One of my most beloved priests is Fr. Jerry. This is not his real name. I don’t want to embarrass him, plus he always made a point of avoiding or deflecting this sort of praise and attention.
Deeply Rooted in the Word of God
Whenever I would visit with Fr. Jerry, whether in the confessional, the parish hall, or the local coffee shop, he was always so focused on our conversation. I felt like I mattered, that I was the only other person in his world. And he was like that with everyone. Amazingly, he made a point of knowing everyone in our large parish and called each of us by our first name. No matter what was going on in his life, he always was able to muster a smile and an encouraging word, even a simple “Leon, you’re a good man.” But he was not afraid to gently correct or admonish me when he needed to.
I think that if Fr. Jerry were left to his own devices he’d prefer a quiet life on the beach. Yet he made a point of being, in his words, “personally present” to his parishioners. This presence made a difference in many lives, and he was able to bring together people of diverse ages, backgrounds, and interests.
I mention Fr. Jerry as an example of the attractiveness and power of the virtue of kindness. Fr. Lawrence G. Lovasik wrote a book nearly 40 years ago entitled The Hidden Power of Kindness: A Practical Handbook for Souls Who Dare to Transform the World, One Deed at a Time. We owe a debt to Sophia Institute Press for reprinting this contemporary classic, which unpacks the fundamental role of kindness in the Christian life.
Kindness is not a mushy niceness or a wimpy brand of charity. Nor is it the invention of modern spiritual guides like Fr. Lovasik. Rather, it is deeply rooted in the Word of God.
Kindness (or “kind” or “kindly”) appears dozens of times explicitly in Scripture, and countless other times by way of synonym or implication. What does Scripture teach us about kindness?
The More Excellent Way
First, kindness is an attribute of God. His kindness calls forth our repentance (Rom 2:3-4). In addition, kindness is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22). This means that kindness should characterize our lives in Christ. Any failures or shortcomings in this area are not of God and must be cast aside.
St. Paul exhorts us to focus on what is excellent, true, pure, and honorable (Phil 4:8). In chapter 13 of his First Letter to the Corinthians, he goes to great lengths in explaining a “more excellent way” (1 Cor 12:31), the way of charity. In verses 1-3, he sets the stage by emphasizing the absolute necessity of charity, or love. Then, in verses 4-7, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he defines charity. He begins: “Love is patient and kind.…” The “more excellent way” that we are to focus on is fundamentally patient and kind.
Kindness is nothing other than loving our neighbors as ourselves putting others in our place. “This world” has no use for such nonsense. After all, “nice guys finish last.” But if we allow Christ, who judges hearts, not appearances (cf. Is 11:3) to transform our perspective, we are able to escape our small, selfish worldviews. He allows us to see and reverence often in very subtle ways the God-given dignity of our neighbor. The “will of God” is to draw all people to Himself (cf. 1 Tm 2:4; 2 Pt 3:9). If that’s so, we truly need to be instruments of God’s unrelenting kindness.
Interestingly, Romans 12:2 ends with the statement that the transformation of our minds will enable us to discern what is “perfect.” When our Lord calls His followers to be “perfect” in His Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:48), He does so immediately on the heels of His challenging teachings on retaliation and love of enemies (Mt 5:38-47). These teachings make no sense to “this world,” but are indispensable if we are to have the attitude of Christ (cf. Phil 2:5), an attitude of kindness.
We live in a sexually permissive society, so it is critically important to reaffirm clearly, firmly, and sensitively the implications of the Sixth Commandment. Yet sometimes we may act as though Moses put an asterisk next to the Sixth Commandment, as though that’s the only commandment we really need to be concerned about.
The truth is that we also live in an increasingly violent world. This has everything to do with the Fifth Commandment. I remember that as a child preparing for Confession I would routinely pass over the Fifth Commandment. After all, I hadn’t killed anybody that month. I was completely missing the spirit of the commandment, and in fact I was (and still am) frequently guilty of injuring others in thought, word, and deed. I failed to see that just as the positive antidote to sexual sins is chastity, the positive antidote to sins of anger, strife, and violence is kindness loving others as myself.
A Distinctive Characteristic of All Holy Men and Women
Fr. Lovasik identifies numerous characteristics of kindness. The kind person is obliging, meaning that he or she anticipates others’ needs. The kind person is also courteous, in that the respect he or she has for the other person is manifested in his or her conduct everything from a polite greeting or acknowledgment of another’s good deed to being punctual and thoughtful.
Kindness also breeds cheerfulness or affability, as St. Thomas Aquinas affirms. This is actually a demand of justice to help others on their way to heaven and not allow our disposition to be a stumbling block for them. The kind person is also forgiving, patient, courageous (able to cope peaceably with difficulties and offer them as sacrifices), and agreeable, among other things.
Kindness enables us to avoid rash judgments, gossip, and brooding over injuries. We give others the benefit of the doubt and preserve their good names (cf. Catechism, nos. 2477-79).
Kindness is an indispensable part of the “new evangelization.” Fr. Lovasik quotes Fr. Faber, a reliable 19th-century spiritual guide, who wrote: “Kindness has converted more sinners than either zeal, eloquence, or learning; and these three last have never converted anyone, unless they were kind also” (p. 9).
Most, if not all of us, can point to people in our lives whose kindness opened our hearts and enabled us to be receptive to God’s saving truth. Kindness is a distinctive characteristic of all holy men and women, and is surely a welcome “sign of contradiction” in today’s world.
Kindness impels us to live in the present moment, to practice what we preach in the most challenging of circumstances, and to lead others to Christ, one soul at a time. Let us pray that we may truly be “apostles of kindness” as we strive to manifest the sacrificial love of God in our daily lives.
© Copyright 2005 Catholic Exchange
Leon J. Suprenant, Jr. is the president of Catholics United for the Faith (CUF) and Emmaus Road Publishing and the editor-in-chief of Lay Witness magazine, all based in Steubenville, Ohio. He is a contributor to Catholic for a Reason III: Scripture and the Mystery of the Mass and an adviser to CE’s Catholic Scripture Study. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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