Continung his series on Considering Consecrated Life Father Pat Griffin reflects on Kindness
The promulgation date for Nostra Aetate was October 28, 1965. Like the other texts of Vatican II, it looks to its 50th anniversary in this year. This document, of course, deals with the Church’s relation to non-Christian religions. When one looks at its history, as well as some of its contemporary interpretation, one can see the questions which this treatise has raised about relationships among all the people of God. Centered as it may have been initially on the Catholic Church’s relation to Judaism, its greater import in these days may fall upon Islam. What challenge does the teaching offer us today?
During this past week, I attended a reflection evening centered upon Nostra Aetate. At the Holy Hour, a priest preached on the document and emphasized the virtue of kindness. I will not try to reconstruct his fine effort, but I will draw attention to his starting point and allow it to be mine as well. His initial reflection emerged from an analysis of the word “kindness.” “Kindness” comes from the middle English root related to “kin, kindred.” Actually, when you think about it, this should be obvious. One should treat one’s family with regard because we are “of a kind.” The more I think about it, the more sensible it seems to regard one’s family with love expressed in this way, and then to use this as a model for the way in which we can treat others who are not “of the family.”
Pondering the word “kindness” has been a pleasure for me during this week. I have considered how I do not use the word often enough when speaking about some others. It really is a beautiful idea and sentiment. Whom do you know that you would describe as “kind?” It has a different feel than charitable or loving, don’t you think? When I consider “kindness,” I associate it more with gentleness and meekness and attentiveness. A kind person is someone who holds him/herself back from the fray. The kind person does not laugh loudly or perhaps even smile broadly, but evokes a certain joy in living. The kind person might be more likely to sit and listen with a hand on a shoulder or knee, than to offer advice and push or pull in a given direction.
I ask myself whom I would consider kind in the biblical stories. Perhaps Ruth. Her willingness to stick with her mother-in-law suggests something other than charity to me. There is a goodness of the heart which abides across her relations with this other woman. Perhaps the widow who welcomes Elijah into her home during the drought or Tobit who invites a poor person to dine with him at his table. Some Old Testament characters could be categorized as “kind” and alert to the simple needs of another.
In the New Testament, I am immediately drawn to the Good Samaritan. His care for the wounded man goes beyond the moment. It extends through the night and even makes plans for the future. When we consider the Vincentian Family, perhaps Marguerite Naseau or Catherine Labouré emerge as models of kindness in their simple ministries.
Some years ago, the expression “random acts of kindness” emerged and became a rallying effort in opposition to “random acts of violence” which can be so prevalent in our society. Treating someone well for, seemingly, no reason can set the bar for one’s actions throughout the day. It can also be communicated. Kindness is infectious—on a given day, it may even “go viral.” It appeals to us on lots of levels. When we see one person treating another with selfless care, we are lifted up and challenged.
Interpreting Nostra Aetate through the lens of kindness invokes a productive and positive attitude as one considers a relationship to men and women of other faith traditions. But, this virtue has much broader application in human interactions. The well-known Jewish rabbi and theologian, Abraham Joshua Heschel, had this to say: “When I was young, I used to admire intelligent people; as I grow older, I admire kind people.” As members of the Vincentian Family, we might ask whether or not we would be the objects of such admiration by the way in which we treat those whom we serve.