Unexpected Kindness and Unexpected Prejudice

Yesterday Quietnun and I were standing in an IKEA car-park looking at a heavy flat-pack we needed to load into the car when along came a very nice couple who offered to help. The awkward package was in the car in a jiffy. Bro Duncan PBGV immediately turned on his own peculiar brand of high-octane charm and we all parted the best of friends. Such instances of unexpected kindness are far from rare, but we often overlook them because we like to think we’d do the same in similar circumstances. As we get older, however, or illness saps our strength, or we simply find we lack the necessary skill or confidence to do something, our gratitude becomes the more profound because we know that, without the other’s help, we’d be in a very difficult situation. I often think of those who have helped me in unexpected ways and ask a blessing on them.

I was musing on this as the basis for a blog post when I encountered a couple of instances of anti-Catholic prejudice online. I was surprised because they came from fellow Christians, and because I had tended to assume that one good result from all the ecumenical endeavours of recent years was less hostility among the denominations. The fact that I was surprised is evidence that something has been achieved, but still, it made me think.

Spontaneous acts of kindness and generosity, like spontaneous reactions of unkindness or prejudice, are as much habit as anything else. We can, and should, cultivate what used to be called good habits, but most of the time we just don’t think: we act or speak, and there’s the rub. The kind couple we met yesterday saw our difficulty and unhesitatingly offered to help. They did not pass by on the other side, pretending not to see us (something we British are very good at), nor did they regard what they were doing as in any way unusual. They just acted, and I feel confident that they are as helpful to others. Similarly, I suspect my anti-Catholic friends are unaware of their prejudice and would be amazed if they were to be taxed with it.

In the monastery such unawareness is contrary to the close watch over the actions of our life that the Rule demands we keep (see RB 7). Our spontaneity must always proceed from good habit and delight in virtue. As such, it should always be positive, always help build others up. Today would be a good day for thinking about how we ourselves behave. It may not be physical help we are asked to give but a listening ear or a kind word, or even just a smile. The question is, do we?


12 thoughts on “Unexpected Kindness and Unexpected Prejudice”

  1. Two brothers, Clemente and Donato (my great-great grandfather) immigrated to escape poverty on the shores of Lake Como. They settled in England and had families. As time passed Clemente’s descendants were good Catholics and one of them, Chales Vincent Borelli, became a priest. Donato’s daugher and grandson both had ten children and they all went to church but couldn’t transport everyone to and from the RC church so went to the nearest, which was Baptist. So I grew up eventually in the C of E.
    When my mum died I had just made contact with Fr Charles (now sadly dead) and he arranged to take my mother’s funeral jointly with the Anglican vicar. I don’t want to turn my back on my Anglican roots, but how I would love to have joint CofE/RC membership! Can’t u derstand prjudice at all. Life takes us in different directions but God loves us all.

    • A serious answer to your question. It is not prejudice to say ‘I believe something you don’t’; and unless and until we share the same faith, the idea of ‘joint membership’ is an impossibility. In the meantime, it is our duty to work and pray for unity and joint services, such as you describe, are often helpful. However, there do come points where we have to say, ‘No, I can’t.’ For example, when the High Church vicar of a parish I used to belong to said ‘It doesn’t matter’ when some of the Precious Blood was spilled on the carpet during a Mass in the chapel belonging to a local Catholic family, something inside me recoiled with horror. I know she was thinking about the carpet; I was thinking about the spilled chalice, and my ritual cleansing of the carpet mattered. Let us pray for unity.

  2. I loved this post. I use a mobility scooter because I cannot walk any distance and I find the vast majority of people are so kind and helpful, offering to reach things down off high shelves in Tesco, making space for me on narrow pavements. People in Britain are notoriously reserved and don’t want to intrude, but where a need is known they are mostly very generous, whether it is helping to load a car, or giving money to the family of a man who was murdered at Easter for being the wrong kind of Muslim in the eyes of his killer. So much help is freely given if we make our needs known. And I find that goes for prayer as well. My respect and best wishes as always .

  3. Thank you sisters the reminder is well appreciated and timely,as you mentioned Life might get on the way for some of us and we are taxed to the max not thinking of others !
    FYI I can’t do IKEA any more it is a stressful store. Glad your up to that maze Hugs and Blessings Donna

  4. I grew up in a church-going Presbyterian family, but I was in close contact with a rabidly anti-Catholic uncle. I never found out why he felt like that, in spite of his verbosity on the subject, but the contrast with my close family ensured that I would never follow his lead.

    • I submitted too soon! I wanted to say that in our old age, we have found the world to be full of people willing to give us unstinting help in all walks of life.

  5. I have to admit once or twice ” passing on the other side” either I was in too much of a rush or just felt unable to get involved. Nowadays, that’s in the distant past, and I will step into to offer assistance if I feel it’s necessary. Although, I sometimes wonder if my offer to assist, which is spurned, is me, over reacting in believing someone could do with some help – but it doesn’t stop my offering.

    The other aspect that you speak off – the anti-Catholic prejudice that you have met or experienced, is perhaps unexpected as relations between denominations has improved beyond all reccognition. Locally, the Catholic church is a Franciscan foundation, and during Lent, they welcomed people from all local churches to a number of study meetings, and I know, that some from our anglican parish and well as some local baptists attended and came back with nothing but praise for both the reception that they received and the teaching, prayer and working together that they experienced. In our Ecumenical relationships, the RC Churches (we have two in our patch) figure prominently and they also run both primary and secondary schools that are both over subscribed and rated highly as well. Like our local CofE primary and secondary schools it seems that people of faith or without faith, still want to send their children their to experience the type of education that they might not receive in secular state schools.

    Our parish runs an Arts and Crafts Club, and two ladies from our Local RC parish, come to that and are full members of the club. They speak well of their faith, which is refreshing, as many people are reticent of talking about faith, particular with others of a different denomination – but they demonstrate to us that their parish is alive and well in Jesus Christ, just as is ours. That demonstrates perhaps, that more unites us than divides us. And for me, that God has placed me in the right context, which isn’t necessarily that far removed from my Catholic heritage.

    And the incident that you speak off of the spillage of consecrated wine, would be dealt with in our Parish, with the reverence that you describe in your case. And we’re not particularly high or Anglo Catholic. I prefer to describe it as being aware of the sacramental nature of what we do – meaning that we demonstrate by our actions, our belief in the sacredness of the sacraments.

  6. Sister, you’ve hit on one of my favorite topics! Right now, because of various chronic illnesses, I am not working, and it’s easy at times to give in to feelings of a lack of purpose and meaning as I go through my days.

    One thing I have resolved upon, however, is that my “job” is showing lovingkindness to everyone. Generally, it means treating everyone with kindness, respect, and to offer help. But more than that, it’s showing real recognition and awareness that my “neighbor,” like, for example, the check-out person at the shop, deserves to be spoken to as a “neighbor,” with all that means, to be looked at in the eyes and greeted as a valued person and part of my day. Maybe this is easier for an American, but I don’t think that’s necessarily so. It really means truly recognizing the other, the neighbor, as a fellow human, child of God, and worthy of all the respect I can offer.

    I have read that those who receive these recognitions or acknowledgments of kindness are highly likely to pass them on to the next person(s), and the effect can be scientifically measured to change the happiness of thousands of people in a day, like the beating of the butterfly’s wings in the Amazon can affect the world’s weather.

    Whatever our culture, surely we can make a real practice of love in the way we interact with those as humble as ourselves, going about our usual daily grind, and transform their days by sharing the lovingkindness and true respect they deserve as children of God. It also does wonders for giver!

    “Quoniam in aeternam misericordia eius! (Ps. 135/136)

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