Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

The Bishop Writes

"The leaven of kindness"

by Bishop William S. Skylstad

(From the June 11, 2009 edition of the Inland Register)

We are concluding the Year of St. Paul, declared by Pope Benedict XVI on the 2,000th anniversary of Paul’s birth. During these past months I have grown in appreciation of the saint’s writings and their practicality for everyday living. As the Holy Father has reminded us, Paul’s theological insights provide a great body of teaching that remains very foundational to this day. But his practical suggestions for keeping our spiritual lives on track are also very helpful and insightful.

In the last two chapters of his letter to the Galatians, St. Paul shares an eminently practical way of living our lives that is consistent with the Spirit that has been given us. In the celebration of the Sacrament of Confirmation, we have been sealed with this gift. Talk about a gift that continues on giving! Jesus promised that the Spirit would continue to teach us – truly a life-long journey for all of us. When we look at our personal behavior, each of us – all of us! – know that we are in continuing need of the integrating the gifts of the Spirit in our lives. As we live as people of the Spirit, we receive the fruits of the Spirit as Paul lists them: love, joy, peace, patient endurance, kindness, generosity, faith, mildness and chastity.

I was driving through heavy city traffic the other day. I noticed coming up rather quickly from behind a fellow who was driving rather aggressively, to say the least. He soon passed me and eventually I lost sight of him. Just a few blocks later, as the traffic narrowed down to one lane, a lady graciously backed off and allowed me to meld into the single lane of traffic. So contrary was my reaction to her momentary act of kindness, compared to the muscle car who seemed rather rudely to weave his way through traffic.

Perhaps that’s a good paradigm to reflect upon as we think about our relationship with others. On the one hand, there is the “muscle car” syndrome in the way we live. As I heard a journalist mention some time ago in a gathering, we not infrequently either see or hear “yelling” heads in our society. We prove our point by putting down others or stepping on them. Somehow I guess that makes us feel like we are “kings of the road” of life.

Sometimes we are even infected with those attitudes within our Church. Attitudes become what Paul describes in Galatians 5: lewd conduct, hostilities, bickering, jealousy, outburst of rage, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, and envy. That’s a pretty tough list, and I didn’t even include all of them. We might drive our lives that way, but as Paul reminds us, we are not going to inherit the Kingdom of God that way.

On the other hand, kindness has a power of its own, as the title of a recent book indicates. For a fleeting moment in traffic I felt the positive impact of someone going out of her way to extend thoughtfulness to me. There is something about an act of kindness that is tremendously humanizing and respectful. Kindness doesn’t mean that I give up my belief on a particular matter, or surrender a particular moral stance. We are blessed in the Church with a stability of moral teaching that has a long tradition and solid basis in Sacred Scripture and/or tradition. Living a life of kindness doesn’t mean that I am a wimp or a wilted lily. Sometimes kindness is seen as a sign of weakness. Yet, kindness can be lived radically and effectively, a sign of inner strength. Therein lies real power and effectiveness of Christian example. And we must be about insightful effectiveness in proclaiming and living the Gospel in a pluralistic culture and society. Kindness can express a kind of sincerity and genuineness that moves hearts. Again, as Paul reminds us in Galatians, we live our lives with patient endurance. Perhaps sometimes we lose our nerve a bit. It takes confidence and courage to live in a kindly manner. Perhaps that becomes an excuse for harshness, self-righteousness, and arrogance. And there goes the “muscle car” syndrome again.

There is something about kindness that makes us let go of controlling others. Practicing kindness is a leap of faith, trusting that somehow another person, someone we know or a complete stranger, will be touched by an act that will transform and change. The saying “Let go and let God” contains a lot of truth and wisdom.

I write this column on Pentecost Sunday. What a great event in the early Church as people keyed into the power of the Holy Spirit in their own lives. What a marvelous transformation took place! For the early Christians, Pentecost opened up a great new frontier. Today I suspect we are also at the point of a new frontier in our world. Can you imagine what would happen if all of us within the Church lived lives of radical kindness? That lifestyle would be a powerful witness to the fact that we are indeed people of the Spirit. It would indeed be an act of profound trust, and God alone knows the transforming effect those actions might have on our world.

Kind people, let us be on our way!

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