Compassionate Presence

30. At this point it will be worth our while to reflect for a moment on our charism’ to consider how the task of evangelization in today’s world challenges it. We will consider five key ways for under standing the connection between our charism and evangelization.

31. Compassion is one of the original and central values of the Order’s charism. It’s “a characteristic of the Servants” ( Const., 52 ) and is intimately related to the ideal of service. Compassion is the root or soul of our service.

32. Furthermore, compassion is closely connected to devotion to Mary, the Mother of Mercy. It ex presses a profoundly Marian attitude, such as we find in the invocation of the Salve: “turn thine eyes of mercy toward us”. Servants of Mary, too, must look on every one of God’s creatures with compassion. They will look at the world, not naively, but with critical realism, and without whine or wail. Getting beyond all pessimism and bitterness they will avoid taking into account only errors and vices so as not to despise people and curse the times.

33. This way of looking at the world is that of the heavenly Father. “God so loved the world that he sent his only Son … God did not send his Son to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (Jn 3, 16-17). The compassion and mercy of the Father must also be ours            (see Lk 6, 36).

34. This radical spirit of compassion should never leave us, not even when it is necessary to recognize and denounce the sins of the world. Hate for the sin does not eliminate but rather demands love for the sinner and concern for his or her conversion to Love.

35. Before becoming word and deed our basic evangelizing attitude will be that of compassionate presence. The meaning of the incarnation, without which there can be neither evangelization nor redemption, requires of us, not that we “stand for ‘ “, but rather that we “stand with”, that we be close to our brothers and sisters to be evangelized. This is especially important with regard to those who are suffering, to all who are crucified on the infinite crosses in the world. Standing alongside them we want to imitate the compassion of her who at the foot of the cross shared in her Son’s suffering, offering the comfort of her silent but efficacious presence.

36. The ideal of compassionate presence might arouse in some of us the desire to share more directly the suffering of the poor. The same ideal might also urge some to search for “expressions of our life that differ from those which already exist” ( Const., 78 )- for example, communities established in areas where the poor live, so as “to share their plight and anxieties” ( Const., 58 ). Blessed Joachim of Siena is a beautiful example of this compassion for those suffering. Unable to console an epileptic he met, Joachim asked the Lord to have his brother’s burden placed on himself, his prayer was granted and Joachim bore the illness patiently all the days of his life.

37. Compassion makes us discover not only new forms of life but also “new kinds of service” by which practical and efficacious assistance can be offered to the old and new kinds of misery present in our society ( Const, 76b ).

38. Compassion, furthermore, requires of the Servants a serious inculturation into the society to which they bring their message. The Constitutions appropriately prescribe: “The friar should become one with the people he joins.” The text makes this more specific when it speaks of “adopting their language, understanding their ways of thought and belief and sharing their problems.” The result of this process will be an inculturated Christian community, that is, again in the words of the Constitutions, a people whose faith is rooted “in their own most genuine spiritual and cultural values”            ( Const., 96 ). This applies not only to missionary work but to every kind of evangelization activity.

39. The evangelizing Servant will avoid at all cost even the appearance of any attitude of arrogance and presumption, as if the Servant were master of some truth being benevolently shared with the unknowing. The fact is that even the evangelizer must be evangelized. The Servant will approach others with a heart itself open to being evangelized. The Servant will be attentive to the “seeds, of the Word” which are sowed in every culture. Sharing in the kenosis of Christ the Servant will assume an attitude of humility and self-denial and learn to listen – serving is in fact essentially a matter of listening.

40. The Servant will listen also to the voice of the Lord who speaks in different accents. A special voice is that which is heard in the cry of the poor; it is a voice with the evangelizing potential to callus to conversion, solidarity, prophecy and even martyr dom. The person who sets out to evangelize the poor ends up being evangelized by them.

41. The Servant listens to the voice of the Lord heard in those who are existentially poor, those who have lost life’s meaning, the faith dimension, the vision of eternal life, the grace of communion with the Creator and Father. The true Servant will be essentially fraternal, a companion along the way, searching with the others for the manifestation of the saving mystery. This will be the Servant’s primary and basic attitude.

Questions for community reflection
1. How is it possible to look compassionately on the world in which we live with all its incongruities?
2. What are the obstacles that keep us at a distance from the people? How can we overcome these obstacles?
3. What evangelical lessons do we learn from the people with whom we work?