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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