Cries of compassion

Compassion isn’t something we simply invent.  We can’t always retrieve it when we need it, sometimes we might fail to convey it, and then when we least expect it we might find compassion prompted by the incessant cries of an unsettled child.

Mollie was clearly having a rough morning.  More to the point, Mollie’s mom was having a rough morning.  Mollie began crying during the first reading.  To be more precise, she began wailing.  Her cries were so loud that even though the reader spoke more loudly and moved closer to the microphone, I could not hear what he was saying.  I laughed, it was all so preposterous.

Mollie’s mom was alone this Sunday morning with her baby just baptized a month before and her two toddler sisters because their dad was working out of town.  As is their family custom, they sat in the front row.  Mollie has cried before like this, as had her sisters when they were younger, but Mom or Dad was always able to whisk them away.  No such luxury for Mollie’s mom today.  Or for us.  Or for me.

One of the risks in preaching without a text is failing to remember a particular detail, a precisely worded phrase or, more significantly, a crucial point.  The challenge of recall has become more pronounced for me as I confront an assembly for the third or fourth or fifth time on a Sunday attempting to preach essentially the same homily, with the same enthusiasm and content, as the first time.  And sometimes the challenge is exacerbated by such sundry realities as Mollie crying from the front row.

As with the earlier reading, my proclamation of the gospel was accompanied by Mollie’s less than harmonious accompaniment.  The story came from Luke:  Jesus encountering a woman, a widow, now grieving the death of her son.  As the gospel proclamation concluded and I walked to the edge of the sanctuary to preach, Mollie paused for a moment.  A coincidence of silent grace?  Not really.  As I opened my mouth, so did Mollie open hers, seemingly louder than before, or maybe it was that I was just standing closer to the source.

In the homily I noted the rather crucial detail from the story of Jesus being moved with compassion by the woman and her plight.  As Mollie continued unabated and her mom probably more stressed than I could begin to imagine – I did not look in their direction – I spoke of the bombing in Boston, a factory explosion in Texas, so many places ravaged for hurricanes, wild fires and storms.  In each of these instances, and countless others, I suggested, there were people who were moved with a compassion that prompted them, instinctively or intentionally, to carry out victims, to give blood, to evacuate a nursing home, to welcome neighbors and strangers into their homes, to simply be with people in physical pain or attempting to make sense out of what was simply senseless.

I suggested it was our call, inspired by Jesus and his witness, and encouraged by those recent instances of publicized compassion to live that ourselves.  There were words of conclusion and then, during a few moments for silent consideration – wait a minute, where was Mollie? – I realized that I had forgotten a rather essential component – the part connecting the specific compassion of Jesus and the specific compassion of those countless, nameless people in my recent example, with some specific examples of the compassion we must show.  Frustrated and discouraged, the Mass continued.

In another silent span after communion, there was a fleeting notion of the Spirit.  Along with the obligatory announcements of things people could just as easily read in the bulletin, I mentioned that I had forgotten a significant part of the homily, the part of how we might share compassion, and with whom.  With people suffering the uncertainty and pain of illness and injury, those confronting addiction and loneliness, those who are hungry or homeless or enduring less obvious financial struggles, those who are grieving or who experience whatever it might be that warrants our notice and our response.  Maybe even, I said, our compassion should extend to a mother who brings her three young children to Mass all by herself because that’s we do on Sunday and who sits in the front row because she wants her children to gain an appreciation for the Mass and whose infant daughter wants everyone to know she’s here.  “Amanda,” I said to Mollie’s mom, “God love ya.”

And Molly stopped crying.  TL



2 thoughts on “Cries of compassion

  1. Fr. Tom –

    Great story! I was glad to read this, as we now have 2 wee ones, and it often seems they are least quiet at the most crucial moments of mass. I can picture Amanda, and the things running through her mind. Way to encourage her, and all mom’s, to continue brining noise into the church.

    -Andrea (Casper) Caron
    UWPS ’03
    Newman Center Cheerleader – always.

  2. Thanks Fr. Tom for this reminder on our call to be a compassionate people. In our family, Scott is the single Dad corralling our three kids in the front of church while I cantor. I could easily picture Scott in the role of Amanda and see his frustration but also his appreciation of the acknowledgement that he’s only trying to show our children the importance of the mass. I am always moved by the compassion of my church family who reach out a helping hand to Scott, grabbing Tillie so that he can focus on the boys.

    Keep sharing your articles – I love reading them 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s