The Great Virtue of A Small Kindness

kindnessThere are reports out this week that on October 20, 2013 the Catholic Church will canonize Pope John Paul II, declaring him to be among the saints in heaven. His life exemplifies virtue on a heroic scale, from his work against Naziism, to his fearless proclamation of the Gospel in the face of communism and his legacy as our beloved Pope. His contemporary and friend, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta is also on the path to sainthood. Most of us remember her tireless work in the poorest of India’s slums giving food and care to the desperately ill and dying. For her, sharing God’s love with the poor was the path to her holiness. Saints over the centuries have come from all backgrounds and experiences. Soldiers, sailors, monks, social workers and even fishermen and tax collectors have answered the Lord’s call to follow Him. Their daily journey to become more like Christ are important examples to us of how to live like Jesus wants us to live. Their stories are valuable to us. We don’t have to try and imagine or guess how we should live as Christians—the saints can show us the way.

But here’s my problem with sainthood: I stink at it. Don’t get me wrong, I want to be a saint. My purpose on this earth is to know, love and serve God in this world and to spend eternity with Him in the next world. This is a fundamental teaching and belief of my Catholic faith. We are ALL called to sainthood. And like the old song says, “Lord, I want to be in that number when the saints go marching in!”  But I’m much better at being a sinner than at being a saint. The saints seem to be so far away from my messy, harried, self-centered and very un-heroic life. I struggle with sin all the time. I neglect my prayer life. I’m impatient. I know what I’m supposed to do, but I so rarely do it. Oh I have my good days, even my good weeks. Days when I pray and read Scripture and think holy thoughts. And then I leave the house. I’m late. There’s traffic. I spill my coffee. I forget the dry cleaning. How can I be saintly in this crazy gerbil wheel that I live in every day?

The good news for me and for you is that we’re NOT Mother Teresa or Pope John Paul. God created each one of us as singularly unique individuals. He doesn’t expect us to be anyone other than who we are. God wants us to be the very best version of ourselves, not some knockoff version of someone else. That’s at once a relief and a challenge. God doesn’t expect most of us to move to India and become nuns. What He does want for us is that we invite Him into every moment of our lives. In many ways, that means getting out of the way and allowing the Holy Spirit to do His work in your heart. For me, this is a kind of sainthood that I can imagine in my own life—right where I am now, with all my flaws and shortcomings. And there IS something I can model from Mother Teresa every day. I can be kind.

Kindness is one of the gifts if the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) that St. Paul says marks us as Christians. Kindness. It’s one of those things we learned in kindergarten that can transform the world. Kindness calls us out of ourselves and puts the needs of the other before us. When were kind we don’t expect any form of repayment or recognition. Kindness is love that overflows our hearts and embraces the other person. But kindness is more than just being nice. Nice implies a kind of agreeableness and even a sort of simpering cooperation. That’s not what kindness is. When you’re kind you act in the other’s best good. You give the beggar a meal or a coat or a pair of shoes instead of a bottle of whiskey.  When you’re kind you give the single mom an evening of babysitting instead of another stuffed toy. Sometimes the kindest thing we can do for someone is just to share a smile or an encouraging word. Kindness is putting whatever the other person needs first, not necessarily just doing what feels good to do. Kindness reaches out and meets the other person right where they are. It’s exactly what Christ does for each one of us.

Kindness is a good start towards sainthood. When you can’t imagine yourself in a far-flung mission field, maybe it’s because your field is much closer to home. Maybe you’re called to kindness. Be kind when you drive. Give more of your time to help others. Don’t gossip. Stop complaining. Smile at a stranger.  Hold the door for an elderly person. Clean up after yourself. Decide to be joyful. Call someone that you know is lonely. Give without counting the cost.

“Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. The third is to be kind.”
                                                     —Blessed Mother Teresa.

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