Compassion, condolence, commiseration, or pity, is no other thing than an affection which makes us share in the suffering and sorrow of him whom we love, drawing the misery which he endures into our heart; whence it is called misericorde, or, as it were, misere de coeur: as complacency draws into the lover's heart the pleasures and contentments of the thing beloved. It is love that works both effects, by the virtue it has of uniting the heart which loves to the thing loved, thus making the goods and the evils of friends common; and what happens in compassion much illustrates what regards complacency.
Compassion takes its greatness from the love which produces it. Thus the condolence of mothers in the afflictions of their only children is great, as the Scripture often testifies. How great was the sorrow of Agar's heart upon the pains of her Ismael, whom she saw well-nigh perish with thirst in the desert! How much did David's soul commiserate the misery of his Absalom! Ah! do you not mark the motherly heart of the great Apostle, sick with the sick, burning with zeal for such as were scandalized, having a continual sorrow for the ruin of the Jews, and daily dying for his dear spiritual children. But especially consider how love draws all the pains, all the torments, travails, sufferings, griefs, wounds, passion, cross and very death of our Redeemer into his most sacred mother's heart. Alas! the same nails that crucified the body of this divine child, also crucified the soul of this all-sweet mother; she endured the same miseries with her son by commiseration, the same dolours by condolence, the same passions by compassion, and, in a word, the sword of death which transpierced the body of this best beloved Son, struck through the heart of this most loving mother, whence she might well have said that he was to her as a bundle of myrrh between her breasts, that is, in her bosom and in the midst of her heart. You see how Jacob, hearing the sad though false news of the death of his dear Joseph, is afflicted with it. Ah! said he, I will go down mourning into hell, that is to say, to Limbo into Abraham's bosom, to my son.
Condolence is also great according to the greatness of the sorrows which we see those we love suffering; for how little soever the friendship be, if the evils which we see endured be extreme, they cause in us great pity. This made Cæsar weep over Pompey, and the daughters of Jerusalem could not refrain from weeping over our Saviour, though the greater number of them were not greatly attached to him; as also the friends of Job, though wicked friends, made great lamentation in beholding the dreadful spectacle of his incomparable misery. And what a stroke of grief was it in the heart of Jacob to think that his dear child had died by a death so cruel as that of being devoured by a savage beast. But, besides all this, commiseration is much strengthened by the presence of the object which is in misery; this caused poor Agar to go away from her dying son, to disburden herself in some sort of the compassionate grief which she felt, saying: I will not see the boy die; as on the contrary our Saviour weeps seeing the sepulchre of his well-beloved Lazarus and regarding his dear Jerusalem; and our good Jacob is beside himself with grief when he sees the bloody coat of his poor little Joseph.
Now the same causes increase complacency. In proportion as a friend is more dear to us we take more pleasure in his contentment, and his good enters more deeply into our heart. If the good is excellent, our joy is also greater. But if we see our friend enjoying it, our rejoicing becomes extreme. When the good Jacob knew that his son lived, -- O God! What joy! His spirit returned to him, he lived once more, he, so to speak, rose again from death. But what does this mean, -- he revived or returned to life? Theotimus, spirits die not their own death but by sin, which separates them from God, their true supernatural life, yet they sometimes die another's death; and this happened to the good Jacob of whom we speak, for love, which draws into the heart of the lover the good and evil of the thing beloved, the one by complacency, the other by commiseration, drew the death of the beloved Joseph into the loving Jacob's heart, and, by a miracle impossible to any other power than love, the spirit of this good father was full of the death of him that was living and reigning, for affection having been deceived ran before the effect.
But, on the contrary, as soon as he knew that his son was alive, love which had so long kept the supposed death of the son in the spirit of the good father, seeing that it had been deceived, speedily rejected this imaginary death, and made enter in its place the true life of the same son. Thus then he returned to a new life, because the life of his son entered into his heart by complacency, and animated him with an incomparable contentment: with which finding himself satisfied, and not esteeming any other pleasure in comparison of this: It is enough for me, said he, if Joseph my son be yet living. But when with his own eyes he saw by experience the truth of the grandeur of this dear child in Gessen, falling upon his neck and embracing him, he wept saying: Now shall I die with joy because I have seen thy face and leave thee alive. Ah! what a joy, Theotimus, and how excellently expressed by this old man! For what would he say by these words, now shall I die with joy because I have seen thy face, but that his content was so great, that it was able to render death itself joyful and agreeable, even death, which is the most grievous and horrible thing in the world. Tell me, I pray you, Theotimus, who has more sense of Joseph's good, he who enjoys it or Jacob who rejoices in it. Certainly, if good be not good but in respect of the content which it affords us, the father has as much as the son, yea more, for the son, together with the viceroy's dignity of which he is possessed, has consequently much care and many affairs, but the father enjoys by complacency, and purely possesses all that is good in this greatness and dignity of his son, without charge, care or trouble. Now shall I die with joy, says he. Ah! who does not see his contentment? If even death cannot trouble his joy, who can ever change it? If his content can live amidst the distresses of death, who can ever bereave him of it? Love is strong as death, and the joys of love surmount the sorrows of death, for death cannot kill but enlivens them; so that, as there is a fire which is marvellously kept alive in a fountain near Grenoble (as we know for certain and the great S. Augustine attests), so holy charity has strength to nourish her flames and consolations in the most grievous anguishes of death, and the waters of tribulations cannot quench her fire.