Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

Compassion and Gratitude

By Fr. Jerry Pokorsky ( bio - articles - email ) | Feb 05, 2024

Compassion means to “suffer with.” A compassionate person suffers with another person with attentive and consoling love. Jesus encountered suffering during His ministry and responded with compassion. He healed the sick, raised the dead, and forgave sins. The ministry of Jesus teaches us that gratitude completes compassion.

A person who suffers “with” another may not feel compassionate. When it’s time for Dad to change the diapers, he typically doesn’t enter the changing room with joy. But he responds to the needs of his baby with compassion. (Thank you, Lord, for celibacy.) We need to cultivate dutiful compassion according to our states of life.

Many priests are not particularly good counselors. No shame in that. His prophetic ministry is to proclaim the Gospel, Church teaching, and Catholic principles for the application by the faithful. When he meets with resistance, he is tempted to say, “Hey, don’t crucify me! I’m just the messenger.” (Alas, the glorious martyrs would disagree.) As a preacher of the Gospel, he is God’s messenger.

Occasionally, the pastoral experiences of priests have value for others, and so a priest may dare to invoke his witness for others to take or leave. We have countless opportunities to imitate the compassion of Jesus, and a priest active in ministry is privileged to see many examples.

Compassionate family members often call priests to visit their ailing loved ones—as they should. Years ago, a man called a priest to the bedside of his dying wife. He was persistent and found a distant priest. The man was a WWII veteran and was among the American soldiers who occupied Japan after the war. He married a Japanese girl and lived happily ever after until they met the inevitable end-of-life drama.

Rosary in hand, the man was distraught. The old man told the priest that, for six months, he prayed that God would send someone to help his wife. God didn’t answer him. A priest learns to keep his mouth shut because there is always a risk of insulting someone with pious platitudes. But this time, the priest couldn’t help but observe the man’s love and kindness. So, he said, “When your wife got sick, you took her to the hospital, you cared for her, you fed her, you tended to her needs. You prayed for her. You called a priest as she was about to breathe her last. God answered your prayers. He sent you.” The old man was unaware of his sacrificial compassion. He loved his wife until it hurt, as Mother Teresa used to say.

One elderly home-bound mother had dementia and was in hospice care. During his Communion visits, family members told the priest Mom wanted to die at home. Of course, sometimes home care may not be possible. But with several willing grown children, they arranged a tag team of compassion.

In the morning, the woman woke up to an open window, fresh air, the sun shining, with a view of her backyard. She received Holy Communion with gestures that revealed years of devotion and gratitude. She died peacefully in her bed. Her children suffered with her until the end. Compassion. (Note well: The administration of pain-killing morphine that unintentionally shortens life is compassionate. Spiking morphine, intending so-called mercy killing, is murder.)

Gratitude and worship complete compassion. On His way to Jerusalem, Jesus enters a village, and ten lepers ask for His mercy (cf. Lk. 17:11-19). Jesus heals them and instructs them to show themselves to the priests. “Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then said Jesus, ‘Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ And he said to him, ‘Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.’” Only one in ten lepers met the compassion of Jesus with gratitude.

Doctors, nurses, and medical personnel understand pain and suffering more than most. They know that expressions of gratitude come in many forms. A grateful patient is reasonable in navigating the choppy waters of health care. Generally, he cooperates. Occasionally, he resists with good reasons but not with sinful stubbornness. Those needing care respond to the compassion they receive with a spirit of gratitude and attentiveness to reasonable options.

An elderly lady once disclosed her plans to make life easier for herself and her family during her twilight years. She looked at her budget. She decided the time had come to sell her house and enter a retirement community. She said her children wouldn’t have to worry about her within the safety of retirement facilities. She knew her mind wasn’t as sharp as it once was, so she identified a daughter as her medical advocate. (Medical specialists often don’t talk to each other, and insurance programs require bookkeeping that often is beyond the means of minds failing with age.)

The woman was grateful for her loving family and returned the favor with her reasonable plans. The elderly often respond to compassion with gratitude—overcoming the stubbornness of age—and their attentiveness to retirement and medical plans.

Mary, John, and the holy women suffered with Jesus at the foot of the Cross of our Redemption. “When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.” (Jn. 19:26-27) Jesus responded to the compassion He received from those who loved Him with His last will and testament. Mary would receive Holy Communion from the hands of St. John until her glorious Assumption.

The Sacrifice of the Mass is the Eucharist, “thanksgiving.” We respond to the saving compassion of Jesus with gratitude. Compassion and gratitude form the foundation of the Catholic faith.

Fr. Jerry Pokorsky is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington who has also served as a financial administrator in the Diocese of Lincoln. Trained in business and accounting, he also holds a Master of Divinity and a Master’s in moral theology. Father Pokorsky co-founded both CREDO and Adoremus, two organizations deeply engaged in authentic liturgical renewal. He writes regularly for a number of Catholic websites and magazines. See full bio.

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