Bon Secours' foundation was on an act of
compassion. One hundred and seventy five years ago a young French woman saw suffering all
around her which resulted from deprivation of basic human needs - physical and spiritual.
She experienced something within her herself which moved her to take action to relieve the
suffering she saw. She experienced com-passion. Bon Secours' "good help" is
motivated by compassion.
The charism of the Sisters of Bon Secours - and by charism we mean something spiritual, an inspiration of the spirit given for the common good - the charism seized upon by the first Sisters of Bon Secours is, "through prayer, work and every human encounter, to alleviate suffering" (Bon Secours Constitutions no. 8) and when it cannot be alleviated, to bring those who suffer to an awareness of a compassionate god who loves them.
The original Constitutions of the Sisters of Bon Secours written in 1824 simply and forthrightly state the primary aims the Congregation: "care and tending of the sick and to introduce religion and salvation into the houses of the rich and the poor especially in their last moments". They state elsewhere: "Charity formed the Congregation to procure the relief of the body and as far as possible the salvation of souls. And the last is the extreme and principle end" (1825 article 4&5). In today's language, the extreme and principle end of Bon Secours is to bring those who suffer to an awareness of a compassionate God who love them.
And the Sisters were to model this compassion. Our original Constitutions state the Sister must have "a compassionate soul". And of our care of the sick it states, the Sisters "must have a compassionate tenderness for them".
Bon Secours finds its model of compassion in the Bible.
Our God is a compassionate God who calls us to compassion.
The Sisters' services in 1824 centered on their awareness of the needs of the sick of all classes and religions: physical needs arising from poverty and a lack of health care; spiritual needs arising out of years of suppression of religion in France. The Sisters services also centered around their belief that all persons are created equal; in the inner most part of the soul of every human being is the image of God. Our original Constitutions state: "Behold Jesus Christ in the sick; it is he whom we assist, and we ought to hear him saying to us, 'I am ill, it is I you are tending'" . They specifically state we are sent to care for rich and poor alike and they speak of our care for and respect for persons of other religions" In the inner most part of the soul every human being is the image of god. We are all called to serve and to sustain one another; in compassion we see this - we see that we are all one - no one is alien - no one is other.
Bon Secours was founded to heal, to make whole. Our works which accomplish this are born of compassion - "Compassion directs a person to relationship with his or her fellow human being" "Our justice is that dimension of compassion that applies to our neighbor." (Breakthrough, p. 428). Justice also directs a person to relationship with his or her fellow human beings.
Bon Secours' service is first and foremost a service of being with and doing for those in need: compassion is about deeds - about doing - about the active relief of the suffering of others. We follow a God, a Christ, whose feeling of compassion gives rise to outward acts of "succor." "In the Biblical tradition all experience of God is to lead to creative compassion of neighbor" (Spirituality Named Compassion, p.10). "To know Yahweh is to do justice," says Jeremiah. Biblical scholars today say that regrettably the western world has sentimentalized the notion of compassion and love and divorced them from justice. We must not differentiate between love and justice. Justice in the bible is love - charity. Hate in the bible is "a simple lack of compassion" (ibid p. 21). "Injustice is the prime enemy of compassion." Compassion without justice - without action to relieve the needs of others, is a selfish, self-centered emotion (cf ,ibid, p. 13).
Compassion which leads to acts of justice - love which leads to the relief of suffering - is the inspiration from God's spirit which breaths life into the way Bon Secours tends to the health care needs of individuals. But, just as our original Sisters linked their services to the needs of their day, our service today, our compassion must be linked to today's history to be meaningful. We must continually ask: are we in compassion and justice responding to the sick, suffering and dying who are in need of healing today. In the history of the Sisters of Bon Secours we read: the Sister "goes where suffering is, and when it goes away, she does too" (CBS of Paris, p.3). It is a matter of compassion; it is a matter of justice. Bon Secours' health care to be faithful to our purpose must always be touched by and touch that which is all around us. In Matt. 21:34 we read: Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes and they could see. The suffering, hopes, despair, aspirations of today's people reflect the needs of today's world which must touch us and be touched by us.
Bon Secours has a mission - a purpose - which will never change. It is a religious purpose and it is concerned with our neighbor who suffers. Bon Secours would lose its meaning if these purposes could not be, or were not, its driving force.
As with Bon Secours, health care itself, from the beginning, was motivated by compassion - it is a ministry, a service to people. Peter Henriot, SJ speaking of the aspects of a service model of health care says such a model must emphasize:
Bon Secours has enfleshed this service model since our inception.
"The consciousness that is behind true compassion is that we are interdependent. This is the consciousness that heals." Jesus says: "all who are sick I will heal; I will love them freely." And his compassion led him even to heal on the Sabbath to bring about right relationships, in spite of social and religious pressure which forbade this. Jesus' compassion is justice. "Compassion as justice is the kind of compassion that also regulates the interactions of people and their institutions" (Breakthrough p. 436).
In light of the gigantic needs that call for healing, for compassion today and in the face of societal influences that blunt compassion, we are called to enter into relationship, to create right relationships to enable those who are in need of healing to be reached, regardless of race, social status or creed. We face the same challenges as the Sisters of Bon Secours in 1824: to be touched by the needs of suffering society and to touch that society with our compassion, our availability and our courage.
Immediately following Vatican II religious congregation and other groups in the Catholic church were called to respond to the needs of the world. The sisters of Bon Secours became immersed in this renewal in 1966.
Today Bon Secours' Constitutions state, in today's language and with today's insights, what has always been the spirit, the richness of Bon Secours: "whatever form our services take, all people should benefit without distinction of social situation, race or religion."
Our Constitutions go on to state "For us the struggle for a more humane world is not an option. it is an integral part of spreading the gospel" (article 7) and again, "The cry of poor shall find an echo in our lives, we have an obligation to work zealously to promote the dignity of all persons since all are created in the image of god. it is enjoined upon each sister and the congregation as a whole, to awaken consciences to the urgent demands of social justice."
The Theology for Bon Secours written in 1985 states: "Our healing ministry is not just to specific physical or psychological ills, but to the whole person of those we care for; and not just to isolated individuals, but to the families and other communities and to society with the structures and institutions which help or hinder human health" (no. 5, p. 3).
The entire Bon Secours Congregation, the Provinces of France, Ireland, Great Britain, USA and Peru. are challenged to take steps to respond to the needs of society in our respective cultures, to examine our life and mission to assure that, the Sisters and all who voluntarily choose to share the Bon Secours mission, are faithful to our religious purpose: compassion which leads to action to relieve the suffering of others.
Our mission - our compassion - our justice is to strive for a more humane world, to alleviate human suffering as it exist in society in our day. If the works of the Sisters of Bon Secours do not promote our mission, the religious purposes of Bon Secours as I have described them here, we have no business in being in them.
Our religious commitment impels us to examine our faithfulness in mission; it obligates us to call for a Bon Secours effort to provide leadership for compassion and justice in our world and in our individual, communal and corporate lives. Bon Secours is called to promote and provide leadership in and for compassion and justice. We have the desire, the commitment and the resources to respond. It is our hope that we and all those associated with us will continue with us to deepen our understanding of both compassion and justice and of the particular acts of compassion on behalf of justice which are ours to take.
This is Bon Secours' challenge - a formidable one - one which requires the efforts of not only the Sisters of Bon Secours but all who make up the larger family of Bon Secours: trustees and co-workers, associates, bring to Bon Secours personal and professional expertise which has grown out of their experience. They bring to Bon Secours, perhaps even more importantly a spiritual power which also grows out of their experience. We need this expertise and spiritual power to help us to expand and to bring ever new life and energy to Bon Secours' efforts to enrich and humanize this and the 21st century.
Bon Secours' mission - Bon Secours' compassion - is healing and liberation/justice. we strive to bring our good God - our good help - to those in need, through who we are and what we do to alleviate human suffering. Bon Secours is nothing if it is not compassion. Bon Secours' compassion is to liberate, to do justice. Bon Secours' justice is to make the Kingdom of God visible in our healing ministry. In Bon Secours' health care, compassionate people who relieve the needs of others reveal a compassionate God.
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