In our first reading today we are challenged to help those who are most vulnerable in society. While it is true that sometimes we deliberately hurt those who are vulnerable, or we choose to be selfish, sometimes perhaps we simply do not allow ourselves to really see the situation of other people. I do not think many of us deliberately want to make the lives of people who are suffering more difficult. More often I think we block out the pain and suffering around us as much as we can because it feels too much. We sin by choosing not to let ourselves be affected by the situations of those around us.
Each day we are confronted with situations in which our resources, our expertise or sometimes even just our smile, or a friendly greeting could make a difference.
But sometimes our lack of care for ourselves coupled with the huge needs of our society mean that we run out of compassion. Psychologists talk about “compassion fatigue” which is when we run out of empathy and become hardened to the pain we see around us. It is a defence mechanism because we do not want to see any more suffering. To be able to stay engaged and not get burnt out we also have to be merciful towards ourselves, allowing the well to be filled with enough activities and relationships that nourish us and feed us with energy. Then we will have more capacity to engage with those who need our support. While we cannot help everyone, each of us can help someone.
Today’s Gospel urges us to look at where we make life unnecessarily difficult for others, especially those who are vulnerable. As in the time of Jesus, our rules as Church and society often place burdens on people. The call for us is to help lift burdens from those who are already heavily weighed down, whether they be the burdens of circumstances such as poverty, illness, unemployment, domestic violence, or the burdens that we ourselves impose through laws that seek not to alleviate suffering but add to it.