"On [the Exceeding Worth of] Kindness"
by the Very Rev. J. Guibert, S.S.
Taken From CATHOLIC TREASURES, Issue No. 77-78, 1982
ON THE NATURE OF TRUE KINDNESS, PART 2
HOW TRUE KINDNESS IS GRACIOUS
"When thou givest, give gladly, give with a smile." Long before Joubert, St. Paul had expressed the same thought. "God loveth a cheerful giver." The pleasant smile with which kindheartedness enhances the good deeds it does is called graciousness. A gracious act is essentially a kind act, and it is one of greater value than the mere expenditure of time, toil, or money, for not content with giving without stint its goods, in very truth it puts its own life into its gifts.
Graciousness has two advantages over mere almsgiving. Firstly, there are many of our fellow creatures who have no need of our money, but there is not one of all those with whom we have to deal to whom our sympathy is not good and precious; so that, though by our very liberality we run the risk of wounding the pride of some, our graciousness has the privilege of rejoicing the hearts of all.
Secondly, there is something dry and haughty about the mere bestowing of money; it is graciousness which makes our alms-deeds look natural, unaffected and pleasing. For sure, the poverty which you relieve calls for your tact in dealing with it quite as much as for your alms; the needy, hunger for rejoicing of heart as much as they do for bread, and all food nourishes the better for being, so to speak, steeped in joy.
Were a Sister of Charity, however skillful her hands, to do no more than dress the wounds of the body, she would only have performed half of her task; it is equally her vocation to endeavour to heal the wounds of the soul, by the kind and gracious words she utters.
Graciousness, then, is like a finishing touch given to the beauty of charity; it is the salt without which almsgiving loses its savour.
Graciousness does not consist in the empty civility of manners outwardly pleasing. It has its seat in the inmost soul, and the engaging smile it places on the lips is only the faithful reflection of the kind thoughts with which the heart is overflowing. Graciousness springs from an interior feeling of esteem for the person on whom one bestows a favour; did such esteem not exist, an approving smile would be but a deceptive mask. To be genuine, our gracious ways must be the echo of the praise resounding within the inner sanctuary of our being of Him to whom we are thus gracious.
Graciousness of thought is far more rare and far more difficult than graciousness of word or graciousness of action. It is the great gift of thinking of others without criticizing them and without despising them. Nor to its possession can we attain without much effort; for, in order to soften our thoughts in their very origin, and by so doing to correct the bitterness of our judgments, we must conquer that natural tendency which leads us all to find out and to tell others of the weak points in our neighbours' s character. St. Francis de Sales never showed more clearly how wonderfully kind he was than when he said that if a matter had a hundred bad sides and only one good one, it was the good side he would look at. His surpassing delicacy of feeling led him to put a favourable interpretation upon everything, and that secret indulgence which men reserve for the regarding of their own faults was St. Francis's invariable characteristic in thinking about the shortcomings of others.
Some will say that to believe in and talk about good intentions when evil doing is scandalous is mere folly; but does not each one of us, strong in the warrant of his own conscience, in the name of justice as well as in that of charity, claim to have his rectitude of intention recognized and respected? What right have we to be hard on others, we who exact that so many allowances be made in our own case?
Being, too, so eager to find excuses for ourselves, how is it that we are so ready to accuse other people? We may disapprove of an action, and may say so, but we need not judge and condemn the doer. If in your heart you think ill of your brother, your protestations of attachment to him are essentially false, and your words must needs lack that accent of sympathy which truth alone can impart. If, on the contrary, you think the best of all, and trustful of the uprightness of the intentions of others, show yourself indulgent to their weaknesses, you have only to follow the bent of your feelings to show unmistakable kindness in word and in action.
Lacordaire has remarked truly that kind thoughts stamp themselves on the features with a beauty which attracts souls.
Graciousness does away alike with the sullenness which repels and the indifference which freezes. Not only does it impart that exquisite courtesy of manner, which Joubert rightly styles "the flower of that plant which is man," it diffuses over one's whole personality an indefinable something, which warms, vivifies, and attracts. Often and often on meeting a person we realize instinctively whether his thoughts are kind or the reverse. Strive as we may, a man cannot utterly shut up his soul within him. Whether we will or no, it escapes, it manifests itself; it creates around us an atmosphere which betrays our genuine feelings. From kind hearts there flow, as it were, sympathetic currents, the beneficent influences of which are felt more quickly and reach much farther than words or deeds.
It is very sure that the tongue soon becomes the ready servant of a kind mind. No one need fear that a man of feeling will say aught to embitter or to humble another, or to make him fall into that mood of utter wretchedness which is more fatal to mankind than dagger or poison. On the contrary, sympathetic words have for the listener's soul a healing virtue which calms suffering, and a nourishing virtue which calls back the joy of living and braces to cheerful work. The kind man takes heed lest he wound by over-sharply criticizing or by indulging in witticisms, clever, maybe, but galling beyond belief for him who is their butt. He does not make fun of his neighbour; but, on the contrary, knows very well how, tactfully and without flattering, to praise where praise is deserved. He is careful never in conversing with another to recall any painful memory, but instinctively and quite unaffectedly talks, and makes others talk, of things pleasant, wholesome, and in some way or other uplifting. He has a softening way about him, and without perceiving it himself, brings people to make up their quarrels and, however touchy they may be, to keep the peace. Even those whom Nicole calls the "miserable all around," a kindly man's genial talk, as it were, galvanizes into at least momentary cheerfulness. It was by sweet and gentle speech that Christ won over the multitudes to Himself, and that later on His disciples conquered the world.
Kindheartedness, in fine, lends an indefinable charm to our actions. Watch the daily dealings of a man who is thoroughly good-hearted. He is affable to all who come across him; he never lets people suspect that he is tired of them and of their talk. He listens patiently to wearisome ac- counts of other people's woes, and refuses to get angry on hearing for the hundredth time one and the same complaint; for he feels that he lightens many burdens by letting the unhappy insist upon telling him of the unexampled hardship of their misfortunes, and of the unjustifiable deceptions they have experienced. He thankfully accepts services of which he has no need, to allow others to enjoy the sense of being kind to him. He does not think at all about his own pleasures or even interests; his thoughts refuse to be self-centered, all his pre-occupation and all his solicitude is for the well-being of others. His watchful considerateness gives him marvellous intuition; he feels instinctively what will displease, and avoids it; he recognizes on the instant what will please, and does it. Whenever there is question of sparing pain or of giving pleasure he counts the cost of no sacrifice, whether of money, of time, or of self. His kindheartedness has come to be far more than a mere good-natured wish to help; it dares everything.
Goodwill to others surrounds a soul, of which it is the life, with the most stimulating of atmospheres; it is a very fount of peace, joy, and strength.
Nothing so surely takes away one's peace of mind as the knowing oneself to be thought little of; of all human sufferings, humiliation is the most keenly felt. Scorn, whether betrayed by manner or put into humbling words, or manifested by contemptuous treatment, is fatal where it wounds, save for him who has learned from Christian faith to care not at all for the judgments of men, and to be content with the good testimony rendered him by God in his own conscience.
But few of us have grown to this. We feel like the rest of men; like them we cannot help caring; when humbled, we are inevitably cast down. Kind words, and a show of respect and sympathy, are the medicine we want in our trouble. Put us where we can feel we are understood and thought well of, and forthwith we get our spirits back and are well again.
For men and women, indeed, who in the literal sense are Saints, it may suffice that God makes them feel in prayer that He knows them, that He approves them, and that He blesses them; but for all who are still trammelled by usual human weaknesses, tranquillity of soul only comes back when those whom they look up to as sincere and enlightened, show themselves kind and sympathetic. There is no occasion then to be sparing of kind words, of words that spell peace to our fellowmen. Cheerfulness is the outcome of peace of heart.
A truly kind action, for the very reason that it implies some sort of esteem and affection for a sufferer, not only tranquillizes his mind, but cheers his whole being. As rays of health-bringing sunlight, dispelling the darkness of a wretched hovel, so is the smile of the kind-hearted in the gloom of the troubled heart.
Of far more price than the food and assiduous care the Little Sisters of the Poor lavish on the old people entrusted to them, is the ray of joy their own kindly cheerfulness sheds on the evening of sorely-tried lives.
Would that worldly women, who waste in silly goings to and fro, or in tasteless pleasures, the time which they complain hangs so heavily on their hands, did but know the worth to the poor of a cheering word and the happiness that one may feel in uttering it! Possibly they would spend something, not only of their time and money, but of their winningness of manner and of their cheerful talk on their sisters in sore distress.
Again, cheerfulness is good for us morally, for it strengthens the will, and by so doing, braces all the other energies of the soul. As we have already said, it is hard to be virtuous when we are not happy; and hard to work when we feel listless and cast down. Here it is that the glory of kindness comes in. It makes people better because it makes them brighter. It implies esteem and so restores confidence. It cheers, and so is the best stimulus to work. As Madame Swetchine says; "Let us never stop scattering seeds of kindness and of sympathy along our way. No doubt many seeds will be lost, but if there be but one which springs up, it will be as a fragrance on all our path, and an unceasing joy to our hearts."
And yet she has not said all. For with the enjoyment of life which our kind acts assure us, there must be reckoned the fruitfulness of these same lives of ours, whether we be looked upon as social workers or as Christian apostles. And, on the other hand, to sum up, if it be true that the kind man, because of his very kindness, leads a life more intense, and therefore more enjoyable, than that of others, it must be likewise true that to dissuade a man from doing a kind action is to try to kill the best of the life that is in him.
HOW TRUE KINDNESS IS LOVING
Kindness is more than gracious; it is loving. A kind heart loves those to whom it does good, and the love it bestows is above every other of its gifts. Kindness may begin in mere pity with words of sympathy; the more it grows the more it leads to the doing of kind and generous actions, to the bestowing on the needy at the cost of self-denial; gracious ways are its fragrant flowers; the peace, joy, and strength it bestows are its sweet and welcome fruit; but it is in the gift of itself by love for him whom it succours that it is truly perfected. Only to those whom a man loves as Christ willed we should love our neighbour, does a man really throw open the inner sanctuary of his being, and offer the holiest of his treasures, his affection.
Nor before this has come to pass can kindness use to the full its power of conquest, for, says Lacordaire; "God has willed that no good should be done to man unless the gift be sanctified by love; and that heartlessness should for ever be incapable either of imparting light or of inspiring virtues.
Nevertheless, it is most true that love is a feeling which cannot be forced upon us; neither from our fellowmen nor even from our own selves, will our hearts accept coercion; rather, the more we are urged to feel affectionate, the more we draw back, for to do aught otherwise than freely, is unnatural to man.
If, then, on the one hand, to be good to all is a precept, and if, on the other hand, to force ourselves to feel affection for all is beyond our power, we must necessarily make some distinction between the being kind and the being affectionate, and must admit that there can be a true kindness of heart which is not loving, and that it is possible to be compassionate, generous, and gracious without feeling any natural affection for the person to whom we are kind.
We express very different feelings when we say; "I love such a one as much as I ought to love him, and as fully as charity requires of me," and when we simply say; "I love him. " Assuredly, to fulfill our whole duty to our fellowman is Christian charity, but to be spurred on by God-given affection to the doing of our whole duty, and of more than our whole duty, is charity made perfect.
Yet, after all, the distance between kindness and love is not great. Love involves kindness. We cannot begin to love without beginning to be kind; where our heart goes our whole being follows. Our neighbour, when loved becomes dear to us as ourselves; his sufferings move us as if they were our very own; his needs call insistently for all we have to give; he holds, perforce, a high place in our esteem, and almost involuntarily we are lavish in regard to him of respect and of all manner of delicate attentiveness.
Kindness on its side leads to love. Its first act, pity, implies a beginning of love; in proportion as it prompts to the sacrifice of time and means, the kind heart surely follows what it gives. We begin by being kind; we end by loving those to whom we are kind.
An African missionary will show you, without meaning it, that he positively loves his Negroes; a Brother of St. John of God, his feebleminded and feeble-bodied incurables; a Lady of Calvary, her cancer patients. Father Damien literally loved his lepers. Utter self-sacrifice of such sort invariably finds in the love which makes it easy its crown, its joy, and its earthly reward.
More than this, devotedness finds that if to be loved is good, to love is better. If there be benefactors who have no kindly feeling for those whom they make indebted to them, it is that such benefactors give rather to please themselves than to do good to their fellow creatures; they have given money from their purses, but they have given nothing from their hearts; had it been true kindliness that inspired and guided them in what they did, needs must but they would love those whose benefactors they are.
It is the goodness to others which springs from genuine affection that Holy Scripture praises when it teaches us; "A faithful friend is a strong defence, and he that hath found him has found a treasure." It was goodness like to this that a poor man, who was a deep thinker, claimed when he called as of right for "Not alms, but friends!"
And the Eastern proverb, again, is right in advising us "not to let the grass grow on the path of friendship." For friendship truly peoples the dreary solitude of a lonely soul; it dispels the sadness inevitable where no comforting word is heard; it in some way binds up, if it cannot always heal, the wounds of those who in the battle of life have gone under. The value of true friendship is that of Christian kindliness, of Christian charity, for which friendship is but another name.
"Woe to him that is alone," and "it is not good for man to be alone." These are Divinely inspired words, and all human experience shows how true they are. The talents of the man who stands alone, a few exceptions apart, are barren; there is no one to rouse him to action, to hearten him and push him on, to keep him from slackening and probably soon giving up out of sheer, dull weariness. The friendless man is timid, unenterprising, easily frightened off. "Fear,"
writes Lamennais, "dogs the footsteps of the man who makes his way apart from his friends-----it sits beside him when he rests, nor leaves him even when he sleeps." Men who lead habitually lonely lives mostly become the prey of their own imagination-----any and every trifling discomfort is a torture for them, their over-sensitiveness is on edge, excruciating to themselves; they suspect everybody, and for that very reason are helplessly miserable.
We know, of course, that there are happy and fruitful solitudes; solitudes where genius meditates its masterpieces; solitudes where silent prayer strengthens sin-weakened wills; solitudes where souls, worn out by the work of the world, seek and find a rest that heals and renews. We know, too, that the man who does not know how to help himself with an occasional hour of silence and serious thought will likely enough quickly break down under the stress and toil of life. But it is not of wholesome solitude that we are now speaking.
It is to a heart dead to human affection that solitude is hurtful.
One can live far from the haunts of men without being, in the non-Christian sense of the word, a solitary-----witness the Carthusian monk in his cell. And one can live in the bustle of a great city, jostling one's fellows all the day long, and yet feel within one's empty heart the cruel dreariness of solitude; numberless men and women live miserably alone in the very heart of society. One can live a lonely life, and an unhappy one because of its loneliness, in the midst of an outwardly united family circle-----nay, even in the quietest of religious homes.
Loneliness of heart is a mysterious and painful malady, which the sufferer almost instinctively conceals. The distress it inevitably causes is far more severe in some cases that in others; it seems to be keener in proportion as education and culture have rendered the soul more sensitive to mental pain.
Ordinarily speaking, a man cannot by himself find relief from the suffering consequent on interior loneliness. The giving oneself up to willful misanthrophy does not take away the pain the lonely man feels; it inevitably aggravates it.
It is most true that for certain chosen souls the strength of their religious faith at once fills up the void in their hearts, by making them see God present within themselves. But there are comparatively few souls so entirely detached from what is created, as to be, in the sense of the Saints, satisfied with God alone; God Himself, oftener than not, is pleased neither comfortingly to visit, nor persistently to sustain the souls of men, except by using their fellow creatures as His instrument.
The man who has not acquaintances only, but friends, is no longer alone in the world. His heart ceases to be an empty house; he finds that, without knowing it, he is not bored as before with everything, that life is enjoyable; and he begins to want to be useful. His time does not, as before, hang heavily and purposelessly on his hands; on the contrary, no day is long enough for the man who basks in the warm sunshine of friendship. It has been well said that "every friendless life is hopelessly incomplete"; for it is the love and goodwill of his fellowmen that gives fulness to the life of a man.
Happy, then, they who on their way meet with true friendship; let them take heed lest they close their door against it, and let them welcome it like a kind genie to their hearts and homes! But yet happier are they whose goodwill to all makes of their every neighbour their friend. Veritable saviours of souls are they, for through them the wilderness blossoms, and the barren lives of the forsaken bring forth a rich and gladdening harvest.
Let him who has entered on the path of kindliness, go on fearlessly to the end; mere philanthropy, if harsh, humiliates in helping; sympathetic talk, if cold, is like a far-off light, too faint for us to see by its glimmer that for every life there is joy and hope; and never let the kind man forget that Christian kindness must be loving kindness, else would it not be human? and it would not be the healing of the ills of life.
Our faith teaches us how Christ saved us, and saves us by love; and, in the hands of apostolic men, that kindness which is affectionate and which does not conceal its affectionateness is an all-powerful weapon. While it rescues hearts from their own loneliness, lifting them, as it were, bodily out of the slough of discouragement and kindling anew their will to live, it wins them over to the longing for a yet higher life. For, conquered by a kindness unmistakably God-inspired, they turn instinctively to Him. Kindliness is His very breath, and this they feel it to be.
Pascal once said, "It is the heart, not the reason, which feels God." No preacher can make human reason grasp the truth unless by kindness the seed has beforehand been sown in the hearts of his hearers.
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