark moment in Israel’s story, we find the Lord comparing himself to the tenderness of a mother: “Can a mother forget her baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child of her womb? Even if she forgets, I will not forget you. See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hand” (Isaiah 49:15-16). Jesus shows this tenderness. He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds. He is the shepherd who tenderly looks for the lost sheep and will carry in his arms those that go astray.
Jesus is our strength in our weakness of faith, in our coldness of love. Each one of us might experience wounds, failures and sins that make us close ourselves off from God, but he wants to open our heart and to touch our life and heal it with tenderness.
May we have this beautiful experience of God. Renewed by his spirit which transforms hearts of stone into hearts of flesh, let us sow seeds of love through concrete, caring and courageous actions. May we embody God’s style of closeness, compassion and tenderness.
✠ Joseph Galea-Curmi