Monday, August 9, 2010

Seeing through the eyes of Christ - a new empathy

Bishop Fulton J Sheen was once quoted as saying this about suffering – “Tears are not without value, provided one sees a purpose in their shedding. As the morning rose is sweetest when embalmed with dew, so love is loveliest when embalmed in tears. Many a person sees God through tears more often than in the sunlight; in fact, tears may leave the vision of the eyes clear for stars.”

Only a person who has struggled through years of tears and endured a prolonged period of pain of a wounded heart can speak of suffering in such an erudite way. Just about everybody has cried tears of sadness, rejection, failure and loneliness at some time or other. Yet not everyone carries in them a similar strength and depth of character through the pain. Could the answer lie in the ability to lift this woundedness up to God in faith and trust.

There are many who have come to see me carrying in them a lot of wounds. When these wounds are identified, the perfectionist in me often hopes to give the most assuaging counsel, offering the best solution. But as I grow in my priesthood, I have learnt to see that sometimes, it is not a solution that is best offered, but perhaps something else – a listening with depth. I have also found that this is strangely, one of the hardest things to do.

Just to hear is not hard. But to listen with empathy and to ‘get into the shoes of the other’ entails a lot more. It means putting aside my tasks, my agenda, and even my thoughts and correct pre-formed solutions. This takes a dying to self, which is something that almost all of us fight so hard not to do. But it is only when we do this that we can end up sharing a woundedness that can bring about a shared healing at the same time. Platitudes and model answers may be something that many of us priests are tempted to give, but it takes a lot of love to not rely on them, but to enter-into the woundedness of the wounded heart. Professional counselors will advise against too much of entering into, because one can lose objectivity. This is sound advice, but it can also end up making us very distant and cold.

This could well be the greatest difference between the professional counselor and the healing that comes from Christ. Christ is one who has let no wall or barrier come between the creature and the creator. In Luke’s account of the crucifixion, we are told that the veil of the temple was torn right down the middle. A tiny detail, but a very important one. We are given a glimpse of the significance of Christ’s stepping into our humanity did – he removed all barriers and walls that hitherto existed between God and our sinful selves. By becoming man, God breaks all barriers to our woundedness and truly enters into our wounds, walking the walk of our sin and shame. He fought against giving us those pre-planned answers and platitudes. God no longer just listens from afar to our plaintive cries of our human suffering. This God of ours cries our tears and carries our crosses as well. Gal 2:22 gives us much hope because truly, it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us. Our tears and our struggles are not just ours, but are now a shared sorrow that leads to a healing that is similarly shared.

When it is difficult to enter into the shoes of the wounded standing right in front of us, it becomes most necessary to cherish what the incarnation and the passion of Christ did. Because of the incarnation, God sees us through very human eyes, and he has a new empathy for us. What Bishop Sheen said about the value of human tears can perhaps also be said of God’s tears shed on Calvary as well – there was a great purpose in that shedding that day, and it left God with a ‘Christed’ vision for our broken humanity.

If because of Calvary, we can now see God through the eyes of Christ, would it be audacious to say that even God sees us now through those same eyes?


  1. thanks. you've hit the nail on the head. In acknowledging the need to truly listen to the person in front of you, you acknowledge that person for who he/she is. not some stereotype or similar case study. May you always be blessed with the grace to see and hear Christ in those you encounter and may they encounter Christ in you. We are one. "each man's joys are joy to me ...each man's fears are my own". Amen. Peace be with you.

  2. After reading this, i got that people rather wanted us to listen to their cries, merely just wanting a trusted friend to understand their situation.. Shared sorrow is half of pain, shared joy is double of happiness. Maybe when the wounded person get one person to understand his pain, he would unload his burden in the hope to find some strength again or still a shining hope or just to get the answer by his own realisation after sharing, that "this is not too bad at all, im much capable than this". If me, my self could see my friend's wound as my wound, the best thing i would ever done is to let him have me as his companion, so i might be present to receive half of his sorrow. and i want to learn, not being too quick to point solution without anyone to help him get up on his knees first.. And Jesus, in Whom is our daily refuge, He is present always to walk with us, He listens and He hold us. In Joy and in Tears.

  3. John Main, (Benedictine monk & teacher of Christian Meditation)once mentioned that "one of the great sufferings of Jesus was that people did not hear his great love for at the Last Supper, he was trying to share his love and the fear of his impending death with the disciples, but they were more concerned about who would be in the highest places in the Kingdom..."

    Sometimes, I feel we are not that different from them. For to be able to listen with depth - to someone trying to express his deep feelings or hurts or needs - requires the total attention of the listener, a true giving of self ( as you've said) - and we can only do so if there is stillness within ourselves. We have to be 'at home' to ourselves before we can be 'at home' to others .....listening to them and in the process affirming them just by our attention.This could be the most effective means of communication. Perhaps, similarly, we need to be listening to his message in his Word - in stillness & silence - if we wish to effectively communicate the Lord to others....

  4. Thank you for the reminder, empathy (and self giving) is much more difficult than sympathy.