by Brother Luis Ramos
“What a small world!” As it becomes easier to connect with people across borders and seas, the world somehow remains small. We happen upon small connections between ourselves and those around us, even people we didn’t imagine being connected to.
These connections can spark up new relationships in our lives. There is an energy about finding something in common with the other. In an age where we have more access to information than ever before, however, I think we sometimes find it hard to connect with some of the tough realities around us. As small as the world is, we can be very disconnected from one another.
Pope Francis has spoken quite extensively on the need to reach out to people on the margins of society. Children and families affected by violence or lack of resources. People who are working through various forms of mental illness. Folks who feel lost or isolated, with little or no support systems to help them find their way. The margins are not just margins where we are called to offer material support, but relational/spiritual support as well.
We may meet the child who walks home alone from school and find that they are hungry. We might notice the student who is consistently alone on campus. Perhaps we notice the individual who puts up walls to hide their hurt. Our small world can become smaller if we don’t see past the “normal”.
These experiences may not always be our own, and they are not easy to understand. How do we respond? How can we learn some more about these neighbors of ours? Through compassion and empathy. Compassion (concern for one’s suffering and acting because of it) and empathy (understanding someone else’s feelings) are essential in our Christian life. In the Gospel we consistently see Jesus enter into the experience of another person and intervening on their behalf.
It is a humbling and revelatory experience to notice someone, to experience them, and to be present to their reality. To their pain, suffering, joy, hopes, dreams. To their needs.
As Jesus is teaching in Matthew 25, we hear the response of the people “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?”
Could we imagine in our day “When did we see you... and not try to understand you? Not try to see your need? Turn our faces from you?” It is important to keep an open eye out not just for those we normally would like to help, but those we never thought of helping. It is not enough to notice the need. We’ve got to meet the need. Compassion and empathy may not be the easiest or most comfortable virtues to practice, but they bridge the gaps in a world that, although small, remains unconnected.
The challenge is this: to be aware. To not risk moving so quickly that we do not see. To risk our own comfort for the sake of someone else’s. To build bridges where no one has built bridges before. As with all things, it takes time. And that may be the most precious resource we can offer those on the margins.