The Elder Son.

On June 22nd, my wife broke her ankle while she was bouldering (a form of rock climbing without ropes) in a gym in Montreal.  It was a very bad break:  It was an open wound and one of the bones in her ankle was crushed.  She required surgery that very evening that lasted 2.5 hours.  The surgeon did an impeccable job and managed to reconstruct her ankle: all the bones are back in the right place.  It is now up to her to allow the healing to take place.

I write to you  later.  I have learnt something about myself; something that I am not very proud of.

You see, when I first learnt of the injury, I was told she had fallen from a height of approximately 12 feet.  The day after the surgery,. She had confirmed this but did not want to give any details.  It was only after she got out of the hospital, June 25th, that I learnt the full story.

One of the instructors at the gym had told her that it was safe to jump at the maximum height (which is about 12 feet).  You just have to do it properly by bending your knees to absorb the impact.  So, at the end of the day, having climbed one last time, and being tired from the day’s activities, she decided to jump from that height instead of asking for help to climb back down.  She had accepted the instructor’s advice.

Up until the time that I learnt the truth of what actually happened, I was full of compassion.  But when I found out that she had actually jumped and that her broken ankle was, to some extent, her fault, my compassion diminished greatly.

I now had to do everything: Accompanying her to her appointments, preparing all the meals and cleaning up afterwards, cleaning the house, doing the laundry, looking after our daughter, etc.  At the end of every day, I am physically and mentally exhausted.  My vacation time was spent doing all of that.

So, when I found out that she had jumped and not fallen, I started to say to myself: This could have been avoided; I’m doing all this work; my vacation time has been screwed.  My resentment was growing by the hour.

As I was bringing these emotions and thoughts to prayer, I realized that I was not unlike the same people who divide others into two groups: the ones who deserve our compassion and the ones who do not.  For example, people who have a physical or mental disability, who are unable to work and go on social assistance, deserve our compassion.

However, single people with no such disabilities who go on social assistance do not deserve our compassion because they are quickly judged to be “lazy bums” scamming the system.

We could say the same for sponsored refugees who arrive to Canada through the regular way; they deserve our compassion.  But the ones who arrive as refugee claimants (asylum seekers) are thought to be queue jumpers and do not deserve our compassion.

As the Spirit continued to lead me along this prayer path, I started to think about the Prodigal Son Parable.  Of all of Jesus’ parables, this one has always spoken to me the most.  Not because of the prodigal son, but rather the older son.  The one who is resentful.  The one who has obeyed his father throughout his life.  Obeyed, not out of love; obeyed out of a sense of duty and obligation.

That is who I am; that is my cross to bear.  And I realized that the Spirit was leading me to look at myself again; to see how unlike the Father/Mother my behaviour was.  The father in the Prodigal Son Parable is full of compassion even though the son is thoroughly undeserving according to our human standards.

But God’s compassion blows our human standards to pieces.  God’s compassion knows no bounds.  It doesn’t matter how you messed up; God will have compassion for you.

The next day, I approached my wife and I asked her for her forgiveness.  I explained to her my lack of compassion towards her.  And I continue to pray to be more God-like in my compassion and less like the Older Son.  It is not always easy.

Norbert Piché is the Directeur national Service jésuite des réfugiés - Country Director Jesuit Refugee Service – Canada

  • Vicky Chen
    Posted at 04:28h, 11 January Reply

    Thank you for your candid sharing. We know what Jesus teaches. We can read about the nature of compassion from famous authors. Your experience shows us that the act of love in real life is truly not easy. I can totally relate to your very human response. However, you take time to ponder and find peace through your reflection and prayer. You have set a great example for all of us. Isn’t it consoling that the Holy Spirit never leaves us alone?

  • Peter Chouinard
    Posted at 06:20h, 11 January Reply

    Right on the mark. Beautiful reflection and awesome awareness. Thank you!

  • Raj Vijayakumar
    Posted at 08:30h, 11 January Reply

    I enjoyed your reflection!

  • Carol von Zuben
    Posted at 10:06h, 11 January Reply

    Thank you Norbert for such beautiful honesty.

  • Peter Bisson
    Posted at 11:19h, 11 January Reply

    Thank you Norbert!

  • Michelle Mahoney
    Posted at 07:10h, 13 January Reply

    Well written and insightful…humble and honest. It challenges me to face my own biases toward compassion and deepen my gratitude for God’s.

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