Compassion Always, Compromise Never: Why Spokane’s New Bishop Will Be Great
The Diocese of Spokane received its new shepherd, Bishop Thomas Anthony Daly of San José, California, a couple months ago, and honestly it was like an early Christmas present. Not having a bishop for all of Lent and the better part of 4 months was a bit of a bummer, so the long-awaited news was like music to my ears for more than just that reason.
In reading all the news coverage on the day of the announcement, all the while wondering how this new leader would do in Spokane and eastern Washington, I ran across a short quote Bishop Daly uttered at his introductory press conference that he said was his guiding principle:
Compassion always, compromise never.
Bishop Daly was speaking about his past role as a board member of Catholic Charities in San Francisco, but more specifically about how being a Catholic institution in such a “progressive” city caused them to face some tough questions in terms of what the Church believes and teaches. He clarified that by “compromise never” he meant never compromising the teachings of Christ, which are the fullness of the truth.
The words are profound enough in themselves, but they hold immensely more weight in considering who is speaking them. They show, at the same time, a softness of heart and a rich and abiding integrity of mission that’s both all too uncommon and desperately needed in our world today.
That, more than anything, is what a bishop ought to be.
Many might take the word “compassion” to mean something along the lines of mere empathy, or perhaps an understanding and acceptance of people where they’re at, without an intent to push the person outside of a comfort zone for any reason. In reality, though, compassion literally means “to suffer with”.
In light of this, Bishop Daly’s words have such a large impact because it indicates not only his understanding that we experience suffering in our lives as Catholics wrestling with tough teaching and as humans wrestling with temptation and sin, but more so that he desires to share in our suffering with us.
Suffering, by its very definition, implies that there is something uncomfortable, perhaps even painful, going on. Suffering never comes about on its own; it’s always triggered by a prior occurrence, whether intentional or unintentional. Maybe the most vital aspect of understanding suffering is that we only experience suffering when that undesirable situation is also unchangeable.
When considered in the light of the radical requests of the Christian life, suffering carries even more meaning. In signing up for the Christian life, we choose to live a life not on our terms and choose to join an institution where the rules aren’t changeable, no matter how we feel. Compromise just isn’t an option, at least not if we want to live authentically as Christ asks us to live. The reason we still do it, though, is because the suffering that results will be redeemed by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
The fact that Jesus was fully human — that He experienced literally the same temptations and hardships that we do during his earthly life — seems to get overlooked all too often, but it’s the key to understanding compassion in the Christian sense. Jesus came to earth for precisely that reason: to show us that suffering in the life and circumstances God gives us can be redemptive; that it matters, despite its difficulty. More to it, St. Padre Pio once said:
“The life of a Christian is nothing but a perpetual struggle against self; there is no flowering of the soul to the beauty of its perfection except at the price of pain”
This is precisely the abiding principle it sounds like Bishop Daly will bring to Spokane, and it comes at a great time. In a part of the country that was (and still in some part remains) particularly affected by the experimental kookiness of the post-Vatican II Catholic Church, and in a place that, similar to many other parts of the country, is home to generations of un-evangelized Catholics and even more who have stopped attending Mass altogether, the assignment of Bishop Daly is just what the doctor ordered.
Bishop Daly has previously written that the Christian ideal is best exemplified by personal example above all else. In a letter written to men studying to be priests less than a year ago entitled Evangelization by Example, the bishop cited the importance of living an authentic witness with “generous, holy hearts.”
From the sound of it, what we’re getting is a shepherd who not only “smells like his sheep”, as our beloved Pope Francis called for his priests and bishops to be, but a bishop who seeks to uphold rather than overhaul the duty and doctrine he’s been entrusted with. He’ll be the general that leads from the front lines instead of the back, showing us the path to holiness by glorifying the Lord with his life first.
May God bless Bishop Daly in his new home in the Northwest.
Watch his installation at KHQ.com
UPDATED 5/18/15, 16:20