Simple Virtues for Us to Cultivate | June 12, 2021 Essay

Jun 7, 2021

What simple virtues can we cultivate to help change our world? In Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis offers us at least three.

Cultivate kindness. Isn’t it a disheartening reflection on the state of our world today that we even have to begin with something so basic? In explaining what this means concretely, Pope Francis references St. Paul who cites kindness as a foundation stone of Christian living. St. Paul…uses the Greek word ‘chrestotes’ which describes an attitude that is gentle, pleasant and supportive, not rude or coarse…This way of treating others can take different forms: an act of kindness, a concern not to offend by word or deed, a readiness to alleviate their burdens. It involves “speaking words of comfort, strength, consolation and encouragement” and not “words that demean, sadden, anger or show scorn [223]. If that is not sufficiently concrete for you, Francis kindly offers you still more specific counsel. Often nowadays we find neither the time nor the energy to stop and be kind to others to say “excuse me,” “pardon me,” “thank you.” Yet every now and then, miraculously, a kind person appears and is willing to set everything else aside in order to show interest, to give the gift of a smile, to speak a word of encouragement, to listen amid general indifference. If we make a daily effort to do exactly this, we can create a healthy social atmosphere in which misunderstandings can be overcome and conflict forestalled [224]. Pope Francis has told us what it means to cultivate kindness, now we simply have to do it!

If we are striving to be persons of kindness, then we will also likely be persons of gratuitousness. We live in a very transactional world. If we do something for another person, we expect that person to do something for us. Thus, we are often not strongly motivated to do something for someone who cannot do anything for us. This is why some people find it easy to be indifferent to the poor, the immigrant, the incarcerated and others not in a position to reciprocate any action on their behalf. A transactional culture is a cold and callous culture. The antidote to that culture is to cultivate gratuitousness; to do for others what is right and good without concern for personal gain or recompense. Life without fraternal gratuitousness becomes a form of frenetic commerce, in which we are constantly weighing up what we give and what we get back in return…We received life freely; we paid nothing for it. Consequently, all of us are able to give without expecting anything in return, to do good to others without demanding that they treat us well in return… “Without cost you have received, without cost you are to give” (Mt.10:8) [140].

Digital media has given us the ability to communicate rapidly and to a broad audience. Unfortunately, what is communicated rapidly and broadly is not always helpful to building up an authentic human community. Pope Francis asks us to cultivate our capacity to do so. We need constantly to ensure that present-day forms of communication are in fact guiding us to generous encounter with others, to honest pursuit of the whole truth, to service, to closeness to the underprivileged and to the promotion of the common good [205]. Think of how different our contemporary discourse would be if we measured every tweet, every text, every email, every phone call against this standard! Why not give it a try in your own communications starting today?

Cultivating simple virtues of kindness, gratuitousness, and communicating in a way that fosters healthy human interactions are a good place to start in changing our world.

– Fr. Mark Hallinan, S.J., Associate Pastor