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?