There’s much to be said about empathy, about feeling for others and being able to be with others in their times of need. Empathy is not just commiserating or trying to feel bad when others suffer – empathy is all about accompaniment. One shouldn’t force oneself to feel the same as others as that does no good to either person, comforter and sufferer. What one should do is to open oneself to the feelings of others which would allow for greater understanding and a willingness to share in whatever the emotions and lives. If we are open to others, we don’t change ourselves more than change our way of being with others – deepening our relationships and our connectedness as children of God.
One thing that struck me about the Sunday gospel this week were the range of emotions that occurred during the episode of the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-45). The grief of Lazarus’s sisters Mary and Martha was quite evident as the latter even gently chided Jesus from taking a while to arrive. Jesus himself showed emotion when he wept at the death of Lazarus. This is significant because this late in his ministry, Jesus would be very well aware of his ability to work miracles but he still showed his emotional reaction to the death of his good friend. Even one who can overcome death is himself overcome by the emotions that are related with it. Our human condition is such that no matter how we try to remain stoic and unmoved, our relationships with others, especially if they are close, can reveal deep emotions within us.
We come to these emotions through our senses – we hear and see things going around us and allow ourselves to react. Jesus did the same – he heard the news and then wept. It’s interesting that in Italian, the same word sentire is used both to feel and to hear. There’s a very close relationship between our senses and our ability to feel (emotionally) and perhaps that’s the other thing that we’d want to be open to. Allowing ourselves to be more connected to the people and other things around us will in turn open us to a fuller range of emotions.
That’s where Lent seems to be bringing us – to be more aware of our own emotions through our own openness to the world around. By being more open to the world, we become more open to God. As we approach Holy Week and enter more deeply into the paschal mystery, we try to open ourselves to others so that we can be more open to our own feelings and what and where we feel God to be.