Religion Booknotes

Compassion
Loving Our Neighbor in an Age of Globalization
Maureen H. O’Connell
Orbis, $32, 256 pp.

Originally written by Maureen H. O’Connell as a dissertation, Compassion is a study both of compassion itself and of its conditions and implications in an era of globalization. It is easy enough to say that we sympathize with the plight of those who suffer; it is quite another thing to say that we suffer with those who suffer (com+passio). Compassion is a hard thing to understand, and even harder thing to live.

O’Connell marks out three aspects of compassion: first, the ability to see ourselves and our connection to the suffering of others; second, a humble willingness to interpret our connection to the causes of the others’ suffering; and, third, an active commitment to transform the situations that cause suffering. Thus, in her construal of the matter, compassion requires self-examination. To be compassionate is, among other things, to be rigorously truthful about ourselves and the culture that produces our sense of self.

O’Connell does not think that the marketplace, natural-law ethics, or an abstract comprehension of the church’s social teaching give us all the resources we need to do the three things compassion requires. She makes a strong case for the place of emotion, narrative, memory...

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About the Author

Lawrence Cunningham is John O'Brien professor of Theology (Emeritus) at the University of Notre Dame.