John Ruusbroec: Our Bridegroom Stirs the Merciful to Compassion

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Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. Colossians 3:12-13

“Out of mercifulness comes compassion and a common suffering with all men. For no man can suffer with all men, except he be merciful. This compassion is an inward stirring of the heart with pity for all men’s need, material and spiritual. Compassion makes man to agonize and suffer with Christ in His sufferings, as man observes the cause of His torments, their manner, and His patience: His love, His wounds, His tenderness; His pain, His humiliation, His nobility; the wretchedness, the shame, the contempt, the crown, the nails; His mercifulness, and how He perished and died in meekness. This incomparable and manifold suffering of Christ our Redeemer and our Bridegroom stirs the merciful man to compassion and to pity for Christ. 

Compassion makes man to look upon himself, and to observe his faults and his lack of virtues and of care for God’s honour; his lukewarmness and sloth and the multitude of his faults; how he has wasted time, and how now he lacks virtues and perfection. And this so causes man to have mercy upon himself in a just compassion. The next compassion makes man to see the erring and straying of men, their heedlessness of their God and of their eternal blessedness, their ingratitude for all the good that God has done to them, and all the suffering He has endured on their account. And that they are strangers to virtue, ignorant of it, unskilled in it; apt and servile to all wickedness and unrighteousness; how anxiously they scan the losing and the winning of earthly goods; how heedless and reckless they are of God and everlasting good and their eternal blessedness. And to observe this makes great compassion in a good man for the blessedness of all men. 

A man shall also in pity observe the material necessities of his fellow-Christian, and the manifold sufferings of human nature. When a man observes men’s hunger and thirst, cold, nakedness and sickness, poverty, rejection, the various oppressions of the poor, the sorrow that comes through the loss of kinsmen, of friends, of possessions, of honours, of peace, through the innumerable griefs that come upon human beings: all this moves a good man to compassion, and he suffers with all men. But his greatest suffering is that men are impatient under these afflictions and lose their reward, and often earn damnation. This is the work of compassion and mercifulness. This work of compassion and of love for all men conquers and drives out the third deadly sin, which is hatred and envy. For compassion is a piercing of the heart which love makes common to all men, and there is nothing that can heal it so long as any suffering remains in man: for God alone has pity on it and has complete knowledge of all suffering. And therefore Christ says: Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. That shall be when in joy they reap that which now through compassion and sympathy they sow in sorrow.”

John Ruusbroec (1293-1381) in The Spiritual Espousals (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1985) 68-69.

What better piece to read on the day I give my daughter to be married to groom than The Spiritual Espousals by John Ruusbroec. In this section entitled “Mercifulness fosters Compassion” he makes many profound points. Three are noteworthy.

Firstly, compassion draws us closer to Christ. We see Him for who He is and what He has done for us. Secondly, this helps us see ourselves rightly and this includes all our faults and frailties. Thirdly, this leads us to attune to the spiritual and physical needs of others. This propels us to a life of generosity.

So, here is my prayer on the wedding day of Sophie Victoria Hoag and Peter Joseph Gomez. May they, with God’s help, clothe themselves with compassion so they see God for who He is, so they see themselves rightly, and so they attune to the needs of others all the days of their lives.

I love you Sophie and Peter. Happy wedding day!