December 9, 2018


There’s a big difference between sympathy and empathy. I’d like to believe that most people are sympathetic, meaning they are able to feel sorry for someone who is struggling and maybe offer their time or financial support if needed. This sympathy can be expressed without taking too much of an emotional toll on the one who is sympathizing. We can go on about our business without giving another thought to the person we encountered. Empathy, on the other hand, is the ability to actually feel with the person who struggles. Empathy has a lot more to do with our emotions or our desire to enter into the experience of another person. It is about compassion (“suffering with”) a person who is in pain. An empathetic person is able to make much more of a commitment to journeying with or accompanying someone who is struggling. I’m not saying one is right and the other is wrong, because I think every one of us, depending on who we are on any given day, is capable of being both. Some people’s stories or situations may deeply affect us, depending on our own background and life experiences.

The present immigration challenge can be looked at very differently between those who are sympathetic vs empathetic. I just read two wonderful books, both of which are movies and based on true stories: Beautiful Boy by David Sheff and Boy Erased by Garrard Conley. Both of these stories are centered on challenging issues in our time. Beautiful Boy is about drug addiction and the toll it takes on a family and society. It is told by a father about his son’s addiction. I was totally immersed in this painful tale and found myself deeply touched by this tragic journey within this family. I learned a lot about the process of addiction and recovery. It is a chronic, progressive, and, if untreated, terminal illness. Boy Erased is an autobiography about a young boy who realizes he is gay. He comes from a very evangelical Christian family, and as he grows up, cannot deny or hide his sexual orientation. His journey brings him to a church-supported conversion therapy program that promises to “cure” him of his homosexuality. This book brings the reader into the world of sexuality and spirituality. Can they coexist, and can they be a source of strength for each other?

As I mentioned, each of us is capable of sympathy and empathy. These stories helped me to appreciate my empathetic side, and I am a better person, Christian, and Catholic because I read them.

Enjoy Life!
Fr. Coyne


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