This is the fifth of a 12-part, once-a-month series on the Fruits of the Holy Spirit. This month’s fruit is Kindness. Be sure to see previous posts beginning with CHARITY and check back next month as another contributor explores the fruit of GOODNESS.
Jesus told us that if we love one another, we will be recognized as one of his disciples. As Catholics, we make it our daily business to walk in His ways and we know that we can only do that with the aid of the Holy Spirit. Today, on what would have been my father’s 75th birthday, I am going to examine the Holy Spirit’s fruit of kindness.
Certainly, kindness is one way that we show our love to one another. But, there is a distinction between saintly heroic acts of kindness and the godless social contracts that most of us honor with each other. Additionally, there are two ways to express saintly kindness that comes from the Holy Spirit. One way may lead to martyrdom while the other way creates a life of constant little acts of love and kindness. Both ways will come at a cost and both will lead us to God.
What makes an act of kindness heroic? I ask this because as Catholics, we know we are called to be saints. And, to be a saint requires the practice of heroic virtues. Each of us is capable of expressing kindness but most of us dole out kindness like accountants. We keep a subconscious tally of who owes who what and whose turn it is to honor the social contract. These acts are not kind, but rather they are a price we pay to maintain polite coexistence with others. These acts are not indicative of the life of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, but rather they are self-serving survival instincts.
How do we know when we are called to a heroic act of kindness? If we are asked to do something that will come at a great cost to our pride or our daily comfort, then we are being called to be a saint. If we do something for which there is little or no chance that we will get credit, acknowledgement or reward of any kind, then we are doing something that can only come from the Holy Spirit. The only way to practice these acts is to step aside. We need to get out of the way. And when we step aside and let the Holy Spirit work through us, it only makes sense that we would not desire acknowledgement or reward. For, after all, all we did was get out of the way.
How do we recognize the call of the Holy Spirit? When a friend, neighbor, or family member asks for help of the most inconvenient kind, we are being called. When we say yes with total self-abandonment, we are answering that call. When we see a homeless person holding a sign, we are being called. When we give without fear or judgment, we are answering that call.
In some cases, not only will we not receive any payment, but also we will pay a great price. Usually, the cost is our time and personal comforts. Sometimes, that price is our very life. An example of heroic kindness of this caliber is Saint Damien. “Not without fear and loathing,” Pope Benedict said, “Father Damian made the choice to go on the island of Molokai in the service of lepers who were there, abandoned by all. So he exposed himself to the disease of which they suffered.” Few of us are called to such acts of total abandonment of self. Most of us are just asked to hold back the branches so that others may pass with ease.
My father was one who lived a life of holding back the branches for others in the style of Saint Therese. This lovely little saint desired to be close to God and wanted to serve him but knew that she was flawed and unable to express perfect love. We can all relate to this quandary. Her Little Way transformed the ordinary goodness of daily life into the extraordinary. She was one of my father’s favorite saints. And, the ripples from his Little Ways are still pulsing throughout the world today in the hearts of those he left behind.
Last Oct 2nd, on the feast of the Guardian Angels, my father spent his last evening on this earth cleaning his kitchen and preparing coffee for the next morning. He knew it was habit for one of his three local daughters or any one of his 22 grandchildren to stop in, have a snack or a cup of coffee and leave their crumbs or cocoa stained mugs lying around. He never complained. On the morning of his passing, we waited for the priest and the undertaker to arrive. Amid the relentless sobbing and quiet prayers and pleadings, my mother recalled that Dad had prepared the coffee. My brother-in-law pressed the start button and moments later, we shared a quiet cup of kindness.
How can you be extraordinary in your ordinary life today? Here is my top 10 list:
- Cancel a pedicure to watch your neighbor’s two-year-old.
- Decide to stop complaining.
- Do an anonymous favor for someone who can never repay you.
- Put your shyness aside and decide to smile at strangers and make conversations in long grocery lines.
- Risk being cut off from someone you know who often gossips and ask them to stop.
- Take a break from your important busy life and contact a friend who has a lonely life.
- Give of your precious free time to your local parish.
- Make a point of doing way more than half of your expected contribution to the household chores without complaining and without fanfare.
- Offer to watch your neighbor’s five kids so that she and her husband can have a weekend get away. And, clean her house, too. Okay, just dreaming here.
- Decide to be a joyful light filled with hope in the absence of any material evidence of what God has promised.