12 February 2009

Christian Sympathy

In the last year, God showed me the healing power of vulnerability. By being honest about my dark feelings, my brokenness, my pain, He used others to help me recover from some deep wounds. In the process, those I've been open to have also found comfort, knowing that they are not the only ones who struggle, doubt, and hurt. Honesty builds community and draws Christians closer together.

Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman, when he was still an Anglican priest, delivered a homily titled "Christian Sympathy" at the Feast of the Nativity. In it, he explained that hiding our wounds makes our religious beliefs unreal. That fear of facing our shadows results in shallowness. And that just as our Lord lowered Himself to embrace the woundedness of humanity, we too must lower our defenses to each other.

Here are some excerpts from his sermon:

Christians can sympathise with each other, even as by the power of Christ sympathising in and with each of them.

I consider that Christians, certainly those who are in the same outward circumstances, are very much more like each other in their temptations, inward diseases, and methods of cure, than they at all imagine. Persons think themselves isolated in the world; they think no one ever felt as they feel. They do not dare to expose their feelings, lest they should find that no one understands them.

Christians, though they really differ much, yet as regards the power of sympathising with each other will be found to be on a level. The one is not too high or the other too low. They have common ground; and as they have one faith and hope, and one Spirit, so also they have one and the same circle of temptations, and one and the same confession.

Perhaps the reason why the standard of holiness among us is so low, why our attainments are so poor, our view of the truth so dim, our belief so unreal, our general notions so artificial and external is this, that we dare not trust each other with the secret of our hearts. We have each the same secret, and we keep it to ourselves, and we fear that, as a cause of estrangement, which really would be a bond of union. We do not probe the wounds of our nature thoroughly; we do not lay the foundation of our religious profession in the ground of our inner man; we make clean the outside of things; we are amiable and friendly to each other in words and deeds, but our love is not enlarged, our bowels of affection are straitened, and we fear to let the intercourse begin at the root; and, in consequence, our religion, viewed as a social system, is hollow. The presence of Christ is not in it.

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