Mechtild of Magdeburg on Compassion

We have seen how Aquinas, Eckhart, Hildegard and Julian celebrate Compassion while linking it to justice and the work of the Holy Spirit.  Doing compassion, we co-create a more just world with the Holy Spirit, the spirit of creation and of new creation. 

Mechthild of Magdeburg. Template:Robinet Testard, Biblioteca Nacional de Francia, ms. 875. On Wikimedia Commons.

Beguine Mechtild of Magdeburg (1210-1280) also links compassion to justice:  

If you love the justice of Jesus Christ more than you fear human judgment then you will seek to do compassion.

What is compassion for Mechtild?

Compassion means that if I see my friend and my enemy in equal need, I shall help both equally. Justice demands that we seek and find the stranger, the broken, the prisoner and comfort them and offer them our help. Here lies the holy compassion of God.

The Holy Spirit co-creates with us in making compassion happen. 

The Holy Spirit is a compassionate outpouring of the Creator and the Son. This is why when we on earth pour out compassion and mercy from the depths of our hearts and give to the poor and dedicate our bodies to the service of the broken, to that extent do we resemble the Holy Spirit. 

Volunteers at the D.C. Central Kitchen, 2015. Photo by DC Central Kitchen on Flickr.

Compassion is an action coming from the “depths of our hearts”—the action is ours and the Holy Spirit working in tandem to heal and  remake the world.

“Dedicating our bodies to the service of the broken” can demand a lot of us–energy, courage, time—and in a time of pandemic, danger.  Mechtild promises that joy follows:

The noblest joy of the senses, the holiest peace of the heart, the most resplendent luster of all good work derives from this: that the creature puts his or her heart wholly into what she does.

A mini-documentary on Baltimore’s Viva House, founded and run by Brendan Walsh and Willa Bickham of the Catholic Workers movement. Produced and uploaded to Youtube by Patrick Keenan.

She calls on others for support:

Stay be me.  Support me.  That I may diligently serve the broken, and bear the cost of such service in my goods and in my body.

Compassion, she says, “comforts the sad, heals the wounded, gladdens the hearts of all who come to her.”  It also heals the worker. 

Each of us who seeks compassion and calls upon compassion resolutely conquers the sorrow and depression that lie in our heart.

An ally’s voice of solidarity in a Black Lives Matter march. Photo by Zoe VandeWater on Unsplash

Transformation happens. 

Love transforms.  Love makes empty hearts overflow.  This happens even more when we have to struggle through without assurance, all unready for the play of Love.

Compassion is a calling: 

Listen to this divine call:
‘You shall loose those who are bound,
you shall exhort the free,
You shall care for the broken,
You shall enlighten and teach. 
Yet in all this you shall dwell alone.’ 

“Works of Mercy” by Ada Bethune; first published in The Catholic Worker. Image uploaded to Flickr by Jim Forest .

Develop solitude and do not run from power but

use it correctly.  When is power used correctly?  Power is made for service.  I am your servant; I am not your master.  Be a servant.  Not a master.

“Expect adversity,” she advises, “bear adversity with love.” Keep joy alive:

Be merry and laugh with the broken and carry their secret needs in the deepest silence of your heart.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Wrestling with the Prophets, pp. 96-98. 

See also: Sue Woodruff, Meditations with Mechtild of Magdeburg, pp. 118-129.

Banner Image: “Hospice Caring.” Image by truthseeker08 from Pixabay

Be with these many rich teachings from Mechtild on compassion.  Is it your experience that power is made for service?  And that doing compassion can lessen one’s own depression and sadness?  And that the Holy Spirit accompanies you in your work of compassion?

Wrestling with the Prophets: Essays on Creation Spirituality and Everyday Life

In one of his foundational works, Fox engages with some of history’s greatest mystics, philosophers, and prophets in profound and hard-hitting essays on such varied topics as Eco-Spirituality, AIDS, homosexuality, spiritual feminism, environmental revolution, Native American spirituality, Christian mysticism, Art and Spirituality, Art as Meditation, Interfaith or Deep Ecumenism and more.

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