Kindness Helps Restore a Fallen World

Noting that kindness is of divine origin, Father Faber says of God: “He meant the world to be a happy world, and kindness means it also. He gave it the power to be happy, and kindness was a great part of that very power. By His benediction He commanded creation to be happy; kindness, with its usual genial spirit of accommodation, now tries to persuade a world which has dared to disobey a Divine command.”

Kindness “sets to work to cleanse what is defiled and to restore what is defaced. It sorrows over sin, but, like buoyant-hearted men, it finds in its sorrow the best impulse of its activity. It is labouring always in ten thousand places, and the work at which it labours is always the same—to make God’s world more like His original conception of it. . . . It is constantly winning strayed souls back to Him, opening hearts that seemed obstinately closed, enlightening minds that had been wilfully darkened, skilfully throwing the succours of hope into the strongholds that were on the point of capitulating to despair, lifting endeavour from low to high, from high to higher, from higher to highest.”

“We often begin our own repentance by acts of kindness, or through them. Probably the majority of repentances have begun in the reception of acts of kindness, which, if not unexpected, touched men by the sense of their being so undeserved. Doubtless the terrors of the Lord are often the beginning of that wisdom which we name conversion; but men must be frightened in a kind way, or the fright will only make them unbelievers. Kindness has converted more sinners than either zeal, eloquence, or learning; and these three last have never converted anyone unless they were kind also.”

And Father Faber makes this observation about kindness: “Yet while it lifts us so high, it sweetly keeps us low. For the continual sense which a kind heart has of its own need of kindness keeps it humble. There are no hearts to which kindness is so indispensable as those that are exuberantly kind themselves.”

Quotations from Frederick William Faber, Kindness (London: R. & T. Washbourne, 1901).

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Kindness Helps Us Endure Adversity

Father Faber maintains that kindness makes life more bearable. He explains: “The burden of life presses heavily upon multitudes of the children of men. It is a yoke, often of such a peculiar nature that familiarity, instead of practically lightening it, makes it harder to bear. Perseverance is the hand of time pressing the yoke down on our galled shoulders with all its might. There are many men to whom life is always approaching the unbearable. It stops only just short of it. We expect it to transgress every moment. But without having recourse to these extreme cases, sin alone is sufficient to make life intolerable to a virtuous man. . . . The possibility of sinning, the danger of sinning, the facility of sinning, the temptation to sin, the example of so much sin around us, and, above all, the sinful unworthiness of men much better than ourselves—these are sufficient to make life drain us to the last dregs of our endurance. In all these cases it is the office of kindness to make life more bearable.”

Besides increasing our endurance against adversities, kindness also helps remedy inequities. “It is true that we make ourselves more unhappy than other people make us. No slight portion of this unhappiness arises from our sense of justice being so continually wounded by the events of life, while the incessant friction of the world never allows the wound to heal. There are some men whose practical talents are completely swamped by the keenness of their sense of injustice. They go through life as failures because the pressure of injustice upon themselves, or the sight of its pressing upon others, has unmanned them. If they begin a line of action, they cannot go through with it. They are perpetually shying, like a mettlesome horse, at the objects by the roadside. They had much in them, but they have died without anything coming of them. Kindness steps forward to remedy this evil also. Each solitary kind action that is done the whole world over is working briskly in its own sphere to restore the balance between right and wrong. The more kindness there is on the earth at any given moment, the greater is the tendency of the balance between right and wrong to correct itself, and remain in equilibrium. . . . Kindness is the amiability of justice.”

Quotations from Frederick William Faber, Kindness (London: R. & T. Washbourne, 1901).

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The Kindness of God

Father Faber shows how kindness originates with God. He says: “Creation was Divine kindness. From it, as from a fountain, flow the possibilities, the powers, the blessings, of all created kindness. This is an honourable genealogy for kindness. Then, again, kindness is the coming to the rescue of others when they need it, and it is in our power to supply what they need, and this is the work of the attributes of God towards His creatures. His omnipotence is forever making up our deficiency of power. His justice is continually correcting our erroneous judgments. His mercy is always consoling our fellow-creatures under our hard-heartedness. His truth is perpetually hindering the consequences of our falsehood. His omniscience makes our ignorance succeed as if it were knowledge. His perfections are incessantly coming to the rescue of our imperfections. This is the definition of Providence, and kindness is our imitation of this Divine action.”

“Kindness is also like Divine grace, for it gives men something which neither self nor Nature can give them. What it gives them is something of which they are in want, or something which only another person can give, such as consolation; and besides this, the manner in which this is given is a true gift in itself.”

“Kindness adds sweetness to everything. It is kindness which makes life’s capabilities blossom, and paints them with their cheering hues, and endows them with their invigorating fragrance. Whether it waits on its superiors, or ministers to its inferiors, or disports itself with its equals, its work is marked by a prodigality which the strictest discretion cannot blame. It does unnecessary work, which when done looks the most necessary work that could be. If it goes to soothe a sorrow, it does more than soothe it. If it relieves a want, it cannot do so without doing more than relieve it. Its manner is something extra.”

“Last of all, the secret impulse out of which kindness acts is an instinct which is the noblest part of ourselves, the most undoubted remnant of the image of God which was given us at the first. We must, therefore, never think of kindness as being a common growth of our nature, common in the sense of its being of little value. It is the nobility of man. In all its modifications it reflects a heavenly type. It runs up into eternal mysteries. It is a Divine thing rather than a human one, and it is human because it springs from the soul of man just at the point where the Divine image was graven deepest. Such is kindness.”

Quotations from Frederick William Faber, Kindness (London: R. & T. Washbourne, 1901).

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Weak, Yet Strong

Here and in the next several posts, we shall hear from Father Frederick William Faber (1814-1863) on the subject of kindness. Faber was an Oxford scholar and Anglican priest who converted to Roman Catholicism in 1845, following his mentor John Henry (later Cardinal) Newman. Father Faber was a beloved spiritual writer, preacher, and superior of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri in London. The book Kindness bears the imprimatur of Herbert Cardinal Vaughan of the Archdiocese of Westminster.

Father Faber observes: “The weakness of man, and the way in which he is at the mercy of external accidents in the world, has always been a favourite topic with the moralists. . . . 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. . . . 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.”

Since “we practice more easily what we already know clearly,” Father Faber sets out to define kindness. He says: “Kindness is the overflowing of self upon others. We put others in the place of self. We treat them as we would wish to be treated ourselves. We change places with them. For the time self is another, and others are self. Our self-love takes the shape of complacence in unselfishness.”

Quotations from Frederick William Faber, Kindness (London: R. & T. Washbourne, 1901).

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Moses and the Power of Prayer

Father Girardey remarks: “One of the most beautiful examples of this power of prayer over God Himself is given us by Moses.” It happened in this way:

“Whilst Moses was spending on Mount Sinai forty days in fasting and prayer, communing with God and receiving from Him the tables of the Ten Commandments and the necessary directions to draw up the Old Law for the Israelites, these latter fell into idolatry, adoring the golden calf. . . . God said to Moses: ‘Go, get thee down; thy people whom thou hast brought out of the land of Egypt, hath sinned. They have quickly strayed from the way, which thou didst show them; and they made themselves a molten calf, and have adored it and sacrificed victims to it. . . . Let Me alone, that My wrath may be kindled against them, and that I may destroy them.'”

“Why does God ask Moses to let Him alone and not to prevent Him from destroying the Israelites? What could Moses do against God’s will and His almighty power? Of himself he could do nothing! But Moses could pray for the Israelites and implore God to forgive them. The very words of God were a sufficient hint to Moses about the power he could wield in restraining God’s justice and obtaining mercy for the idolatrous people. Moses took the hint and ‘besought the Lord, saying: Why, O Lord, is thy indignation enkindled against Thy people? . . . Let Thy anger cease, and be appeased upon the wickedness of Thy people. . . . And the Lord was appeased from doing the evil which He had spoken against His people’ (Exod 32:1-14).”

“This clearly shows us the almighty power of prayer, that its power is so great as to be able to stay the divine justice irritated against the sinner. . . . Wherefore St. Augustine says: ‘In order to escape the punishments of God’s justice, we sinners have only to pray to Him for mercy.’ . . . Our confidence in prayer should, therefore, know no bounds.”

Quotations from Ferreol Girardey, Prayer: Its Necessity, Its Power, Its Conditions (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1916).

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Examples of the Power of Prayer

Father Girardey notes that “both the Old and the New Testaments are full of examples of the efficacy, of the unlimited power of prayer.” Here are some examples:

“Josue, who led the Israelites in the conquest of the Promised Land, seeing on one occasion that the day was too short to enable the Israelites to reap the fruits of their victory, prayed to God and commanded the sun, which was about to set, to stand still; and the sun obeyed and remained above the horizon, and did not set until the victory was complete.”

“Whilst Josue was with the army giving battle, Moses was praying on a neighboring hill for the success of the Israelites; “and when Moses lifted up his hands (to heaven), Israel overcame; but if he let them down a little (slackened in his prayer), Amalec overcame.”

“David had committed two great crimes and thereby given great scandal to the whole nation. When he had been made aware of the extent of his guilt, he repented most sincerely and earnestly and bitterly implored the mercy of God, and obtained forgiveness.”

“At Jonas’ preaching the Ninevites did penance and prayed God for mercy, and thereby escaped destruction. Judith by her prayer obtained the opportunity and the courage to save her city Bethulia from capture and destruction. It was by prayer that the three heroic young men cast into a glowing furnace at Babylon were wonderfully saved from being burned to death, that Tobias and Sara were freed from their misfortunes, that Esther obtained the safety of her people, that Daniel remained unhurt in the lions’ den, and that the chaste Susanna obtained the proof of her innocence and thus saved both her reputation and her life.”

“In the New Testament the proofs of the boundless power of prayer are almost countless, especially in the cures Jesus Christ effected in answer to prayer.”

“In the Acts of the Apostles we read that St. Peter was on the eve of being put to death for the faith, but was miraculously freed from prison and death by an angel, for the whole Church was praying for his deliverance.”

“The first conversion among the pagans to the Christian religion was that of the centurion Cornelius and his household, as the angel told him; it was in answer to his prayers and alms-deeds.”

Quotations from Ferreol Girardey, Prayer: Its Necessity, Its Power, Its Conditions (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1916).

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How God Answers Prayers

Christ declared: “Amen, amen I say to you, if you ask the Father anything in My name, He will give it to you. . . . Ask and you shall receive.” (John 16:23, 24) On another occasion He said: “Every one that asketh, receiveth, and he that seeketh, findeth, and to him that knocketh it shall be opened” (Matt 7:8). . . . Father Girardey remarks: “Who but a divine Person could have made so generous a promise and been able and absolutely reliable to keep it faithfully?”

“God wills our salvation, for St. Paul says: ‘God willeth all men to be saved’ (1 Tim 2:4).” He is “ever willing and ready to help us to do all that is necessary for our salvation, if we only ask Him for His assistance. . . . And if we do not obtain His help, it is because we do not want it, for, if we did, we would surely ask it of Him.”

“God will not save us against our will, for He has endowed us with a free will and ever respects our free will and never will deprive it of its freedom. To be saved, we must have the sincere desire, the will to be saved. If we have this and nourish this sincere desire, this will, we shall devote ourselves to the work of our salvation, and finding the work above our weak, unaided efforts, we shall pray God to help us in this most arduous work, and the more earnest and persistent our prayer, the more powerful will be His help, and His help added to our own earnest exertions will enable us to secure our place in heaven for all eternity. . . . Hence if we are not saved, but are lost, we shall have only ourselves to blame for not having done what we could do to be saved. Wherefore, God says to the lost sinner: ‘Destruction is thy own (work), Israel; thy help is only in Me’ (Hos 13:9).”

“To do our share in the work of our salvation, we need to have the earnest desire, the firm determination to be saved, cost what it may. If we lack this earnest desire, this firm determination, let us persistently pray God for it, and He will grant it to us.”

Quotations from Ferreol Girardey, Prayer: Its Necessity, Its Power, Its Conditions (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1916).

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