Several Catholics in the Auburn area are being slowly transformed. While they may not look physically different, they say they’re changing on the inside.
These people are members of a book-discussion group that began meeting at Auburn’s Sacred Heart Parish in mid-July. Pastoral Associate Deacon Nick Valvo decided to form the group after taking part in JustFaith, a 30-week justice-education and information program offered through Catholic Charities.
As part of JustFaith, participants read Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life by Henri J. M. Nouwen, Donald P. McNeil and Douglas A. Morrison. Deacon Valvo thought the book contained valuable insights, so he formed a discussion group about the book for members of his parish and others in the Auburn area.
Compassion is more than light summer reading, Deacon Valvo noted, saying it’s a challenging book that looks at compassion in a completely different way than most people are used to. It presents the view that to be compassionate one must enter into the suffering and pain of others, he explained.
“Now that’s something we really don’t like to do. We don’t mind writing a check and we don’t mind extending a hand and pulling someone out of a ditch, as long as we can quickly wash our hands,” Deacon Valvo said, noting that entering into another’s pain is something most people shy away from.
Sharing another’s suffering and pain is not only uncomfortable and unappealing, it goes against the grain of modern culture, he said.
“There’s a culture that values independence, but when we begin to live a compassionate life and we begin to enter into the life of another, we give up independence, and that can be actually a threat to the mainstream of the culture. If we all began to do that, we’d live in a very different world,” he added.
Compassion is divided into three sections — The Compassionate God, The Compassionate Life and the Compassionate Way. The discussion group focused on a different section at each of its three sessions.
After discussing The Compassionate Life on July 22, several group members remained in the conference room at Sacred Heart Church and talked about the book and how it has influenced their lives.
Rose Marie LaLonde of St. Mary’s Parish in Auburn said reading the book has given her a different insight into words she uses every day, including the word compassion. Esther Giacolone, a former parishioner of St. Isaac Jogues Chapel in Fleming, said she doesn’t always agree with every point in the book, but likes the way the book forces her to entertain thoughts she previously hadn’t.
The book touches on displacement, which is what happens when someone moves out of their comfort zone, said Joe Flanigan, a parishioner of St. Mary’s. Involuntary displacement can occur when a person experiences the death of a spouse or a changing employment situation, for example. People may also sometimes feel they’re being called to step out of their comfort zone, and this is voluntary displacement, he added.
During their sessions, group members often shared personal stories of times when they’ve experienced displacement. These stories and experiences help the messages and examples in the book come alive, said Alice Herrling, a member of Owasco’s St. Ann’s Parish.
Indeed, the concepts are clearer when “you’ve got a flesh-and-blood person talking about how this is lived out in their everyday life,” Flanigan said.
Whether or not they agree with everything in the book, most of the discussion-group members said they view life differently after reading Compassion.
“(The book) talked about being transformed and (how) the world would look differently to you” after finishing this book, said Bobbie Kukiela, a member of St. Hyacinth’s Parish in Auburn. It turns out the book was right on the money with that prediction, she added.