It’s fairly well-known that the word “compassion” comes from Latin (cum + pati) and means “to suffer with.” The word is thrown around frequently without considering the real meaning of it; other words abused like this in the modern Church include “mercy,” “dialogue,” and “unity.” Like with these other misused words, compassion often only applies to certain “acceptable” people, such as the vaxxed or someone in an “irregular” (i.e., adulterous) civil marriage.
As Christians, we know from the teachings of Jesus Christ that we ought to care for those who suffer, particularly if they suffer due to some unjust action taken against them. In no way am I advocating for the modern brand of social justice activism that has become the sole mission of some Catholics, but I am asking what true compassion looks like in practice. Even though social justice has been hijacked, the call to “do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8) is still necessary in the mission of Catholics.
Compassion cannot be just a nice sentiment for Catholics. A rightly-ordered person has both faith and reason to form his conscience, but he also has a heart that moves his will toward action: righteous anger at injustice turns into actively seeking ways to restore justice, remorse for sin turns into contrition and confession, and compassion turns into assisting the suffering one. Justice must be dispensed rationally, without being tainted by emotional pleas or seeking personal gain, and yet both justice and compassion must exist in a balance within the Christian soul. With an overemphasis on behaving dispassionately, the truly passionate love of God will not be evident in one’s work. With too much compassionate affection, the hard truths of the Gospel become diluted and washed away.
To discuss more fully what compassion entails, let’s lay out two basic conditions: compassion needs to involve some kind of suffering or sacrifice, and it must be for the good of your neighbor’s soul. Going to a controversial and potentially dangerous Pride event to stand in solidarity with your gay friend is not compassion; it is affirming your friend’s rejection of truth and publicly promoting a sinful lifestyle. Similarly, offering to take a young woman to her abortion appointment despite the scrutiny of colleagues is not compassion; it is cooperation with willful murder. Euthanasia is another example where the word “compassion” is thrown around to disguise obvious murder.
There are cases, of course, that don’t involve murder or sodomy. And I’d like to present a real one that is now in action around the world. Suppose someone gets vaccinated for COVID-19 shortly after the vaccine becomes available, thinking that it’s good for his health. Six months later, mandates barring the unvaccinated from restaurants, universities, and non-essential businesses start rolling out. The man is shocked. He knows that these mandates are unjust and discriminatory. He tells his unvaccinated neighbor that he feels compassion for her in this troubling situation, but that night he goes out to a vaccinated-only bar with his work buddies. Can it truly be said that this man is “suffering with” his neighbor?
The answer is an obvious “no,” but it’s worthwhile to keep considering the ethics of the situation before offering possible solutions. I have heard the argument that businesses are still recovering from losses suffered during the first shutdown and that the vaccinated have a duty to support them as a matter of justice. The two major problems with this are “who” and “when.”
The first issue is who owes support to the recovering businesses. The government made the decision to shut down businesses, and with that action they took on the consequence of future responsibilities, including reparation. If businesses are still suffering even after government assistance, whether it be due to loss of clientele or lack of staff, perhaps it’s time to give business owners the opportunity to develop the virtue of courage and consider disobeying the draconian vaccine passport measures.
Secondly, the initial lockdowns occurred nearly two years ago, while unjust vaccine mandates are a current, ongoing, and morally pressing issue. If you have compassion for the unvaccinated being discriminated against, how can you support a business that participates in this kind of discrimination?
At the beginning of the summer, many of my friends decided to get vaccinated for the sake of their health or for ease of access to services, and I agreed that it was fine for them to make that decision. But the situation has grown into a far bigger monster now, thanks to the support of the majority. People are losing jobs and basic freedoms due to their decision. Organ transplants are refused to the unvaccinated. Lockdowns for the unvaccinated continue in Austria. Due to the current Canadian restrictions on air travel, I am unable to fly back to western Canada in the event of a family emergency or funeral.
Yet, where are all the friends who supported my right to not get vaccinated? There they are, silently complying with tyranny. They are on the winning side, so why should they care? Yes, they speak of compassion and how unjust these new laws are, but words do precious little for one who continues to suffer. They enjoy all the advantages of this new order: to go out for dinner, see a concert or movie, or attend university in person are all options for them. I urge these people to remember that the freedoms given to them by our leaders are there to keep them quiet and complicit. They have given you every reason not to protest injustice, but will you?
The world seems to grow continually darker, whether you’re panicking over the latest variant or nervous about losing your job due to your unvaccinated status. The only light to be found is Christ, the Prince of Peace. He alone is perfectly just, and it is His reign that we long for in this valley of tears. Consider the true compassion He demonstrated in the Incarnation and how He shared in our weaknesses and infirmities, truly suffering with each one of us. If He, who willed to be born in a cold and dirty stable in Bethlehem, said “Love one another as I have loved you,” then what should your compassion look like?
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