Bernardo M. Villegas
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To Love Is To Understand

          There are individuals who are very intelligent, with what may be called high Intelligence Quotient (IQ) but whose Emotional Quotient (EQ) is rather low. We find them at high levels of management from which they do a rather poor job of managing people.  Some refer to them as lacking soft skills.  An article I just read entitled “Sharing Others’ Feelings” gave me a deeper insight into the personality of the unfeeling professional.  Appearing in the website, the article takes off from a well-known quote from the spiritual bestseller The Way by St. Josemaria Escriva, Founder of Opus DeI: “Charity consists not so much in giving as in understanding.”  Christmas Day is a very opportune time to realize that empathy, the ability to share in other people’s feeling is very important for learning to love as Jesus Christ did.  The first requirement of charity, the queen of all virtues, is to recognize in the other person someone worthy of consideration and to place ourselves in that person’s circumstances.  “Empathy” is the ability to put oneself other people’s shoes, taking stock of their situation and being aware of their feelings.  This attitude, especially crucial in marital love, fosters communion, the union of hearts.  We read in 1 Peter 3:8, “Think the same thoughts, all of you, and share the same feelings.”

         Our model here is Christ Himself who gave a lot of material and spiritual blessings to the needy and sinners, but most of all shared their feelings and understood them in a supreme manner.  Among the numerous examples of his ability to understand the circumstances of others, especially their sufferings, are the following:  “On reaching Naim, without a word being spoken, he realizes the heartbreak of the widow who has lost her only son.  On hearing Jairus’ petition and the laments of the mourners, he brings consolation to the first and calm to the others.  He is aware of the needs of those following him and is concerned when they have nothing to eat.  He cries with Martha and Mary before Lazarus’ tomb, and becomes indignant at his followers’ hardness of heart when they want to call down fire from heaven upon the Samaritan village that refused to receive them.”

         As St. Josemaria wrote in Christ is Passing By, “The charity of Christ is not merely a benevolent sentiment for our neighbor; it is not limited to a penchant for philanthropy.  Poured out in our soul by God, charity transform from within our mind and will.  It provides the supernatural foundation for friendship and the joy of doing what is right.”  Exposed to His example of compassion (which literally means the ability to suffer with others), his apostles learned to moderate their vehement temperaments:  “John so vehement that he  merited with his brother James  the nickname ‘son of thunder,’ later saw his heart filled with meekness and insisted on the need to open our heart to our neighbor and give ourselves to others as Christ did…St. Peter, who also had shown harshness towards Christ’ adversaries in the past, addressed the people in the Temple with words devoid of any rancor, seeking their conversion:  “And now brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance as did also your rulers…Repent, therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.”  An even more dramatic example of transformation is St. Paul who had been a fierce persecutor of Christians but after his conversion showed while in the city of Athens the ability to understand and inspire others and was able to integrate and moderate his emotions, knowing how to focus on the positive aspect of the mentality of the pagans in order to connect with his hearers, capture their interest and lead them to the fullness of the truth.

         Christmas time and the imminent coming of the New Year would be a very good time to show understanding towards those who are disoriented, at times because they have not had the opportunity to receive good formation in the faith, or because they have not met a person incarnating the authentic Gospel message.  It is always possible to show empathy to those who are in error.  St. Josemaria observes: “I do not understand violence.  I do not consider it a proper way either to persuade or to win over.  Error is overcome by prayer, by God’s grace, and by study; never by force, always with charity.”  As Pope Francis put it: “Often it is better simply to slow down, to put aside our eagerness in order to see and listen to others, to stop rushing from one thing to another and to remain with someone who has faltered along the way.  At times we have to be like the father of the prodigal son, who always keeps his door open so that when the son returns, he can readily pass through it.”

         To understand others, we must listen to them.  As Pope Francis wrote in The Joy of the Gospel, “listening, in communication, is an openness of heart which makes possible that closeness without which genuine spiritual encounter cannot occur.  Listening helps us to find the right gesture and word which shows that we are more than simply bystanders.”  To listen is to begin to understand and therefore to begin to love.  When we listen attentively, we get involved intimately in the lives of those around us.  When they sense that their situation, opinions  and sentiments are respected, and even shared by the one listening, they open the eyes of their soul to contemplate the splendor of truth, the attractiveness of virtue.  As we are able to spend more time during Christmas with relatives and friends, let us examine ourselves on how much we really listen to them, how we are able to share their feelings and put ourselves in their shoes.  More than showering them with material gifts, let us follow the example Christ who while being very understanding towards those who surrounded Him also made affectionate demands on them.  To the many he pardoned and comforted, He always gave them a gentle reprimand: “Sin no more.”  For comments, my email address is