Monday, January 16, 2012

Kindness and the Christian life

Is un-kindness a trait that is so totally foreign, alien and incompatible with Christianity?  Many think that it is.  After all, Jesus himself has never been unkind and he is the prototype for all of humanity.  And there are a huge number of people who are loath to see any traits of unkindness in people who are supposed to be leaders, especially those in ecclesial leadership, and are ever-so-quick to point out that such-and-such acts and words are unkind, and ought not to be practiced if one were purported to be a disciple of Christ.

But herein lies the problem of our individual humanity being such an admixture of human and spirit.  As St Paul is so humble to point out and admit, so many of us do what we should not do, and are not doing what we should.  It comes from Rom 7:5.  Paul saw in himself that similar trait and so do we. 

I have found myself facing this conundrum ever-so-often, and I realize that the more I am regular in my prayer and meditation, the more I see it clearly when the situation manifests itself.  It is as if prayer and our concerted effort in cooperating with God’s grace in life develops another being of ourselves that sees our works and actions from a third-party distance, and we get insights into our lives from a vantage point that would not have been developed had we just lived life in a carefree attitude.  Prayer helps us do this – it develops our third person vista which some prefer to call a hightened conscience or state of awareness.

There are always ways in which we could have done things better.  Most of the time, we don’t have the luxury of a time so that we can analyse which approach is most kind, and most effective, and most Christlike before the act.  We act on instinct.  And that, unfortunately, is the crux of the problem.  Most of our instincts are animalistic, not those of rational animals, as Aristotle defines our shared genus. 

When I have followed that instinct, I know that it had led me to skip the pleasantries, to discount the other’s needs and weaknesses, to think more of myself and what I want to achieve, and to get things done in only one way – mine.  And there are times when it shows how slow I am to suffer fools. 

I am sure that some toes would have been stepped upon and even crushed in so doing.  I was reminded of this in an anonymous comment that came in my blog two days ago.  Someone back in Singapore must have been reminded of a time when unkindness and impatience was shown to him or her by me, most probably in the course of my ministry.  I would have loved to engage the person in conversation and find out how this could be rectified, but alas, at most times, anonymity neither allows this, nor does it show that the person is at all interested in any amicable restoration. 

It behooves me then to offer an olive branch of an apology to this person.  Thank you for having pointed out that you are a hurt person, but it would have helped much more if the specific incident were referred to, to make this apology more specific and a healing experience. 

In closing, I guess I will refer to my opening statement.  Unkindness is unreservedly incompatible with Christianity. 

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.


  1. It is so familiar,'What I should not do,I do,and what I should,I do not!It happens so often,that it hurts.Thank you Fr Luke this blog is a true consolation.And it is true,that through prayer we are guided to the awareness of our faults and also to repentance.I had this encounter with Christ through my grandson,who is only 5yrs.While in prayer last afternoon,he came to my room and said,read Psalm 51:1-4,which i did and felt good.Which also reminds me of God's gift of His priests and so through confession,can be cleansed.God Bless you Fr Luke.

  2. our old parish priest told us the secret of happiness !. be kind 2. be kind kind.

  3. If we believe that Christ came not only to teach goodness, to live goodness and to demand goodness of his disciples but that he is Goodness itself, that is....He is the greatest good, then truly - ‘’Unkindness is unreservedly incompatible with Christianity’’
    If we believe that all men are created in His image, then we can say that morality had already been planted in all human hearts and consciences, ie in the nature of man - and Christ comes to draw out this plant into kindness, honesty, justice, charity would appeal naturally to man.

    Yet what St Paul said in Rom 7:5 strikes a familiar chord with most of us because it touches on how we relate with others- (touching on social morality and not only individual morality.) As you have said each of us is an admixture of human and spirit and this complicates social relationships which are already complex as each of us brings with us our own emotional baggage – misunderstandings will arise and hurts and scars are the results.

    I have found that in any relationship which is meaningful to me, it is often so much easier to have it out with the ‘’perpetuator’’ of the ‘’unkind cut’’ rather than to harbour the resentment and let the hurt fester. In doing so, I have sometimes found to my chagrin, that I was the guilty party for being judgemental and reading far too much into the other’s words or actions....and that’s because of my own emotional baggage.

    Being more of a head than a heart person, I have also not ‘’suffered fools gladly...’’ and so often have been advised to see Christ in my neighbour and hopefully be able to escape the dilemma as shared by St Paul. However, over the years, I have become more convinced that I have to learn to see my neighbour with the eyes of Christ. In this respect, what you said about prayer and meditation rings true – when we are still with the Spirit of God dwelling within us- our behaviour will begin to change of its own accord – slowly but surely !
    God bless you Fr.

  4. Right on! Unkindness is completely incompatible with being Christian. However, how many of us can claim to have NEVER been unkind in word or worse still, action?

    I remember several years ago I met a fellow parishoner at a supermarket. When, in the course of our conversation I mentioned our (then) parish priest's name, there came forth a barrage of invective I was totally un-prepared for. Apparently, this fellow had been treated unkindly (I'm not sure how) by our parish priest.

    I'm sure there must have been at least a little truth in that man's accusations, but did he have to react like that? Certainly I have had the experience of being "rubbed the wrong way" by more than one priest (?)but I always put it down to a one-off situation - perhaps I caught that priest at a particularly bad time.

    In any case, too many people expect priests to be purr-fect, and that just ain't so. We all have our grumpy moments. Just think what would happen should husbands and wives dwell on each other's foibles. There'd be no more married people!

    So just as it's Christian to practice kindness, it is all the more Christian to forgive when kindness was lacking.

    Peace and Joy,