Tag Archives: kindness

Lent 2012: Day 21

Criticism — being mean, in a sense — can be fun. We seem to show off a bit of our mental acumen. “Good one!” people cheer on when someone makes a particularly wittily barbed comment. It’s what “the dozens” is all about. So giving up that potential scoring comment is a form of self-denial — a big idea in Catholicism.

Faber explains it better:

The practice of kind thoughts also tells most decisively on our spiritual life. It leads to great self-denial about our talents and influence. Criticism is an element in our reputation and an item in our influence. We partly attract persons to us by it. We partly push principles by means of it. The practice of kind thoughts commits us to the surrender of all this. It makes us, again and again in life, sacrifice successes at the moment they are within reach. Our conduct becomes a perpetual voluntary forfeiture of little triumphs, the necessary result of which is a very hidden life.

That seems to be a good definition of magnanimity.

The quoted excerpt is from Father Frederick Faber’s Spiritual Conferences, excerpted here.

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Lent 2012: Day 16

[There] is one class of kind thoughts which must be dwelt upon apart. I allude to kind interpretations. The habit of not judging others is one which it is very difficult to acquire, and which is generally not acquired till very late on in the spiritual life. If men have ever indulged in judging others, the very sight of an action almost indeliberately suggests an internal commentary upon it.

An action occurs and what do I do? Being the cynic and pessimist I am, I assume the worse. The cause of the delay is nothing short of contempt for others. The motivation for behavior is nothing short of disrespect of authority. Up-turned corners of the mouth become a smirk. I — and Faber, probably rightly, suggests the majority of others — take personal insult where none is intended, disrespect where none is offered, and cowardice where none is evidenced.

Now all this is simple ruin to our souls. At any risk, at the cost of life, there must be an end of this, or it will end in everlasting banishment from God. The decree of the last judgment is absolute. It is this the measure which we have meted to others.

Perhaps this is what was really meant by “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”

The quoted excerpt is from Father Frederick Faber’s Spiritual Conferences, excerpted here.

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Lent 2012: Day 8

Thus does kindness propagate itself on all sides. Perhaps an act of kindness never dies, but extends the invisible undulations of its influence over the breadth of centuries.

“We can only plant the seeds. We never know how they will grow” It’s a common refrain in teaching, and I always kind of thought it was a cop-out. At times I feel like, quite frankly, such a failure as a teacher. Kids spend 180 days with me, and some of them seem none the better for it. It’s perhaps a useful guilt: it might spur teachers to become better at their job, to seek training and experiences that will increase their effectiveness.

Perhaps an act of kindness never dies

But saying, “We can only plant the seeds” seems somehow to alleviate that guilt. We plant the seeds; it’s up to the kids to tend the resulting crop.

Faber suggests otherwise: it’s not a cop-out. We can sow kindness and know, with some certainty, that it will grow into more kindness. We can know that we’ve had a positive impact on someone’s life. Perhaps it’s a good sign that we’re more willing to admit the opposite, or maybe it’s just another sign of our condition.

The quoted excerpt is from Father Frederick Faber’s Spiritual Conferences, excerpted here.

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Lent 2012: Day 7

I think, with the thought of the Precious Blood, I can better face my sins at the last judgment, than my unkindness, with all its miserable fertility of evil consequences.

Unkindness is easier than kindness, and sometimes more rewarding in a perverse sense, much like heroin is more “rewarding” than a draft of water. But once the high wears off, we look back at that cutting remark or that sneering body language and think ourselves most wretched. We don’t often lie in bed, unable to drift to sleep for the thought of some kindness we shared or even at the thought of some bit of apathy that helped us slide through the day. But unkindness has left me turning in bed and occasionally haunted me into the early morning.

The quoted excerpt is from Father Frederick Faber’s Spiritual Conferences, excerpted here.

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Lent 2012: Day 1


The weakness of man, and the way in which he is at the mercy of external accidents in the world, has always been a favorite topic with the moralists. They have expatiated upon it with so much amplitude of rhetorical exaggeration, that it has at last produced in our minds a sense of unreality, against which we rebel. Man is no doubt very weak. He can only be passive in a thunderstorm, or run in an earthquake. The odds are against him when he is managing his ship in a hurricane, or when pestilence is raging in the house where he lives. Heat and cold, drought and rain, are his masters. He is weaker than an elephant, and subordinate to the east wind. This is all very true. Nevertheless man has considerable powers, considerable enough to leave him, as proprietor of this planet, in possession of at least as much comfortable jurisdiction, as most landed proprietors have in a free country. He has one power in particular, which is not sufficiently dwelt on, and with which we will at present occupy ourselves. It is the power of making the world happy, or at least of so greatly diminishing the amount of unhappiness in it, as to make it quite a different world from what it is at present. This power is called kindness. The worst kinds of unhappiness, as well as the greatest amount of it, come from our conduct to each other. If our conduct therefore were under the control of kindness, it would be nearly the opposite of what it is, and so the state of the world would be almost reversed. We are for the most part unhappy, because the world is an unkind world. But the world is only unkind for the lack of kindness in us units who compose it. Now if all this is but so much as half true, it is plainly worth our while to take some trouble to gain clear and definite notions of kindness. We practice more easily what we already know clearly.


Being a teacher, I am able to exercise this one power of humanity on a daily basis. Children come to me from a range of different environments and daily events. Some come hungry; others come angry. Some come feeling betrayed; others come feeling abandoned. This hunger, anger, betrayal, and abandonment — and the hundred and one other emotions and experiences–can be taken literally, figuratively, or both. This, in a sense, unites us: we all feel hungry, angry, betrayed, and abandoned at some point or another in our lives. And all this stems from the unkindness of the world that we experience every day, with some of us experiencing more of it than others.

So I have to ask myself: when these kids come in grouchy, disrespectful, high-strung, or any other of a million little things that might or might not irritate or anger me, how do I react? Not knowing why this boy is scowling and daring me to say anything at all to him, why this girl is instantly angered by the smallest thing, how can I do anything but exert the one power that I as a human possess? The world is only unkind for the lack of kindness in us units who compose it. I can add to that, or take away from it.

Yet there’s more to it than that. My actions are the best teacher for these kids. We practice more easily what we already know clearly. If I show it clearly, perhaps they will know it clearly; if they know it clearly, perhaps they will begin to show it clearly.

The reading is from Father Frederick Faber’s Spiritual Conferences, excerpted here.

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