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Compassion

Introduction

(jrateful persons are compassionate: they want to give to others what they believe they enjoy themselves. Jesus lives his life in thankful awareness that God is with him and has compassion for those who fail to see the world as graced by God’s presence. He does not blame them. He has compassion, for example, on the crowd that follows him into the desert in the mistaken belief that he was their longed-for political leader (Matt. 15:32). The father (perhaps representing God the Father), grieved by his son’s waste of his inheritance, is full of compassion when he sees him returning (Lk. 15:20). The Eucharist, the central act of Christian worship, is a compassionate celebration of God’s presence with his people: none is excluded. The Celebrant, Christ, thanks God for all God’s gifts, which he shares with the disciples and in principle with all people in the form of bread and wine.

Jesus’s compassion is not prompted by a casual meeting with an individual or a group; it arises from his belief that the world is characterized by the life-giving presence of God, who cares for all. In his person, he takes up themes found in the Old Testament. In the book of Psalms, God is compassionate and merciful in the face of Israel’s failure to live out its calling. God, despite the Israelites’ sin, never abandons them: “Their heart was not steadfast towards him; they were not true to his covenant. Yet he, being compassionate, forgave their iniquity, and did not destroy them; often he restrained his anger, and did not stir up all his wrath.” “With upright heart he tended them, and guided them with skillful hand” (Ps. 78:37-8, 72).

Compassion is an integral ingredient of virtuous professional practice: it not only confirms the client in his or her relationship but nourishes the person who is acting in a professional capacity. I shall develop this theme first with regard to the relationship of the personal and the professional. Then, after an examination of the meaning of compassion, I shall explore the relationship of compassion, with equality, and pity; the role of reason and the question of whether compassion can be taught; and if so, how.

 
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