In my opinion, sympathy is actually the nobler of the two emotions. To empathize implies one is "feeling with the person", as JThomp42 put it below. In some respects this can be seen as merely reliving the emotions you yourself felt in the same or similar circumstances, i.e. feeling sorry for yourself all over again. Sympathy, by contrast, requires a greater effort on the part of the sympathizer, since to do so the sympathizer is required to attempt to understand something they themselves have never felt nor experienced. True sympathy, to my mind, requires greater mental and emotional effort than empathy, as it requires us to step outside ourselves and imagine how another feels, instead of just recalling our own feelings. I'm sure this won't be a very popular theory, given that today "empathy" is just about all that's required for secular sainthood.