Posted by: Catholic of Thule | March 31, 2011

Some of Father Faber’s challenging words on the importance of making a habit of kind thoughts and kind words.

I have picked out a few samples from Father Faber’s reflections on the virtue of kindness compiled by Father Jerabek. I have edited my end comments somewhat and included some additional words by Father Faber after further reading and reflection.

The contradiction, which too often exists between our outward actions and our
inward intentions, is only to be detected in the realm of our thoughts, whither none
but God can penetrate, except by guesses, which are not the less
offences against charity because they happen to be correct….

…If a man habitually has kind thoughts of others, and
that on supernatural motives, he is not far from being a saint. Such a man’s
thoughts are not kind intermittingly, or on impulse, or at hap-hazard. His first
thoughts are kind, and he does not repent of them, although they often bring
suffering and disgust in their train. All his thoughts are kind, and he does not
checker them with unkindly ones. Even when sudden passions or vehement
excitements have thrown them into commotion, they settle down into a kindly
humor, and cannot settle otherwise. These men are rare. Kind thoughts are rarer
than either kind words or kind deeds. They imply a great deal of thinking about
others. This in itself is rare. But they imply also a great deal of thinking about
others without the thoughts being criticisms. This is rarer still. Active-minded men
are naturally the most given to criticize; and they are also the men whose thoughts
are generally the most exuberant. Such men therefore must make kind thoughts a
defense against self. By sweetening the fountain of their thoughts, they will destroy
the bitterness of their judgments….

…But kind thoughts imply also a contact with God, and a divine ideal in our minds.
Their origin cannot be anything short of divine. Like the love of beauty, they can
spring from no baser source. They are not dictated by self-interest, nor stimulated
by passion. They have nothing in them which is insidious, and they are almost
always the preludes to some sacrifice of self. It must be from God’s touch that such
waters spring. They only live in the clammy mists of earth, because they breathe
the fresh air of heaven. They are the scent with which the creature is penetrated
through the indwelling of the Creator. They imply also the reverse of a superficial
view of things. Nothing deepens the mind so much as a habit of charity. Charity
cannot feed on surfaces. Its instinct is always to go deeper. Roots are its natural
food. A man’s surfaces are always worse than his real depths. There may be
exceptions to this rule; but I believe them to be very rare. Self is the only person
who does not improve on acquaintance….

…But 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. It has become so natural to
them to judge, however little their own duties or responsibilities are connected with
what they are judging, that the actions of others present themselves to the mind as
in the attitude of asking a verdict from it. All our fellowmen, who come within the
reach of our knowledge, and for the most retired of us the circle is a wide one, are
prisoners at the bar; and if we are unjust, ignorant, and capricious judges, it must
be granted to us that we are indefatigable ones. 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. Our present humor in judging
others reveals to us what our sentence would be if we died now. Are we content to
abide that issue? But, as it is impossible all at once to stop judging, and as it is also
impossible to go on judging uncharitably, we must pass through the intermediate
stage of kind interpretations. Few men have passed beyond this to a habit of
perfect charity, which has blessedly stripped them of their judicial ermine and
their deeplyrooted judicial habits of mind. We ought therefore to cultivate
most sedulously the habit of kind interpretations….

Men’s actions are very difficult to judge. Their real character depends in a great
measure on the motives which prompt them, and those motives are invisible to us.
Appearances are often against what we afterwards discover to have been deeds of
virtue. Moreover a line of conduct is, in its look at least, very little like a logical
process. It is complicated with all manner of inconsistencies, and often deformed by
what is in reality a hidden consistency. Nobody can judge men but God, and we can
hardly obtain a higher or more reverent view of God than that which represents
Him to us as judging men with perfect knowledge, unperplexed certainty, and
undisturbed compassion. Now kind interpretations are imitations of the merciful
ingenuity of the Creator finding excuses for His creatures.

I believe it is reasonably safe to assume that Father is talking about judgments of people’s hearts, real intentions and motives, whither, like our thoughts ‘none but God can penetrate’, according to the manner in which Christ himself commanded us not to judge, and not some kind of moral relativism. Supporting moral relativism would not be kind. However, in an age of moral relativism and the need to counter this by the proclamation of the beautiful objective Truth of God, without which love cannot aspire to become either true and beautiful, it becomes the more important not to believe one can play the part of God in the penetration into men’s hearts and inner thoughts but instead proclaim the truth in love.

This certainly becomes no less of a challenge on the internet where the temptation of making a clever remark at the expense of charity has the added attraction of self-promotion. Not that I believe all of what may be categorised as clever remarks (which is, to my mind,  a wide category which clever and humourous observations with regard to situations, tendencies, general human traits and more) are necessarily infringements of the demands of charity! I believe humour can defuse anger, lighten the mood, and even promote charity if employed in the appropriate way at the appropriate time and in the appropriate spirit, promoting the appropriate spirit. St Teresa, for one, at times employed wit in her writings, as did Father Faber judging from what I am reading by him now and also illustrated in the above.  However, sometimes the opportunity to display one’s wit, and thus both demonstrate one’s cleverness and recruit humour as a powerful weapon, can cloud one’s judgment of the demands of charity or quite simply entice one momentarily to forget about them with such a wide potential audience as presented by the internet. And it is sometimes difficult enough to discern the demands of charity in terms of both kindness and truth without these added temptations.

On the whole it is sobering to consider Father Faber’s claim that we ‘may put down, then, clever speeches as the first and greatest difficulty in the way of kind words.’ A clever man, he says, ‘has a temptation, and it is one of those temptations which appear to border on the irresistible, to say clever things; and somehow clever things are hardly ever kind things. There is a drop either of acid or of bitter in them, and it seems as if that drop was exactly what genius had insinuated….On the whole, to say clever things of others [my emphasis] is hardly ever without sin.’  The accuracy of the words ‘harldy ever’ would probably depend on what sort of things the expression ‘clever things about others’ conjures up in one’s mind, but I believe the least one may say even with the broadest of definitions is that it no doubt fairly frequently involves sin. And in those numerous incidents when clever remarks about others is not without sin, one may not employ it as a weapon even in the service of good as one may not commit an evil even for a good purpose. Trying to discern when one’s clever observations  involve sin is thus not a matter a Catholic can simply ignore, regardless of how irritating and limiting the consideration may seem at any given time when one fails to see it in the light of the splendour of that Truth and Love which in God is one and indistinguishable.

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