Selfishness and Humility in the Spiritual Life

Father Faber states: “There is always a certain sort of selfishness in the spiritual life. The order of charity rules it so. Our first consideration is the glory of God in our own souls. . . . Hence, even while speaking of kindness, it is not out of place for us to consider the work which it does for ourselves.”

“Foremost among the common ways in which kind actions benefit ourselves may be mentioned the help they give us in getting clear of selfishness. The tendency of nature to love itself has more the character of a habit than a law. Opposite conduct always tends to weaken it, which would hardly be the case if it were a law. Kindness, moreover, partly from the pleasure, which accompanies it, partly from the blessing it draws down upon itself, and partly from its similitude to God, tends very rapidly to set into a well-formed habit. Selfishness is in no slight degree a point of view from which we regard things. Kindness alters our view by altering our point of view. Now, does anything tease us more than our selfishness? Does anything more effectually retard our spiritual growth? . . . On the whole, selfishness must be put down, or our progress will cease.”

“Kindness seems to know of some secret fountain of joy deep in the soul which it can touch without revealing its locality, and cause to send its waters upwards and overflow the heart. Inward happiness almost always follows a kind action; and who has not long since experienced in himself that inward happiness is the atmosphere in which great things are done for God? . . . Much grace goes along with kindness.”

“Men grow kinder as they grow older. . . . As kindness in the natural world implies age, in the spiritual world it implies grace. It does not belong to the fervour of beginnings, but to the solidity of progress. Indeed, Christian kindness implies so much grace that it almost assures the exercise of humility. A proud man is seldom a kind man. Humility makes us kind, and kindness makes us humble.”

“It would be foolish to say that humility is an easy virtue. The very lowest degree of it is a difficult height to climb. But this much must be said for kindness, that it is the easiest road to humility, and infallible as well as easy; and is not humility just what we want, just what we are this moment coveting, just what will break down barriers, and give us free course on our way to God?”

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

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Kindness Supplants Pride

Father Faber points out a dilemma: “Few men can do without praise, and there are few circumstances under which a man can be praised without injuring him.”

He observes: “Some men can do without the praise of others because their own is so unfailing. Their vanity enables them to find self-praise sufficient. Vanity is the most comfortable of vices. The misfortune is, that nevertheless it is a vice. Some try to do without praise, and grow moody and critical, which shows their grace was not adequate for their attempt. Some do without praise because they are all for God, but, alas! it would not occupy us long to take the census of that portion of the world’s population. Most men must have praise. Their fountains dry up without it. Everyone in authority knows this well enough. He has to learn to praise without seeming to praise.”

“Kindness has all the virtues of praise without its vices. It is equally medicinal without having the poisonous qualities. When we are praised, we are praised at some expense, and at our own expense. Kindness puts us to no expense, while it enriches those who are kind to us. Praise always implies some degree of condescension, and condescension is a thing intrinsically ungraceful, whereas kindness is the most graceful attitude one man can assume towards another. So here is another work it does. It supplies the place of praise. It is, in fact, the only sort of praise which does not injure, the only sort which is always and everywhere true, the only kind which those who are afraid of growing conceited may welcome safely.”

“A kind man is a man who is never self-occupied. He is genial, he is sympathetic, he is brave. How shall we express in one word these many things which kindness does for us who practise it? It prepares us with a special preparation for the paths of the disinterested love of God.”

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

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The Power of Kindness

Father Faber exclaims, “Oh, what a wretched thing it is to be unkind!” He continues: “If we have no notion of the far-reaching mischief which unkindness does, so neither can we rightly estimate the good which kindness may do. Very often a heart is drooping. It is bending over itself lower and lower. The cloud of sadness thickens. Temptations lie all around, and are multiplying in strength and number every moment. Everything forebodes approaching sin. Not so much as a kind action, not so much as a kind word, but the mere tone of voice, the mere fixing of the eye, has conveyed sympathy to the poor suffering heart, and all is right again in one instant. The downcast soul has revived under that mere peep of human sunshine, and is encouraged to do bravely the very thing which in despondency it had almost resolved to leave undone. That coming sin might have been the soul’s first step to an irretrievable ruin. That encouragement may be the first link of a new chain, which, when its length is finished, shall be called final perseverance.”

“Moreover, kindness is infectious. . . . One kind action leads to another. By one we commit ourselves to more than one. Our example is followed. The single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make fresh trees, and the rapidity of the growth is equal to its extent. But this fertility is not confined to ourselves, or to others who may be kind to the same person to whom we have been kind. It is chiefly to be found in the person himself whom we have benefited. This is the greatest work which kindness does to others—that it makes them kind themselves. The kindest men are generally those who have received the greatest number of kindnesses. . . . As we become kinder ourselves by practising kindness, so the objects of our kindness, if they were kind before, learn now to be kinder, and to be kind now if they were never so before. 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.”

Thus, Father Faber concludes: “There is no better thing which we can do for others than to be kind to them, and our kindness is the greatest gift they can receive, except the grace of God.”

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

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Kindness Helps Prevent Evil and Promote Good

Father Faber shows how recipients of kind acts receive two benefits: they are discouraged from committing evil, and they are encouraged to do good.

Concerning the first, he says that an act of kindness can help prevent a person from committing a graver sin than he otherwise would have committed. “It is probable that no man ever had a kind action done to him who did not in consequence commit a sin less than he otherwise would have done.” And, he adds: “There are few gifts more precious to a soul than to make its sins fewer.”

Concerning the second benefit, Father Faber asserts that the recipient of an act of kindness is encouraged to do good. “We may see floods of grace descend on the disheartened soul, and it shows no symptom of reviving. Grace runs off it as the rain runs from the roofs. . . . We all of us need encouragement to do good. The path of virtue, even when it is not uphill, is rough and stony, and each day’s journey is a little longer than our strength admits of. . . . You may love God, and love Him truly, as you do, and high motives may be continually before you. Nevertheless, you must be quite conscious to yourself of being soon fatigued—nay, perhaps of a normal lassitude growing with your years; and you must remember how especially the absence of sympathy tried you, and how all things began to look like delusion because no one encouraged you in your work. Alas! how many noble hearts have sunk under this not ignoble weariness! How many plans for God’s glory have fallen to the ground, which a bright look or a kind eye would have propped up! But either because we were busy with our own work, and never looked at that of others, or because we were jealous, and looked coldly and spoke critically, we have not come with this facile succour to the rescue, not so much of our brother, as of our dearest Lord Himself! How many institutions for the comfort of the poor or saving of souls have languished more for want of approbation than of money!”

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

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What Kindness Does For a Person

Father Faber writes: “What does kindness do for those to whom we show it? We have looked at its office on a grand scale in the whole world; let us narrow our field of observation, and see what it does for those who are its immediate objects. What we note first as of great consequence, is the immense power of kindness in bringing out the good points of the characters of others. Almost all men have more goodness in them than the ordinary intercourse of the world enables us to discover. Indeed, most men, from the glimpses we now and then obtain, carry with them to the grave much undeveloped nobility. Life is seldom so varied or so adventurous as to enable a man to unfold all that is in him. A creature who has got capabilities in him to live forever can hardly have room in threescore years to do more than give specimens of what he might be and will be.”

“But, beside this, who has not seen how disagreeable and faulty characters will expand under kindness? Generosity springs up fresh and vigorous from under a superincumbent load of meanness. Modesty suddenly discloses itself from some safe cavern where it has survived years of sin. Virtues come to life. . . . It is wonderful what capabilities grace can find in the most unpromising character. It is a thing to be much pondered.”

“But Kindness does not reveal these things to us external spectators only. It reveals a man to himself. It rouses the long-dormant self-respect with which grace will speedily ally itself, and purify it by the alliance. Neither does it content itself with making a revelation. It develops as well as reveals; it gives these newly disclosed capabilities of virtue, vigour and animation. It presents them with occasions; it even trains and tutors them. It causes the first actions of the recovering soul to be actions on high principles, and from generous motives. It shields and defends moral convalescence from the dangers which beset it. A kind act has picked up many a fallen man.”

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

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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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