Sunday Mass is a ritual for some Catholics; others make less use of it. Some gather in the wee hours of the morning for the service. There are neighbors greeting one another, updates on families, exchanges about the weather. For some, there is a comfortable familiarity with the celebrant, an appreciation for his presence and humor (somehow linked to the delivery of the sermon). Drawing a laugh this morning, a young priest talked about avoiding extremes, taking a middle way, suggesting that there is much more to Catholicism than the confinement of rules. He was talking about the practical elements of life, about the application of the Gospel in the 21st century rather than adherence to the specific words of the Gospel. SImply put, he was inviting everyone to think about the essence of the message in our times, our lives. In so many ways, it is all about kindness, about attentiveness to one another, about fulfilling the little missions of a day that are part of the much bigger picture. Practicing kindness is the essence of what it means to be a friend, to be a Christian, to be human.
“Practicing kindness” is a phrase that alludes to both the need for kindness and the idea that kindness is only real when it has form and substance, choice and commitment. The phrase implies there are thousands of ways for kindness to find visibility; it rests within the power of every human being to bring it to life. There are the tiny things: allowing a car to merge from another lane; pausing to hold a door, granting a smile to a passerby. There are the larger ones: providing help for the floundering, proposing a new procedure to simplify a process, listening to what is really being communciated rather than what is being said in an argument. Every act of kindness, the spontaneous and the carefully planned, creates ripples in a world that needs those singular moments of hope, those opportunities to celebrate being human, empathetic, together. Kindness does not resort to extremes that divide and exclude persons. Instead, kindness is defined by that quiet presence of one to another, of interaction beyond the surface and of connection between beings. It is the denial of difference and superiority, devoid of discrimination and judgement. Kindness exudes a sense of compassion and care that recognizes the very limits of what it means to be human and gently provides more.
That young priest spoke about Jesus’ converations with the woman at the well and with the disciples about the preparation for the wedding feast. Gesturing with conviction and sparkling with youthful certainty, he described the Jesus he knows as kind, gentle, caring. He invited an early morning congregation to think differently about what it means to read and interpret the Gospel, what it means to share in a Sunday ritual and what can be taken away from that. As the prayers ended, and his listeners gathered in knots of conversation sheltering from the heat and humidity, he took the time to bend down and chat with an elderly woman, held the door for a family, and joked with an usher.