This Christmas season is going to test the compassion of the American people. Communities all across the nation will be receiving into their midst dazed veterans of one of the cruelest struggles in our history, old-young people whose seamed faces and staring eyes are mute testimony to the horrors they have seen since they left their friends and neighbors scarcely a year ago.

I refer, of course, to the members of the 97th Congress, returning from the legislative battles of Washington to spend the holidays with their families and loved ones. Be kind to them, folks, for theirs is a war without heroes. For them, there are no victory parades.

Show a little pity for Senator Spender and Congressman Contracts, you big-city slickers. This Congress has been a horror show for them. Two good Democrats--20 years of 100 percent COPE ratings between them--and now they can't win for losing. Not one new program, not one new agency, not one rotten little pilot project they can pin on the wall and send out a press release to brag about.

They might as well not have re-enlisted. Before their committees got untracked last spring, the crazy House and Senate passed a budget bill ordering them to cut everything. Cut? They didn't come to Congress to cut. They came to create.

But there's this runty little David Stockman --a guerrilla who never sleeps, who needs a haircut, armed with nothing but a hand computer he probably captured in a raid on the Appropriations Committee. And suddenly he's whipping around the Democrats like Spender and Contracts and their staff as if they weren't the best-fed, best-paid, best-equipped Congress in the world.

And you small-town folks, do you see that old codger wobbling down Main Street, as if in a stupor? Look again before you laugh. That is Representative Reliable, the man they call the conservative's conservative.

Is he talking to himself? No wonder. After 16 years of serving with spineless big-spending presidents, he finally had a commander-in-chief in Ronald Reagan he and other real Republicans could respect. And what did Reagan ask of him last week? And what, for Pete's sake, did he let himself be persuaded to do, just for the Gipper? Vote for a foreign aid bill, that's what.

Your old Reliable may not be ready to talk about it. The shock is still too fresh. But that was not the only atrocity he witnessed and even participated in.

He was there with his good buddy, Congressman Cornpone, a real trouper even if he calls himself a Democrat, when they both voted to raise the debt ceiling past $1 trillion. Cornpone and Reliable used to get sore when Lyndon Johnson had a $100 billion budget. And here, good grief, is Ronald Reagan maybe facing a $100 billion deficit. You think that doesn't age you?

If you can't feel sorry for the veterans, at least show a little compassion for the youngsters, the first-termers. They didn't ask for this assignment. They took it because their country said there was a job to be done. Americans wanted their taxes cut. Americans wanted the budget cut. Americans wanted less government. So Congress went out and did that hard job, just like patriotic politicians have always been ready to go out and do the people's bidding.

So now there's a recession. And record deficits. There are no public service jobs. And the old Christmas card costs 20 cents to get there two days late.

And some people are mean enough to blame it on the Congress. Congress didn't know any of that was going to happen. The congressmen went off to Washington, lots of them brand- new, right out of campaign school or the State Assembly line, and they found themselves deep in the jungle.

They could never see the enemy--the lobbyists, the liberal press, the balky bureaucrats. The only way they knew they were out there was they could hear them laughing at their parties, talking about how they were going to pick off one of the new boys on Capitol Hill. And every now and then, one of the new ones would wander into the jungle of Washington and never be heard of again.

These young congressmen are frightened. They know they've got to go back up Capitol Hill again next year. This Christmas could be the last one they'll ever know as congressmen. A lot of them probably have a premonition they're not coming back after 1982.

So don't wait for Newsweek or "CBS Reports" to give them that little bit of appreciation and respect they crave.

Whatever else you do this Christmas season, show a congressman you care, and . . . if you can, please . . . make a senator smile.

They may not find the words to thank you. But you'll see the gratitude in their eyes.