Who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?
– John 9:2
A society built on the priority of the individual and their right to pursue their own best interests as each person determines them to be sets each individual in uncompromising opposition to every other individual. And when the only obligation a person has is to protect this limited notion of how to selfishly interact with others, how do people in such a system even recognize the inherent discrimination that they promote and that denies whole populations even the most basic needs of life: food, water, housing, clothing, and love? The strategy that a society like this uses to excuse this destructive behavioural pattern is the promotion of the rights of one individual over another’s. But this can never bring about justice because it refuses to recognize the genuine needs of everyone…needs that are unmet because of the inherent structure of the system itself.
Unfortunately for the church today it has been compromised by failing to face up to how it has taken in and promoted this social philosophy, substituting it for the gospel of Christ. The situation by which my thinking on compassion matured was exclusively focused on the individuals who caused and perpetuated this situation and their rights as individuals within the church. All of these demanded the restoration of individual reputations; all of these had actively worked to destroy the reputations of others.
When I was in high school I was on the debate team for several years, which is humourous because I detest conflict. So needless to say, I did not win many debates. But what I liked about it was the research involved in preparing for debate. And the reason that I liked it was because going into the debate you never knew the side to which you were going to be assigned. Looking back it is very clear that my desire to see the world through another’s eyes was taking strategic shape even in early adolescence.
One day Jesus came upon a man born blind from birth and the rabid individualists of his day tried to pin this man’s condition on someone, but who? There is only one way to cut across this screwed up understanding of who we are as people. Jesus says that this man’s blindness is simply an opportunity to be compassionate. It is that easy. And in saying this and then in healing the man (acting compassionately) he lays the foundation for being the church ever since.
For years I have been wanting to rewrite the original text that I wrote on compassion. Originally written with a particular church in mind, a year ago I began to deconstruct the sections and chapters one-by-one. I rewrote it with a broader audience in mind. It’s still an approach best used in a workshop where people get to talk with one another about this common human attribute. Many of the chapters end with suggesting ways in which participants might take appropriate steps without prescribing what those may be. The sections cover: the ways in which compassion is already a part of your life, the dynamics of what it takes to learn to become even more compassionate, the temptations to not be compassionate, and the genuine hindrances to becoming a mature practitioner of compassion. Nineteen chapters in all, each to be taken one at a time, ruminated over, returned to, and shared with others. Compassion is central to who we are as Christians and Catholic Workers. I am not aware of anything like it that is published today.
I printed the new edition of this workbook off a week ago and put them together in a coil binding. People have already asked what they cost? My answer is, Nothing. I don’t know how to tell people that they have to pay money in order to learn to be compassionate. That’s not compassionate.
Compassion has ruled my life. I inherited this propensity from my mother. I can’t get away from it. I went on for my doctoral work because of a quote I ran across in the writings of Henri Nouwen: It is a shame that in a society as great as our own that you cannot get your PhD in care. So I thought to myself, Okay, that would be a worthwhile use of my life. And this was one of the upshots.
If you want a copy just write to us and ask for one:
Craig and Carol Larson
The Parkland Worker
R.R. 1, Box 60
Swan River, Manitoba R0L 1Z0
If you like what we do and want to support us then that’s up to you, but please don’t send money because you think you need to pay for a book. If you are interested in sponsoring a retreat based on this material then let us know and we’ll see what we can do.
As they go through the bitter valley
they make it a place of springs
the autumn rain covers it with blessing
The threshold of the house of God
I prefer to the dwellings of the wicked
– Psalm 83 (sel.)