Bishop Hying

In the spirit of St. Nicholas, generously practice love and kindness

      December 6 falls on the Second Sunday of Advent this year but is also the traditional feast of St. Nicholas. Serving as a bishop in what is now Turkey in the fourth century, Nicholas was renowned for his love and generosity towards the poor, often secretly leaving food, clothing and gifts at people’s doors in the middle of the night. This generous practice of kindness made him the great inspiration for Santa Claus. His feast is a warm-up for Christmas, as children who leave shoes or stockings out the night before, will find them filled with gifts and goodies in the morning.

      Nicholas inspired me to reflect on kindness - the basic love, goodness and generosity that eases suffering, sadness and loneliness, the thoughtful gesture that can turn a so-so day into a delight. There can never be enough kindness in the world and a little bit of it can go a long way towards brightening the life of another person. Here are some things that I try to work on consistently (and fail at regularly) to thread more kindness into my relationships with others.

      Be gentle.  In a world that is sometimes harsh and cold, a gentle word, a note of thanks, a caustic comment withheld, patient listening, all can transform the life of another. Oftentimes, we take out our anger and stress on the people that least deserve it - our family. Cutting remarks and angry comments can be apologized for but not always erased from the memories and hearts of the people around us.  Sometimes, it’s easier to be kinder to strangers than our relatives or co-workers.  Gentleness reflects the peace and joy of the Lord.

      Give the benefit of the doubt. I can easily rush to judgment without knowing all the facts and often put a negative interpretation on the actions of another without fully understanding the situation.  Presuming good will and proper intentions saves me from slandering, misjudging and gossiping about others. 

      How much more understanding would I be if I completely knew the real story of another person’s difficulties and crosses?  As the saying goes, “Be kind to everyone you meet because they are all fighting a hard battle.”

      Go the extra mile.  When I am trying to accomplish my tasks and agenda, the needs and requests of others can feel like intrusions and obstacles. I try to see the interruptions as my real work - taking the time to really listen to someone who has a problem, making that extra pastoral visit, calling someone who is grieving - are the little things that often make a world of difference to another person. We can never know how one kind gesture or word will transform the life of someone, giving them hope and courage to go on.  There is no love without sacrifice.

     Stop complaining. No one is attracted to crabbiness. No one looks at a complaining, negative, griping person and says, “I want more of that in my life!” There is certainly a lot to be sad and negative about in the world - poverty, malnutrition, violence, terrorism, abortion, abused children, despair - but giving in to hopelessness only increases the darkness. We may carry some heavy crosses and life will break our hearts, but the good always outweighs the bad. My gratitude list is always longer than my complaint sheet. Joyful hope and a positive spirit buoy the lives of those around us. Are people happier, more hopeful and more at peace because they encountered me today?

      Help the poor. An integral component of the Gospel is to love and serve the poor in the name of Christ. The Church holds up both charity and justice, calling us to serve the immediate needs of those who are trapped in poverty and suffering, but also to advocate for the needed social transformation that attacks poverty at its roots. As Nicholas and so many of the saints discovered, Jesus comes to us in the distressing disguise of the poor. To love and serve someone in need with friendship, time, attention, money and food is to touch Christ Himself. 

      While we work for a just and equitable social order, we help the people who fall between the economic cracks now, so that they have the necessities to live a dignified and human life. Many years ago, my family decided to stop giving gifts to each other for Christmas; everybody has everything they could possibly need or want. We give the money to charities instead to benefit those with the least.  Wouldn’t this be a great year to break with some of the consumerism that surrounds us and keep Christmas simple?

      When I was the rector of a seminary, I would often exhort the seminarians to simply be kind to people, to be flexible on the things that can be adjusted, to lift others up and to be gently merciful. “You may not be another Fulton Sheen in the pulpit or the greatest administrator, but if you are simply kind and loving to your people and do your best, you will be a faithful and effective pastor,” I would say. What I encouraged our future priests to embrace can apply to all of us.

      As St. Paul says, “Love covers a multitude of sins” and in I Corinthians, he reminds us that we can do the greatest things imaginable but if we act without love in our hearts, none of it matters. Advent and Christmas are all about Love coming to our rescue and saving us from sin and death. Love never fails.


+ Donald J. Hying



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