He has a soft voice, an easy demeanor and a welcoming manner. “Kindness,” he said, “takes no effort. Meanness takes planning and choices. If it doesn’t, that is just evil.” He spoke in the softest of tones with an incredulity about the choices made to be mean. He listed them with an alarming rapidity: media posts, distortion of truths, neglect of one another, conscious manipulation of others….And so he invited thinking about the place and practice of kindness in a world coping with change, cruelties, coercion and contradictions. Kindness has no frame save civility and courtesy and has no template save the context of the current moment. And yet, its presence flavors every interaction and somehow spills into the next moment. There are examples everywhere.
The 4 year old who takes a treat and asks for one for her twin. The waiter who graciously rearranges chairs to accommodate a wheelchair. The truck driver who pauses to let a compact car squeeze out of a driveway. The cashier who produces a coupon for just the right product. The neighbor who picks up packages, and that guy who holds the door open. It occurs so often we hardly realize that those little miracle moments are occurring, and the roar of social media highlighting the worst of us so easily overwhelms the best of us. The goodness is there, little reflections of the light of life that glows in each of us. And the truth is that kindness demands an attentiveness to each other and to the needs that exist around us as well as our capacity to respond effectively.
Kindness and humility are at the core of what it means to be Catholic, what it means to be human. Sometimes, both are as elusive as they are needed. Being a Catholic offers encouragement on that pathway to kindness and humility in a meaningful way. The Gospel and readings point to the richness of putting others first and not seeking reward or recognition for self, just making good things happen by being fully present in the moment and responding. Practicing kindness is about becoming who we really are as a person and then as a community. Maybe it is easier than we have thought or imagined. Being able to recognize failing in kindness is actually part of the reflection that empowers the next act of kindness. Ultimately, acts of kindness are the clear statement that it is definitely not all about me. Instead, it is about us and who we can be together. Kindnesses are the gentle acts of recognition that, threaded together, create the image of who we really are as persons and as a society.
While we bemoan the negativity of social media, the bullying and violence erupting all over, the scandal-ridden Church and a polarized society, there is celebration to be found in the reality of contemporary practices. The teenager opening a door at a weekday Mass, the priest who leans over to bless a child, the grandparents who are holding hands….Kindness is everywhere. Choosing to practice it, to create and re-generate it, is the call issued to all Christians.