Introduction to the Joy of Compassion
The next two Beatitudes are built upon the previous three. In humility, repentance, and meekness, the Christian is being cultivated to serve and love his neighbor. The Commandments might have outlined in a negative way the bear minimum of what justice demands, but the radical love of Jesus Christ pushes us further still.
The love of Jesus Christ moves us to compassion as it moved Him to the compassion of the cross and resurrection. Compassion is another interesting word that comes to us from the Latin. Cum means with, and passio, means to suffer. To experience compassion for someone else is not to feel sorry for their pain, but to suffer with them.
These two Beatitudes- hunger and thirst for justice, and being merciful- are not contradictory. Justice and mercy are not at odds with each other, but in the Person and example of Jesus Christ, they form the Joy of Compassion.
They who hunger and thirst for justice
Have you ever been hungry? Like, really hungry? What is the longest you ever went without eating? Imagine not eating or drinking for 3 or 4 days. Your stomach would hurt, your heading would be spinning, prone to fainting, you would feel exhausted all the time, and you would not be able to think about anything other than food. In fact, you’d dream about it.
What if you had that level of intense hunger, but instead of for food for yourself, it was for justice? You would dream about justice, about righting wrongs and healing hurts. Your head would spin from thinking hard and long about how to correct an abuse. You would be fatigued from all your efforts to see justice realized, and injustice fixed.
Desire for God
The first sense of hungry for justice, is the hunger I should feel for my own holiness. The Samaritan Woman at the Well in John 4 was confronted by the thirst of Jesus Christ, who thirsts for souls and not water. Jesus’ thirst drove him out into the desert well of Samaria where he met this outcast, despised woman. As the Catechesim says, “God thirsts that we might thirst for him” (CCC 2560).
Jesus promises us in this Beatitude that if we truly hunger and thirst for His justice, we will have our fill. Why would the meek, who just inherited the earth, still hunger and thirst? It is because they are not satisfied by the earth, nor the things of the earth. They seek Him, alone. So they hunger until they have it. The Lord, and not the earth or its stuff, is what brings them true and lasting joy.
Justice for Others
This Beatitude tells us that we need to hunger and thirst for justice especially for those who have their justice stolen from them. We need to defend the rights of other people. We need to defend the rights of the Church. We need to have our compassion move us into action on behalf of those who cannot defend themselves.
Teenagers ought not to think that they are too young to change the world for the better. You have the grace and comfort of the Holy Spirit with you! Christians should be less worried about having their rights violated in order to help others who are being abused and who have no other advocate.
Some people separate their faith with their social responsibilities. Christianity does not. We need to see the hurt and pain that is going on around us and starting working to end it. Serving God requires us to serve our neighbor as we hunger for God’s goodness to be realized here and now. Injustice reflects a lack of reverence for the men and women around us.
Imagine the power of change that could happened from just the people in this room if they took one issue, like abortion, and started to hunger and thirst for justice to win out. Imagine what would happen to your school or neighborhood if you refused to betray your own integrity by falling into the same injustices that others do (like picking on a particular kid day-in and day-out). God may be asking us to give up something we desire in order to supply the basic necessities of our neighbors, like fasting from lunch in order to pay for another kid's meal. This is true compassion, for you suffer with your neighbor in need.
Justice and Christian love demands prayerful action from each of us. This world will not get better and more loving on its own. We need to make it better. We need to hunger for a better world and thirst for better communities. God promises to give us our fill when we give from a joyful heart.
Mercy is Love in Action
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.This Beatitude is through the extension of justice. Mercy is the generosity of justice, preventing it from becoming too hard or cold.
When people attack others, we ought to work and fight for justice. But what is the proper Christian attitude for those who attack us? We ought to respond in mercy. Jesus commands us to love our enemies. Our goal, then, is to absorb their hate with love so as to win them over. Mother Theresa once said that the way to deal with your enemies is to love them, for soon you will have no enemies for they will have all become your dear friends.
The reality of this Beatitude calls us on even further. Jesus said that only those who are merciful will receive mercy. Why is that? Is God playing a little game with us?
Mercy is meant to be given away. One cannot hoard the gift of forgiveness. Not a single person in this room is without sin, yet our God has seen to it through Christ Jesus to forgive us time and again of the same sins. Who are we, who have been forgiven so much from God, to withhold such a small amount of mercy from our brothers and sisters? Being forgiven a huge debt is certainly a cause for great joy! But Jesus demands that the joy of being forgiven then radiate out to those who have wronged us.
Our Lord has made it simple: it is unChristian to hold a grudge. It is not Christ-like to withhold your mercy from a brother or sister who has asked for it. Mercy is difficult. It is humbling. Just like the cross was for Christ. But it is still necessary. Mercy and forgiveness set people free from guilt and shame. Mercy sets the merciful man free from bitterness and resentment.
We are called to have an insatiable desire for justice and to be merciful men and women. These are two different dimensions to the joy of compassion. Jesus Christ went to the Cross out of justice. The sins that we committed are evil and horrific and needed to be atoned. Jesus went to the cross out of mercy, because the sinner, weak and broken, needed to be restored to grace and reunited with the Father’s love. So Jesus found a way to answer both mercy and justice by handing himself over in our place.
From this example of our Lord paying our debts, we need to follow after Him and imitate Him. Jesus gave us the freedom to be saints, to walk in the light of God’s grace once again. In the world, we need to be that shining light for others. When we see injustice, we need to work, sweat, and sacrifice in order to correct it, to bring help and healing to those who are suffering. When someone attacks us, we need to have the compassion and the perspective of Christ on the cross, and offer our mercy and forgiveness. Since God has forgiven us of so much, brothers and sisters, let us run out to offer mercy to others who have sinned against us. For what could be more joyful then restoring a lost member back to the family?