By Francis Patrick Donnelly
THE HEART OF SYMPATHY
The heart of this people is grown gross.
Wonderful substance, truly, and almost in contradiction with itself! Yet sympathy is more responsive, more receptive than ether. The sun touches the ether, and in eight minutes that delicate substance has brought the touch to our eye, ninety millions of miles away, and we see the light. But sympathy is swifter. When the thoughts race, and thought is faster than light, sympathy outstrips them all.
Sympathy even anticipates the slow mind. It is prophetic, it foresees. If sympathy is swifter than thought, its home must be in the heart, and not in the mind, and so it is. Surely charity is of the heart, and sympathy is nothing more than winged charity. Anything that will weigh down the heart will clip the wings of sympathy and fetter its flight. Our Lord and His Apostles looked for sympathy, and, we have sad reason to believe, often lacked it. Therefore, it was that a passage of Isaias, describing lack of sympathy, was often quoted by the Apostles, as it had been by our Lord. In every Gospel, in the Acts of the Apostles and in the Epistles, we find the passage mentioned or alluded to. St. Matthew has it thus: "And the prophecy of Isaias is fulfilled in them, who saith: 'By hearing you shall hear and shall not understand, and seeing you shall see and shall not perceive. For the heart of this people is grown gross.'"
The heart that is gross (the word means fat, dull, heavy) is not sympathetic. Such a heart stops sympathy at the fountainhead; instead of being sensitive, it is callous; instead of being prophetic, it is blind and deaf. Such a heart cannot fly; it cannot crawl, but it is tied to itself and caged within the narrow limits of selfishness. The great English dramatist has said the final word on the last stage of the gross heart, lost to all sense and feeling. He describes a heart in which there has not been merely degeneration by the deposit of fat in the muscles of the heart, but the complete absorption of the heart in fat. "Duller shouldst thou be," says the ghost of his father to Hamlet, "than the fat weed That roots itself in ease on Lethe wharf."Not a single element of that picture should be lost, not "weed," nor "roots," nor "ease," nor "Lethe," the land of complete forgetfulness, nor "wharf," where the well-watered weeds grow rankest, if one would get a complete view of the gross heart which Isaias complained of, when he was entering upon his mission, and whose complaint our Lord and His Apostles found justified in the audiences they appealed to. They looked for sympathetic hearts, and in many cases found gross hearts that closed eye and ear and every avenue of knowledge to the message of Christ, hearts that would not let even a whisper of Christ's voice stir their weedy fibres as they slumbered in forgetfulness and ease forevermore.
To have a sympathetic heart of the truest kind there are three requisites: unselfishness, knowledge and experience. As the magnet looks northward, sympathy looks outward. Sympathy is essentially unselfish; it is the flower of Christian civilization. In fact, there is a danger of overdoing sympathy in our day. The sentimentality that sends flowers to a murderer and ignores the widows and orphans of the murdered, that feels more for animals than for man, is not true sympathy. No virtue is found in excess or extravagance, and pity for brute beasts should not go so far as to arrest a New Jersey man for cruelty to animals or for heartless vivisection when he dispatches one of the pests of his native shore.
Besides unselfishness, sympathy calls for knowledge. We must know another's sorrow and pain to feel for him. Nor is knowledge enough for the most perfect sympathy; experience, which, after all, is the ripest knowledge, produces the truest sympathy. The one who can say, "I have suffered the same way myself," is likely to have the most sympathetic heart.
Now, where can these three elements be found in greater completeness than in the Heart of Christ? That Heart was utterly unselfish. It was made for others; it was a gift to us. It came into existence bearing an address, and it was addressed to us. A letter is not at all for itself; it is for the one to whom it is addressed. The Heart of Christ has the same unselfishness and its contents are wholly for us. Every drop of its blood is for us as well as all their gathered wealth in the precious receptacle of His Heart. Not a single soul of all mankind was excluded from His sympathy. "God so loved the world as to give." The gift to the world was to all. Christ does not withhold the blood of His Heart from anyone. It goes to everyone. If it does not reach its destination, it is because the human will rejects the gift. In our sympathy we transmit feeling by means of words; in Christ's sympathy His Heart brings blood to His suffering ones by means of His infinite power everywhere present. Christ read the hearts of men. "He knew their thoughts, He knew what was in man"; these and like statements occur frequently in the Gospel. As God, He had the unique privilege, denied to everyone else, of being the searcher of hearts. Therefore, could the Heart of Christ be sympathetic. Then, as for experience of pain and sorrow, who that has read Isaias' prophecy and its more than perfect fulfilment in the Passion can mention a species of pain or grief, or a degree of pain and grief which Christ did not experience in His life and death? Theologians have weighed and numbered His sorrows: saints have with the ingenuity of love described and valued them. For us all there is proof that we can see and hear. Our eyes are fascinated with the horror of His bloody sweat which reveals in lurid red how His blood fled in terror from the prospects of anguish and torment. Our ears are chilled with the cry of divine abandonment which springs out of the soul of Christ from the consummation of His torture.
The Heart of Christ must have been sympathetic, and a reading of His life-story shows that it was. Sympathy is the promptness of charity, the delicate refinement of the rarest love. To show all that in Christ's Heart is simply to rehearse the Gospel. Take instances none can fail to understand. Children are most susceptible to sympathy. They do not reason about it, they feel it. The pretence of it can scarcely escape their detection. Then remember how the children flocked around Christ and felt at home near His Heart, whereas the well-meaning Apostles felt, we may imagine, as awkward as a locomotive colliding with the fragile lace of a spider's gossamer web.
Christ's dealing with sinners is another luminous revelation of His sympathetic Heart. The world of His day could not understand it. It would not, if it could, tread upon the same earth with the sinner. Christ's Heart had no such unsympathetic aloofness. The proud, sensitive sinner who hardened into stone under the scorn of the world, melted into the tears of repenting sorrow, and followed the children into the circle of Christ's Heart. We are content to rest the proof of the sympathy of the Heart of Christ on the conduct of the mothers and their children, on the simple words of her who said, "No man, Lord," on the actions of Magdalene, on the tears of Peter, who succumbed to one glance of sympathy.