November 20, 2002
volume 13, no. 140

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The Dual Countenances of Sympathy

    What has happened to that double side of sympathy which is the basis of the Christian philosophy of life; '"Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep?" It has been said that the wounded deer sheds tears, but it belongs to man to weep with those who weep and by sympathy to divide another's sorrows and double another's joy.

    In a nation, bad blood arises immediately when others are indifferent to our misfortunes. Nothing so spoils a people as a spirit which makes each say, "I am I and you are you, and that's the end of it." Rather, as the poet said:

    We, are we not formed as notes of music are For one another though dissimilar?

    Of the two kinds of sympathy, it seems easier to show sympathy with people in trouble than to rejoice with happy folk. In Shakespeare's As You Like It, there is a description of two brothers, each in love with his chosen mistress. One succeeds in his courtship, whereupon the other exclaims, "How bitter it is to look into happiness through another man's eyes!"

    Furthermore, it seems to be easier to do one of these than to do both together. Some are more sensitive to pain in others, and others are more sensitive to joy in others. It could be that, feeling the need of sympathy ourselves, we play a sympathetic tune on the keyboard of another; but why, it might be asked, since we all wish joy, not share in another's joy?

    It has been said that it becomes easier to do both as we grow older. One of the heroes of Homer sang:

    Taught by time, my heart has learned to glow
    For others' good and weep at others' woe.

    Every man rejoices twice when he has a partner in his joy. He who shares tears with us wipes them away. He divides them in two, and he who laughs with us makes the joy double. Two torches do not divide, but increase the flame. Tears are more quickly dried up when they run on a friend's cheek in furrows of compassion.

    How beautifully both these sympathies were revealed in the character of our Blessed Lord when He saw the leper, the widow of Naim, the blind man by the wayside, the hungry multitudes distressed "as sheep without a shepherd." He touched the leper; He dried the tears of the widow; He was hungry with the hungry and He fed them. He suffered with their suffering. One day a publican made a great feast in his house. Our Lord sat down with His disciples, saying that while the Bridegroom was with them, they should all rejoice. He also entered sympathetically into the joys of the marriage feast of Cana, making better wine even when the poor wine had been drained.

    Few there are who can carry this sympathy to a point of forgiveness as Our Lord did from the Cross; as St. Thomas More, Chancellor of England, did when he gave a blessing to his persecutors. Just before being killed, he was asked if he had anything to say. His answer was,

    "My lords, I have but to say that as the blessed Apostle St. Paul was present at the death of the martyr, Stephen, keeping the clothes of those who stoned him, and yet they be now saints in Heaven, and there shall continue to be friends forever, so I trust and shall, therefore, pray, that through your lordships have been on earth my judges, yet we may hereafter meet in Heaven together to our everlasting salvation: and God preserve you all, especially our sovereign lord, the king, and grant him faithful counsellors."

November 20, 2002
volume 13, no. 140

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