I read an interesting article the other day by Jennifer Hartline for Catholic Online that pointed out that the word ‘compassion’ is often misused by Christians, particularly in discussion of contentious moral issues. I would go a bit further and say that the word ‘love’ is misused as well.
Consider, for a moment, a road-rager. He zips across lanes, tailgates, cuts people off, gestures, and so on as he drives on your local freeways. The road-rager, however, is a fine man—he has a wife and children, a respectable job, and volunteers at his local soup kitchen. Let’s say you live in the same neighborhood as this man, but don’t know him personally. In conversation with a mutual friend, you ask if he knows who the ‘guy in the black BMW’ is . . . you know, the one who tears around the neighborhood like a maniac and creates a dangerous situation on the highways. We should report him to the police, you say.
But the mutual neighbor, instead of agreeing with you, scolds you! The guy in the BMW is a good man, after all, and you then get a thirty-minute lecture on being more loving and compassionate toward your neighbor.
You see the problem? When somebody is doing something wrong, it’s not un-loving or un-compassionate to criticize him—so long as you do so in a proper, respectful manner. In fact, on the contrary, simply letting him ‘do his own thing’ is what would be un-loving and un-compassionate. Sometimes, love and compassion requires that you confront the bad or disordered activities perpetrated by another.
Hartline sums it up quite well in her article:
The modern motto is that people should be able to live as they please without moral “imposition” from anyone else. I even hear Catholics saying the Church has no right to impose its beliefs or morality on anyone else. I strongly disagree—with the premise and the wording. The Church has every right, and more importantly, every obligation, to tell mankind of the danger of sin and the deadly consequences of indulging in it. That’s not “imposing morality.” It is the greatest demonstration of compassion.