SEVENTH DAY: Exercise compassion, and welcome the poor

When we are in contact with misery, with suffering, with darkness, and we see brothers who suffer, then our heart is moved with deep, real, and concrete compassion. In charity, we ask the Lord to help these brothers, so that we really begin to burn with love, and at that moment we really live in charity (E050).

Pierre Goursat’s childhood wounds (the separation of his parents, the untimely death of his brother…) and the fact of having suffered from illness at a very young age, opened him to the sufferings of others. Pierre had great compassion and attentiveness for people. He listened to them intuitively perceived their sufferings and expectations. With Humor and sensitivity, he helped each one to overcome their difficulties and to resolve the most delicate situations.

It was in Eucharistic adoration, as we have seen, that Pierre Goursat drew out this compassion, contemplating the Father’s heart filled with mercy for each of His children, always ready to welcome the prodigal son with open arms and to do everything possible to look for the lost sheep. How can we fail to marvel at Him who is the “Father of mercies and the God of all consolation” (2 Cor 1:3), whose greatest proof of love is to have given us his only Son (cf. Jn 3:16).

Moved by compassion in the face of human distress, Jesus heals the sick, frees the possessed, raises His friend Lazarus, gives hope to all those who, discouraged and disoriented, wander “like sheep without a shepherd” (Mt 9:36). Identifying Himself with the Suffering Servant, Christ takes upon Himself on the cross all our sufferings. He did not come to eliminate suffering, but to illuminate it with His presence and give it meaning. “to sympathize with” means “to suffer with”.

We participate mysteriously in the redemption of the world by carrying in our prayer all those in the world who are overwhelmed by suffering and rebellion: In the compassion of adoration, we must say to the Lord: “Behold, we pray to You for those who do not pray to You and who do not know how to pray to You” (E056).

Compassion is that capacity to allow oneself to be touched, moved by the suffering of others. It supposes a learning process, a purification of our sensitivity, because if we allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by our affectivity and our emotions, we risk projecting our own suffering and our uneasiness onto the other person. Taking a step back, without hardening our heart and becoming indifferent, allows us to move from “affective” compassion to “effective” compassion.

Indeed, if compassion implies empathy with the sufferer, it is not philanthropy. It is charity, it is quite different, it is truly the love of the Lord! This heart moved by compassion is a gift. It is the Lord who gives it to us because He is touched to see that we care for the poor, for those who suffer and who are closest to His Heart (E037).

Pierre said that by imbuing ourselves deeply with this grace of compassion, we become more “effective” because we then avoid the temptation of activism. We are all called to be “Good Samaritans” for those around us who are in difficulty: When we begin to have hearts taken up by compassion, we are transformed little by little. And there is truly a power of the Lord, a blessing from the Lord (E037).

In his spiritual teachings, Pierre Goursat often combined several words from Scripture. Quoting the First Epistle of John (1 Jn 3:18) and the Gospel of Matthew (Mt 7:21), he invited his listeners not to be satisfied with good feelings, but to act concretely: When we say that we must love in deed and in truth, it is true. We must not remain saying “Lord, Lord! “but we must act, loving in deeds, but also in truth; that is what is essential! (E039).

And commenting on this verse, “Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40), he said: If we want to meet Jesus, let us go and meet the sick. We are sure that we are in the truth! On the last day we will be judged on love (E037).

Pierre Goursat was detached from material goods. He lived very simply, owned almost nothing and gave what little he had to people in need: When we live in poverty, we feel the need to identify with the poor, in a world where we no longer know what the poor are (E076). Welcoming and evangelizing the poor is a sign of the messianic times: “The spirit of the Lord is upon Me; He has sent Me to bring the good news to the poor, to bind up bruised hearts, to proclaim release to captives and deliverance to prisoners … to comfort all the afflicted” (Is 61:1-2; cf. Lk 4:14-19).

Pierre had a special love for the poor and the “lost”. When one of them came to him, everything else became secondary; he did not hesitate to interrupt an urgent project or to postpone an important appointment to meet with them for a long time. In 1970 Pierre Goursat had bought a barge to turn it into a drug prevention center for young people; marginalized people who were taken in for a few months. In 1979, he opened a reception center outside Paris to help young delinquents, drug addicts, and former prisoners to reintegrate into society through prayer, fraternal life and work.

In the Emmanuel Community, Pierre encouraged visits to hospitals, launched SOS-Prière (a 24-hour telephone hotline to listen to and pray with people in distress) and other compassionate initiatives that he considered essential. He was delighted that in 1987 Cardinal Lustiger entrusted the Emmanuel Community with the animation of the Tiberias Centre for the care of people suffering from AIDS.

Pierre, who prayed for “the world of the night”, was also very happy that in 1988, as a young parish priest of the Trinity Parish, I [Msgr Francis Kohn] took over a restaurant in Pigalle, the “Bistrot du Curé”, open to all, especially to prostitutes. He had great spiritual affinities with Vincent de Paul who said to the Daughters of Charity: “God loves the poor, and therefore He loves those who love the poor” (SV XI, 392). Pierre exhorted the leaders of the prayer groups of the Renewal to be open to the most destitute. For him, this was a criterion of discernment, for he knew that this would repel those who were too attached to their comfort, but would attract others who were more generous:

Have charity for one another! And to have charity for one another, go to the most unhappy, the poorest, the most destitute! (E037).

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