Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Musings On Compassion

Here are two men who understand the power of compassion.  So does Cardinal Sconborn.

Lately my life has seemed surreal.  It's been book ended by child abuseWhen at work,  I am with victims of child abuse, both physical and sexual, and when I'm home I'm reading about the same kinds of abuse in the Church.  There are days I have a very dark view of humanity.  There are nights I struggle to sleep and then when I do sleep I struggle with dark things in my dreams.  These are not classic nightmares.  These are exhausting dreams of trying to figure out what I can't seem to figure out.  Then I leave for work exhausted complete with blood shot eyes.  I fight to find the compassion that makes the most difference to the people I work with while I simultaneously try to maintain a slim thread of patience for the people I work for. When I leave work for home, I can't help but wonder who is more compromised.  Struggles in daytime lead to more struggles at night time.

I struggle with the same things about the Church as well.  I wonder just who is more compromised, the abusers or the abused, the clergy or the laity who can't seem to comprehend the actions of too many of the clergy, and I wonder about myself and my own struggles with the Church.  I search constantly for bright spots, just even little bright spots that lighten the darkness just even a little.  And I always find them--if I remember to look.  

I frequently find those bright spots, spots that might be just a little more light for me, are huge spotlights for others.  For instance, it's the twenty something young man at work whose daily night time bed wetting is now down to maybe three or four times a month because we were able to give him some relief from his endless nightmares about his biological parents.  Parents who duct taped him to floor, or threatened to drown him, or locked him in a closet.  That by the way was his toilet training at two and a half.  I like to think part of his improvement is that the little terrorized boy he will always carry within him finally feels safe.  This small step for me is a huge door, opening to a much brighter future, for him.  It means he may actually be able to live independently in the future.  And yet, we still have a long way to go before that happens.  I say 'we', because he will not walk those miles alone.  Not yet.

As far as the Church goes, I found a bright spot there as well.  Oh not in Philadelphia or New York or Washington or Minneapolis or Rome.  It's all still dark there.  No, I found it in Vienna--again.  Just when I am ready to explode over the NOM information released in Maine about the collusion of US Bishops with NOM's disgusting political strategies, there was Cardinal Schonborn.  It seems a Roman Catholic Cardinal  took the step of reinstating a young gay man to his parish's pastoral council over the objections of the parish pastor.  Cardinal Schonborn took the young man and his partner to lunch, and over lunch got to know them both and determined there were reasons the young man was voted to the parish council.  This is almost incomprehensible to me. Truly.  Probably because I'm much more familiar with American Cardinals like Dolan using his personal blog to further the agenda of gay bashing bigots like Bill Donohue.  As I've written in the past, I like Cardinal Schonborn very very much because I actually think compassion is higher value for him than lock step obedience.

And finally, there is the spotlight given to the Dalai Lama by the Templeton Foundation.  The Dalai Lama was announced as the winner of the 2012 Templeton Prize.  Part of the statement from the Foundation read:

"The Dalai Lama offers a universal voice of compassion underpinned by a love and respect for spiritually relevant scientific research that centers on every single human being."

Oh, there's that compassion word again.  Funny how I associate that word with real spiritual leadership.  Maybe it's because everything I do when I'm at work shows me compassion makes a measurable definable difference in people's lives.  Not guilt, not shaming, not condemnation, not self righteous judgment, but compassion. And forgiveness.  And love.


  1. Col- this is a truly memorable posting that moves me very much.
    Your work is so difficult and I can well understand the sleep problems arising from your cases. I hope that the support structures for you can allow some debriefing and/or you manage to get some downtime to unload.
    What I love about this post is your enduring trust and hope which I share.

    Cardinal Schonborn's actions are a small step and what will emerge from this will be interesting.
    Like you say compassion and listening are vital.
    Blessings for Holy Week my friend.

    1. Thanks Phil. My down time is usually spent wasting time on the truly trivial, which is why I can't wait for the Stanley Cup Playoffs to start or for Justin Verlander to throw the first pitch on a new baseball season. If sports has taught me one thing, it's that there is always hope with each new season.

  2. Every single human being...excepting the unborn.

    "If the unborn child will be retarded or if the birth will create serious problems for the parent, these are cases where there can be an exception. I think abortion should be approved or disapproved according to each circumstance." - the Dalai Lama, 1993.

    Compassion is more than just a word, eh?

  3. In these cases the compassion is being extended to parents. I understand in Catholicism we are not supposed to extend compassion to the parents, but the Dalai Lama is Bhuddist and has a different perspective on life. He believes in the concept of reincarnation which places a different emphasis on unborn life. In this view the aborted fetus has many many opportunities to enter life again. It's very much different from our black and white one shot at life thinking.

    1. I don't think killing in compassion for -anyone- is really much of a compassion at all. I'd like to see you try and defend the notion, though..

    2. Maybe Invictus you should share just how much compassion there is having a 12 year old girl who was raped by her step-father and who would have died without an abortion, excommunicated along with her mother and doctor? Is that your idea of compassion, to have laws that have no regard for the life of children who were raped? To enact laws in which there is no choice for the mother except to die?


    3. How bout killing someone convicted of murder & then finding out after the fact that the convicted person was innocent?
      Where is the compassion there? Is there compassion for the innocent but executed ? How bout compassion for the wrongly executed's family?
      And where is the compassion for civilians killed in war? R they collateral damage?
      Where is the compassion for children who have been sexually abused? Is that why the Bishops's attourneys are using legal means to attack SNAP?
      Could it be possible that compassion be defined too narrowly?
      PS Jesus was an executed innocent, How broad is his definition of compassion?
      Could it be that his followers have much to learn & put into practice?

    4. It's pretty easy Invictus, but only if you believe reincarnation is valid. In that case, extending compassion to parents who can't cope with a child is also extending compassion to the child. The child won't have to experience a life in which it's parents can't cope with it. It can hit the reset button and so can the parents. Maybe the genetic wheel will spin a different scenario.

    5. We don't believe in reincarnation, though. (Do I really have to clarify this here? Maybe so!)
      And even if one does believe in reincarnation, as the Buddhists do, one presumably might have other good reasons for not killing people. To view life as something that can be quietly ended for reasons of convenience is not something compatible with Jesus' teaching, and accordingly is not something countenanced by the Church.

      Abortion ends life, and is bad for the mother. From every angle it is a bad thing...and yet, and yet, you leap to defend it when a Buddhist is at stake. Is there really anything you like about abortion, other than that the Church disapproves it?

    6. First, pregnancy ends lives and can also be bad for the mother. The reproductive process for women can be a life and death crap shoot, something it is not for men.

      I'm not defending abortion for Buhddhists, merely pointing out that the Buddhist philosophy has a different view of death from which to look at abortion, and that view allows for limited exceptions.

      What I don't like is the spurious idea that a fetus has a superior claim to life based on some vague definition of 'innocence'. Fetal life is the only form of human life which is given an absolute right to life. That is not in the Catholic tradition except in the last thirty or forty years. I don't buy that thinking.

      However, just because I don't give an absolute right to life to a fetus, doesn't mean I don't value the life of a fetus. Somehow I get the feeling you won't value to point I'm trying to make here.

    7. There are many unfortunate things in this world which can end life prematurely. However to compare these natural causes with the deliberate ending of a human life (what's more, innocent life, and the most innocent life possible) is grossly misleading.

      Life is sacred, and all our lives are sacred. That is the teaching of the Church. You have created an ostensibly Catholic blog; could you show me an imprimatured publication, or encyclical, or any official document which gives "a fetus a superior claim to life" over anyone else?

      If not, your are irresponsibly libelling the Catholic Church.

      Human Life is Sacred. Just because it's still in the mother doesn't mean one can kill it. Buddhist or not, killing in the womb is not a compassionate act - it is a desperate and destructive one.

    8. Invictus: Do your own research. Most killing is wrong. All is forgivable through the sacrament of reconciliation. See Evangelium Vitae.

      The Church allows abortion in some cases, depending upon motivation, and when it is incidental to the saving of the mother's life.

      The "superior claim" refers to the Church requirement that sometimes the mother must die rather than abort. Church teachings allow justified killing in other circumstances to protect one's life. For example, you Invictus, are not morally required to submit to your own death by another person. You may kill in self-defense. There are other types of morally justifiable killing too. (Up to and including justifiable war. But where was the USCCB to sermonize, distribute pamphlets, buy ads, condemn politicians etc. when the Pope condemned the Iraq war?)

      Christians have been killing one another, heretics, and other innocents from the beginning of the religion. How long after the last supper did it take for one of the "chosen" to aid, abet, procure and counsel a killing? Not long. And it wasn't one of the women disciples who did it either.

      How long did it take John Paul 2 to forgive Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca for his excommunicable offense? Not long.

      Drop the threatening language. The Vatican has lawyers to pursue defamation cases.


    9. p2p,

      Where here have I used threatening language which ought to be dropped? Perhaps you don't like the bluntness with which I've asked the creator of this blog post for evidence to back up his claims. This bluntness is not violent, and the requests are reasonable.

      Now, to the meat of your post - while I wait for Colkoch to reply:
      It does not follow from the fact that 'one can be forgiven one's sins', that sins are therefore less serious, or that their sinfulness is open for legitimate debate.
      Abortion is one of those. The Church does not permit abortion, and it is not - as you seem to suggest - guilty of utilitarian balancing of one right to life against that of another's.
      There is no case in which an abortion is permitted, because in all cases of abortion what is happening is the intentional killing of an innocent human being.

    10. Invictus, your position states with absolute certainty that the unborn have a higher right to life than any other class of humanity and as such there is never a situation in which it is moral to end that life, even at the expense of the mother.

      There is nothing in the Gospels to support this position, and very little in Church tradition, a tradition which in fact acted for centuries on the premise unborn life was not fully human life.

      I do not consider unborn life of a higher more innocent nature than any other class of human life. All life can not be considered sacred when other classes of life can justifiably be extinguished and the unborn can not. For me it's either all or none.

    11. My position is the position of the Church, colkoch, the position that it is not an act of compassion to kill one innocent person to save another innocent person. It is the position the human life is equally sacred, and in those extremely uncommon situations where a guiltless baby's existence threatens the life of the mother, the moral medical priority is to save both lives.

      Both lives.

      You are inadvertently straw-manning my argument, and misunderstanding Church teaching.

    12. No I'm not. Justified wars routinely take the innocent lives of people under the justification of saving innocent lives. You want to separate out abortion from the rest of Catholic teaching on life and the justified taking of life. Not surprising, so does the Church.

      As far as those 'extremely uncommon' (this is very relative to where one gets pregnant--the Sudan is not London) situations when pregnancy threatens the life of the mother, the viability of the baby takes precedence over the life of the mother. Hence the mandates on fetal heart beats.

    13. The intention of a just war is not to kill an innocent person. The intention of these medical abortions is to kill an innocent person, in order to spare another.

      The Church is completely logically coherent on the matter of life, and in also compassionate.

      Compassion is the commitment to protect innocent lives from harm, compassion is not the commitment to kill an innocent to protect another.

      Compared to the position of the Church, your position is barbarous. It is utilitarian.

  4. Well, I am having my dark days, too. Could it be Holy Week? Anyhow, thanks for this wonderful post about two very courageous church leaders.

    1. Cardinal Sconborn is really courageous as far as I'm concerned because he's going out on some thin limbs and he's doing it before he retires. How novel is that?

      Funny Wild, but I think because the days are longer, and there's more light, Holy Week is far less depressing to me than Christmas was. Maybe that's why I've always like Easter better than Christmas. Even as a kid--well, except for the present thing.

  5. I admire you, Colleen, for helping people such as the one you mention in your blog today. It takes so much more than compassion to help someone whose own parents abused them. There are so many left crippled by ignorance and abuse. Were it not for people such as yourself, what would have become of them? Surely you are doing the work of Christ. Your work surely is a bright spot for those you have helped.


    1. Thanks butterfly. It actually is mostly just compassion. Maintaining a compassionate attitude creates a safe environment in which people can crawl a little further than they ever thought they could. Then you just build from there. Compassion is everything, and science is beginning to prove it.

  6. Wow, the Cardinal Schonborn story is really big news in my opinion. Thanks for alerting us to it, Colleen. The comments after the article on your link, however, are sickening in the extreme - somewhat like entering a madhouse. If one ever needed a stark example of the sickness infecting the body church at the moment just take a look at those comments in response to this truly remarkable Christ-like action on the part of Schonborn. It shows how immensely difficult it is for even a moderately Christ like figure to survive in the hierarchical system at all - without being savagely attacked.

    1. Well those comments are pretty standard. As long as the official teaching is all about the grave moral sin of homosexual acts, I seriously doubt a certain type of Catholic is ever going to see the greater good in any committed relationship. The current teaching puts an abusive, alcoholic, heterosexual relationship on much higher and sexually sinless plane. I thought this comment pretty well summed up this 'act' based attitude:

      "a decision for human beings" Would that it were a decision for the immortal souls of those human beings. Human is good to the extent that it is kept in relation to the spirit. When the spirit is ignored, or denied, or relegated, human becomes monstrous. Surely an acceptance of monstrous behavior is a denial of the spirit."

    2. That does seem to be the standard comment, col. It's a real brain, heart, soul twister into a pretzel type projection of the notion of "spirit" and "human beings." Presumptuous too, in that compassion, an important key to unlocking "the spirit" of love is ignored, denied, relegated against gays. Surely an acceptance of such "monstrous behavior" against one's fellow human being is a denial of the spirit of love.

      They seem to be speaking about the spirit of hate and that is not the Spirit of God. Huge mistake on their part. They are too blind to notice it though. And we have to try to be compassionate about the ignorance and hatred that is being thrown at gays, at women, at SNAP, against anyone they don't deem "spiritual" or even human. It is real sad to witness fellow Catholics re-enacting & cleaving to the sins of their fathers; hatred, bigotry, and ignorance even during Holy Week. It really is a pathetic statement to make against a people, to monstertize human beings because of their sexuality.

      I'm real happy to hear about Cardinal Schonborn, btw. And about the Dalai Lama. I know he will put the money to good use in compassionate ways.


  7. My wife did social work with abused children, foster children, etc; etc;.

    She took up Ikebana, Japanese flower arranging. Every Wednesday, she would go to her Ikebana class, taught by a very kind Japanese woman who became a close friend.

    Ikebana isn't "just" flower arranging. It's a practice rooted in the Buddhist temple practice of offering flowers to Buddha as a form of prayer. Traditional Japanese homes have a flower corner just as they have a prayer corner. The beauty of flowers is healing.

    1. I can see where this would be very therapeutic because it is an act of bringing beauty in the world. I do not have much of a green thumb, so I spend time with my cats and am amazed at the differences in their personalities and how they relate with each other and with me. That is when I'm not watching baseball, a sport which also has it's zen moments.