by Reverend Charles Harris, C.S.C
Today, as we appreciate the vastness of the universe, we experience our own
smallness and our own weakness. A tiny mosquito can bear a deadly disease. An elephant can do things which baffle our strength. Yet there is one power which through the action of the Holy Spirit we can possess and these creatures do not. This is the power of making the world happy, or at least of diminishing the unhappiness and making the world quite different. The worst kinds of unhappiness as well as the greatest amount of it come from our conduct toward one another. Basically the world is unkind. In such a world kindness goes a long way. As Shakespeare puts it, “How far that little candle throws its beams/ So shines a good deed in a naughty world.”
Can you imagine the lessening of world tension if all world leaders were kind?
Can you reckon the peace of a household in which only kind words were spoken and every action was animated by kindness? What, then, is this kindness that can do so much to transform lives and environments?
Kindness is an overflowing of ourselves upon others. We put others in our place and we treat them as we wish to be treated. In fact, it is the daily earthly fulfillment of Jesus’ second commandment: to love your neighbor as yourself. It is divine in its origin. The overflow of self in God resulted in creation; creation is divine kindness.
Kindness is coming to the rescue of others when they need it and we have the
power to supply what they need. The people had been with Jesus all day and they were hungry, and the divine kindness multiplied loaves and fishes. She was a widow and alone and weeping as she followed the body of her only son to the cemetery, and the divine kindness drew near and said, “Young man, I say to you, arise,” and he restored him to his mother. Kindness is coming to the rescue of others when they need it.
Kindness is prodigal. It does the unnecessary, and when it is done it looks like the most necessary thing that could have been done. If it soothes the sorrow, it does more than that; if it relieves the want, it does more than that; and the extra is the choicest thing in the bargain. If it must be economical when it gives, it is never economical with the graciousness with which it gives. Kindness is a divine thing rather than a human one. In fact, it springs from the very depths of our humanness–at that point at which we are closest to the image of the God in which we were created.
Kindness makes life more endurable. The burdens of life often press very heavy, so heavy that life approaches the unbearable. Our feet are blistered by the way we have traveled and every step of endurance is harshly painful. And then the kind word and the thoughtful action are like the woman who wipes the blood and sweat from the face of Jesus. It enables us to move on under our burden with a renewed heart.
Kindness has converted more sinners than zeal, eloquence or learning, and these have never converted anyone unless they were kind as well. Almost all people have more goodness in them than has ever been discovered. In 60 or 70 years we can only give a sample of what we might be or of what we would be, but at the touch of kindness generosity springs out of meanness. Like the words of Jesus, “Lazarus, come forth,” kindness calls to life the goodness that had died. Kindness reveals a man to himself. Gently it arouses his self-respect and gives a person the courage once again to grow.
Kindness makes gloomy men smile and angry men grow meek. Sick men cease to groan. It lights hope in the eyes of the dying, sweetness in the heart of the bitter, turns men away from sin just when they are on the point of committing it. There are few gifts more precious than to lessen a person’s sins. We recall how Jesus passed along and saw Zaccheus up a tree and said kindly, “Zaccheus, come down, I’m coming over to your house for dinner this day.” We know the tremendous change that took place in Zaccheus as a result of these small kind words of the Lord.
Another work which kindness does is to encourage others in their efforts toward goodness. The habits of sin leave dirty footprints behind them and we grow tired of scrubbing the floor. There are few things which so resist the action of the Holy Spirit as discouragement, losing heart. God’s grace seems to run off the discouraged like rain off the roof. Whether discouragement takes the form of peevishness or lethargy or delusion, the mercy of God is needed to rouse it. All of us need encouragement. The path of virtue,
even when it is not uphill, is stony and hard and each day’s journey is a little longer than our strength admits of, even though the day cannot be shortened. We may love God and love him truly, yet we can’t help being aware that we are tired of the struggle to be holy.
Because we are often busy with our own work and never look at that of others, or because we are jealous and look coldly and critically at the work of others, we have not come to rescue a brother or a sister about to stumble. Just a kindly tone of voice, an understanding smile, a loving glance of the eye–and this bit of human sunshine has renewed a drooping heart. That encouragement may be the first link of a new chain which
when finished is called final perseverance.
I think at the judgment I shall more courageously face all my other sins than my lack of kindness.
Kindness is infectious. It is rare that an act of kindness stops with itself. By one
kind action we commit ourselves to another. Moreover, that kindness makes others kind in turn. It’s like the cottony seeds of the dandelion, which a single breath of kindness blows in all directions.
The kindest people are generally those who have received the greatest amount of kindness. All of us know that selfishness is a deeply rooted problem in our lives and it seems to resist a frontal attack. Yet our acts of kindness lay mines in its path and when it tries to advance it is badly wounded.
Kindness seems to know some secret fountain of joy and opens it up to sending its waters dancing in our lives. An act of kindness makes our day lighten and, like the sun breaking through in a heavy winter, causes a certain amount of joy. People seem to grow kinder as they grow older. Perhaps we’ve all experienced that from our grandparents. Young people are not always kind. Kindness does not belong to the fervor of beginnings; it belongs to the solidity of growth. No one has ever sat under the kindly shade of a pumpkin, which grows in six months, but many have rested under the shade of a mature maple which offers refreshing coolness in the heat of the summer.
Kindness is the key to humility, that most difficult of all virtues. Kindness does so much for us; it helps us to unlearn our youthful habits of judgment and criticism. It makes us thoughtful and considerate. A kind person is one who’s never self-occupied. A kind person is gracious, sympathetic, of gentle humor, noble and strong. Kindness is absolutely indispensable in winning others to our Lord.
Each of us in our thoughts is a world to himself. Perhaps our thoughts are a truer measure of ourselves even than our actions. Our thoughts are not under the control of human respect; it is not easy for our thoughts to be ashamed of themselves; they have no witness but God; they are not bound to keep within certain limits or observe certain proprieties. They are our own secret, no one can make us blush because of our thoughts.
Our first thoughts often reveal to us faults of disposition which inner or outer
restraints will hinder from breaking into action. Our thoughts often tell us what, in our inmost, profound orientation, we are like. Thoughts in themselves are nether good nor bad, of course, but they are a good indication of the sources of good and evil our lives. Thoughts are like a flashlight which enables us to see the gold ring we lost or the puddle of mud we are about to step into.
If thoughts are of such importance and if kindness has all the effects that we have been talking about, then kind thoughts must be of immense consequence. If a person has habitually kind thoughts about others, that person is not far from being a saint. His first thoughts are kind and he does not repent of them, and even when a sudden passion or a profound frustration has thrown a kind person into commotion he quickly settles down to a kindly humor. Kind thoughts are more rare than kind words or kind deeds. They imply
a great deal of thinking about others–thinking about others without criticism, and that is indeed even more rare.
One way to develop kind thoughts is to learn to practice kind thoughts and to
praise others inwardly. This helps us to find others pleasant to be with, and we ourselves become pleasant. Love follows the kind person, and all the more since the kind person makes so few pretenses to be loved. The habit of not judging others is difficult to acquire and is generally the mark of a mature Christian. We all tend to set up our little judgment seats and everyone we know passes before those judgment seats in spite of the warning of our Lord, “Judge not, that you be not judged.”
A frontal attack against judgmental thoughts is not the best strategy. If we rid
ourselves of uncharitable judgments we would have nothing left but a deep vacuum in our inner lives; it is much better to cultivate the habit of kind interpretations, which will not only destroy the habit of negative judgments but will leave us with a positive acquisition. No one can judge human beings but God, and God is so merciful because he is so wise. So we might conclude that kindness is the best wisdom because it is an image of the wisdom of God.
We must esteem very lightly our sharp eye for evil which we pride ourselves on as much as our cleverness. We must look at our “talent for analysis of character” as the dreadful possibility of mountainous unkindness. We are sure to say clever things as long as we indulge in such analysis and clever things are sure to be sharp and acid.
Doesn’t our own experience say that our kind interpretations have been truer than our harsh ones? Recall for a moment the mistakes made in judging others. Have they not always been on the side of harshness? Every day we experience that our righteous indignation has been aroused by some event and so we have formed a judgment in condemnation, and all at once the matter is explained in some simple way, so simple that we are surprised we didn’t think of the explanation. The habit of judging others blinds us so that we can only see the worst interpretation of another’s action. How many times have we been wrong when we put a kind interpretation on the actions of others? God’s action in others’ lives is a lot more common than our meanly measuring eyes allow for.
We tend to interpret the actions of others as if they were our own. We are always capable of the sin we think others are capable of, and even a well-founded suspicion more or less degrades us a person. Virtue grows in us under the influence of kindly thoughts, just as viciousness develops into rash judgment. Often we find ourselves violently tempted to the sins we have been attributing to to others, and the harsh thoughts are like seeds ready to sprout into evil. In a very real sense we are what we think, and from our thoughts spring words. Our Lord said, “From the abundance of the heart, the mouth
Recall, for instance, our Lord’s kindness, his gentleness, in the house of Simon the Pharisee.
Then one of the Pharisees asked Jesus to a meal with him. When Jesus came into the house he took his place at the table, and a woman known in the town as a bad woman found out that Jesus was there and brought an alabaster flask of perfume and stood behind him crying, letting her tears fall on his feet, and then drying them with her hair. And then she kissed them and anointed them with perfume.
When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this he said to himself, If this man were really a prophet he would know who this woman is and what sort of person is touching him, he would have realized that she is a bad woman.
Then Jesus said to him, “Simon, there’s something I want to say to you.”
“Very well Master,” he returned, “Say it.”
“Once upon a time there were two men in debt to the same money lender and one owed him $50 and the other $5, and since they were unable to pay he generously canceled both of their debts. Now which of them, do you suppose, will love him more?”
“Well,” returned Simon, “I suppose it would be the one who has been more generously treated.”
“Exactly,” replied Jesus. And then turning to the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house but you provided no water to wash my feet, but she has washed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. There was no warmth in your greeting, but she from the moment I came in has not stopped covering my feet with her kisses. You gave me no oil for my head, but she has put perfume on my feet. That is why I tell you, Simon, her sins, many as they are, are forgiven, for she has shown me so much love. But the man who has little to be forgiven has only a little love to give.
What a wonderful, marvelous, generous way of putting that woman at ease. It
could only come from the wisdom and kindness of the heart of Jesus.
From thoughts we naturally pass to words, and if our thoughts are kind they tend to pass into kind words. Kind words are more powerful than logic, will dissipate prejudice, and set right things that have gone wrong. Most people get tired of even legitimate quarrels, and kind words have a way of ending them. At first our kind words may be taken as an admission that we were wrong, then they will be attributed to deceit and flattery, then they will irritate by reason of the discomfort they cause to the conscience of the other, and finally they will heal the wound that has been made. Most quarrels rest on misunderstandings and only live by silence. Kind words persisted in will not explain what has been misunderstood but they will make the explanation unnecessary.
Kindness, to be perfect or to be lasting, has to be a conscious imitation of God.
When the goodness and the loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us by renewal in the Holy Spirit. Sharpness, bitterness and sarcasm, acute observation, attributing motives–all these disappear when a person is earnest in surrendering to the power of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit, who knows what is in us, gives us the insight to make our kindness special, tells us exactly what a person needs at a given moment. Kindness is not kindness unless it is special, and in this its charm consists.
Kind words cause happiness in others and they cause happiness in the speaker. Even to imagine kind words creates a warmth in our hearts and a gentleness in our disposition. As a matter of fact, one of the best ways to overcome irritation is to think of and to plan kind words for another. They produce in us a quiet restfulness and they shed the peace of God abroad in our hearts. The kind word is never a mistake.
Kindness is a little virtue, so insignificant that it passes too often unnoticed and unpracticed. To be kind is to act from an unselfish motive; it catches us up into the regions of sacrifice. It is to spend oneself like God without hope of repayment or reward. The natural instinct of kind actions is to be hidden, and so they are readily done for God alone. Kindness is not like the cedars of Lebanon; it’s like the grass of the fields, and like the grass it feeds more sheep than the cedars of Lebanon.
The unfailing practice of kindness is perhaps the simplest and the quickest way of having the mind and heart of Christ.
Editor’s note: This article likely originated from a pastoral talk by Fr. Harris. We are not including references to his primary sources.