Today, if someone were to be described as a Mother Theresa, we would understand what kind of person he or she is, because that name has become a common adjective meaning ‘full of compassion’, just as you would call somebody a ‘good Samaritan’.To those who were chanced to live with Mother Theresa, she has helped them to understand what the term ‘a living saint’ means.
But to the modern specialists interested in human emotions, this saint has left them with a tough home-work of speculating on how good man can be, how compassionate, how sympathetic especially when it comes to his or her capacity to share and understand other people’s emotions and feelings as well as to alleviate their sufferings.
To the rest of us, this saint leaves us with some curiosity on both the definition and the depth of human compassion.
Through her daily life, Mother Theresa has given us a good understanding of what is human compassion.
It is that profound human emotion prompted by the suffering of others, with a strong desire to alleviate them. In ethical terms, this emotion comes closer to the expression commonly termed as the Golden Rule or the principle of compassion coined from the words of Jesus Christ himself: ‘Do to others what you would have them do to you.’ (Mt 7:12)
Mother Theresa teaches us that genuine compassion triggers off the kind of emotion that we can call sympathy, which is a social affinity in which one person stands with another person, because he or she has understood closely the other person’s feelings.
It is because Mother Theresa understood and appreciated human suffering that she chose to stand and suffer together with those who were in different hard situations.
Her life has taught us that compassion distinguishes itself from other human emotions.
It should not be confused with empathy; which is characterized as the ability to “put oneself into another’s shoes”, or trying to experience what the other person is feeling.
But empathy does not necessarily imply compassion, because it can be exercised in cruel behaviour as well, as putting oneself in somebody’s situation in order to carry on revenge.
At this point, it is possible that the reader starts to ask himself or herself a more relevant question than the above theories.
How did this lady of our modern time, manage to identify herself with such a degree of compassion? Where did she get all that strength? This is a question which can be answered best by Mother Theresa herself.
It is interesting however to note that those who lived with Mother Theresa continue to see the answer to the above question in the prayer that the saint recited time and again in her life.
It is commonly known as Mother Theresa’s prayer of compassion.
This beautiful prayer articulates what pure compassion looks like. She asks God the capacity to spread his fragrance everywhere she goes, and that her life may only be a radiance of the life of God.
In brief, Mother Theresa’s earthly wish in which she succeeded was to reflect God’s compassion to all people.
The Bible describes God as the “Father of compassion” and the “God of all comfort” in the Second Letter to the Corinthians (1.3). This is what we see in the life of Jesus, which for the Christians is the very essence of compassion.
John tells us of one of the many instances that Jesus was moved by compassion when he saw the suffering of the people. Seated on the mountain, he saw a large crowd which was following him, and was moved by pity because he saw that they had so many problems both spiritual and physical ones.
When he saw how hungry the were, he made a miracle by multiplying the little food which was available; five barley loaves and two fish and he fed the whole crowd.
The Gospel tells us that the people were made to sit down, and they were served by Jesus himself and his apostles. Cfr. Jn. 6: 1- 15. In her prayers which were answered by God, it is this kind of compassion that Mother Theresa wanted to reflect in her life to all who were suffering.
Christ’s example of compassion was a great challenge to Mother Theresa and it should remain a big challenge to all Christians.
It is not a simple challenge because it requires us to forsake our own desires so that we may act compassionately towards others, particularly those in need or distressed.
Once we make the first step to this cause, there is a great reward. Jesus assures us in his Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” He does the same in the parable of The Good Samaritan where he holds up to his followers the ideal of compassionate conduct.
True Christian compassion, say the Gospels, should be extended to all, keeping in mind that in Jesus’ concern for the temporal needs of the people; we always find him genuinely moved by the suffering of the “least ones”.
In addition to this, Christian compassion should be exercised even to the extent of loving one’s enemies.