Sermon: True capacity to care gives life its deepest significance

As we call to mind the sad memory of the genocide against the Tutsi for the 16th time, the same event continues to remind us of our responsibility towards those who are at risk of its traumatizing effects.

As we call to mind the sad memory of the genocide against the Tutsi for the 16th time, the same event continues to remind us of our responsibility towards those who are at risk of its traumatizing effects.

In our liturgy of the second Sunday of Easter, we learn how Jesus Christ dealt with such a case of traumatic stress disorder.

And the lesson he teaches us guards us from the danger of ‘compassion fatigue’ in our recurrent annual remembrance and in our attempt to show sympathy to all those traumatized by that sad event.

When St Augustine explains what happened to Jesus’ disciples and friends after his death, he shows us how they were all shocked into a trauma and disbelief to see Jesus hanging and dying on a cross.

They were not prepared to take in such an image of Jesus.   St Augustine tells us that this was a fact too hard for them to comprehend and that is why they were too confused to remember what he had said about his death and resurrection. 

As a traumatized community, they kept themselves in seclusion and shut up in a house in fear and trembling.

According to St Augustine, what Jesus did next after his resurrection was a kind of psychotherapeutic intervention. He took it as a priority to meet and talk with them. First he appeared to Mary Magdalene who was in tears, and assured her that he was alive. 

Next, he appeared to two of his disciples on their way to Emmaus, who were terribly depressed. And lastly, he appeared to the eleven disciples who had locked themselves in a house and in fear of Jews.

Jesus showed them his wounded hands and feet without asking them why they had deserted him on his way of the cross.

It is astonishing to notice that in each of the three instances of his intervention, Jesus was not recognized by his disciples and friends with whom they were together only three days before.

This was due to the shock they had had and the fact that their hope had been shattered down hurting their psychological integrity before the Jews. 

Jesus’ psychotherapeutic intervention carries a great lesson for us during this period when we remember the infamous genocide against the Tutsi which took place in 1994, and at the same time trying to help those living with the traumatized memory of the sad event.

If Jesus did not appear to them, he would leave behind a case of continuous and unresolvable suffering. That is why he took it as a priority to stay near his friends in a compassionate way before he went back to this Father.

Today, in our country we are dealing with a post genocide kind of suffering which is both continuous and unresolvable.

And if we do not take Jesus’ example of looking at it as a priority and primary duty to ‘remember’ and to heal the sad memories of the many victims, we may in the long term fail to meet the taxing nature of showing compassion for the many victims, orphans and all those affected by it in one way or another.

And as time goes by, we may slip into the syndrome of ‘compassion fatigue’.
‘Compassion fatigue’ in such a case refers to a gradual lessening of the capacity to show compassion over time.

Since we live in a world which operates on the basis of necessity, it would begin by convincing ourselves that it is no longer necessary. Next, we do it for the sake of ceremony.

And when compassion is not done heartedly, Georges Bernanos tells us what happens: “ such compassion cannot quench pain, it slips through your soul as through a sieve. And when our suffering has been dragged from one pity to another, as from one mouth to another, we can no longer respect or love it.”

What Jesus teaches us and is repeated by Georges Bernanos in his beautiful words is to be careful when we are dealing with those suffering the post genocide traumatic stress.

We must continue to do it out of conviction and not for the sake of ceremony, because then we may unknowingly slip into compassion fatigue and what we do shall not have much value to those it is intended for; it shall fail to quench their pain.

It will slip through their soul as their suffering is dragged from one pity to another but leaving them to suffer alone.