How to get good from others
We are all brought into a more or less close intimacy with a certain number of our fellow beings. There is our own family whom we see more often than others, but in addition we may have a wide circle of friends with whom meetings are frequent. Among all these people, we find characters of the most varying dispositions and temperaments. Some of them are naturally attractive, with a charm of manner and an interesting personality that make their company always welcome. On the other hand there are others with whom we are obliged often to consort who are distinctly unattractive and are apt to jar upon our sensibilities. And yet we know that if we are to follow the injunction of Christ, to all, whoever they be, whether naturally pleasing or unpleasing, we must show that charity which is the distinctive mark of His followers.
To all we must show that charity which is the distinctive mark of Christ’s followers
To comply with this commandment of “Love thy neighbour as thyself” we must not forget that we live in a very imperfect world, where few, if any, reach absolute perfection and can be pleasing to us in every possible respect. At the same time we have ever to keep in mind that there is no one, without exception, in whom we cannot discover, if we only take the trouble to look for it, some redeeming good quality. Indeed, it may be that some of these possess, unsuspected by us, virtues that render them more pleasing to us than are our favourites.
Looking for virtues and excellences in others
In the life of that young saint of the Society of Jesus, St John Berchmans, we are told that he made a practice of observing in each member of his community – and though religious they were by no means all saints – the particular virtue or excellence which distinguished the other, and then trying himself to imitate him in that respect. If one, for instance, was remarkable for his charity, St John would take note of the particular ways in which he showed it, and then he would set out to act likewise, according to his opportunities.
Self-love makes humans fix upon another’s faults rather than his merits
This practice of the Saint is one that we ourselves, if we are striving to be fervent Catholic Christians, might follow with great spiritual advantage. The tendency of human nature, as we know, is rather to fix upon the faults of others and to make them the subject of criticism. But the faults we fix upon are generally those that are a cause of annoyance to ourselves. It is our self-love that resents them. If we are not personally affected by them, we are little concerned that God may be in some way affronted and be deprived of some external glory due to Him.
We deprive God of some external glory due to Him
A man may be a throrough-paced blackguard, steeped in the most grievous sin, but if he have engaging manners and makes himself a pleasant companion, doing and saying nothing that hurts the susceptibilities of others, it is extraordinary with what complaisance his bad life is regarded even by those who are considered good.
This fact only brings home to us the truth that when we animadvert upon the failings of those about us it is not as a rule out of any zeal for God’s honour but because such failings in some way or other are offensive and hurtful to ourselves.
You might observe, for instance, that a particular individual of your acquaintance is selfish and generally contrives to get the best things that are going for himself and you might make some very harsh comment on his conduct. But often enough that comment is elicited for no better reason than that his way of acting reduced the chance of your getting any of those best things for yourself.
Questioning one’s motives for criticising neighbour
No, if we are lynx-eyed to the faults and imperfections of others and show a virtuous indignation in denouncing them, we may well suspect the purity of our motives for doing so. Unless we be one in authority whose duty it is to correct, we are better advised to be very shortsighted where others’ shortcomings are concerned, and to see how clever we can be in discovering their virtues. Indeed it requires little cleverness, if only we set ourselves to the task, to find that there is something, and often much, in everyone with whom we are thrown into daily contact that will serve for example to ourselves.
Setting ourselves to the task of discovering good in another
There is a legend that Baring-Gould has commemorated in verse of a young monk who in his monastery was a source of disedification to his fellow religious, because he broke all the rules of decorum, raced about the house, whistled and sang in the silence of the cloisters, shot off pellets of bread at the cat, and did similar things that were not in keeping with the rigid discipline of monastic life. When he fell ill and seemed on the point of dying, the Abbot visited him and, amazed at his cheerfulness, asked him how he could be happy in the presence of death after such an unsatisfactory religious life. “Yes, my Lord Abbot,” humbly replied the poor monk, “I confess all my many infringements of the rule and I beg pardon for them. When I first fell ill, I was much distressed and frightened at the thought of my many defects and I prayed God for His mercy. But when I had sorrowed and prayed there came to me a vision of an angel from heaven, and the angel told me to take heart of grace because all my sins were forgiven me, because of my charity to others that had never consciously failed in thought, in word or in act. And so, my Lord Abbot, I now look by God’s sweet mercy in the face of death without dread.”
Among all your circle, family, friends, acquaintances, there are always one or more that have annoying defects of one kind or another. It will not help you to dwell upon them, much less to talk about them. But if you turn a blind eye to these blemishes, you will have quickened vision to see that in matters of greater moment they exercise a degree of virtue to which you yourself have not yet attained.
There is that rather forbidding blooming man, whom you have sometimes to meet at your club and to whom you have taken a dislike because his manners remind you of a savage. He is a widely at ravelled man, is an authority on some scientific subject, has been through two world wars, winning distinctions. You dislike him. But notice he never talks about himself without absolute necessity, gives no account of his not inconsiderable triumphs, never pushes into the limelight, does not resent it when he is unnoticed, in short it may be said of him what was said of a famous British General, “He doesn’t advertise.” He is a Catholic like yourself and you meet him every Sunday outside the church doors, but you would meet him every day there if you went to Mass every day, as he does, and you would see him going up to Holy Communion every day. That is how he has learnt to be humble and to efface himself, just as his Divine Master was humble and has effaced himself in the Sacrament of the Altar.
Yes, your forbidding-looking man is rather uncouth and boorish in his manners, but if you refrain from dwelling upon that fact you will come to discover what real virtue lies concealed under that rough exterior and you may be incited to imitate what is so good in him.
Looking beyond the exterior
There is that young woman in your family or among your friends who is rather vain and displays her charms for the admiration of those about her. You may be inclined to make some very caustic remarks about her at the expense of charity. But look the other way and you will become aware of the wonderful patience she exhibits. In these hard and suffering times through which we are living it is not surprising that there are many, you perhaps among the number, who are grumbling. But you will notice that the young woman who thinks a little too much about her personal appearance never utters a murmur of discontent.
The virtue of patience
She makes no complaints about the hardships, discomforts, and inconveniences that have followed upon these dreadful wars. Indeed it is remarkable what uniform cheerfulness she shows. She does not plaintively bleat because her portion of meat is small, and tough at that, and she exhibits no impatience because the meals are unpunctually served. She listens unruffled to the oft-repeated and pointless stories of those boring visitors whom as many as can seek to escape. In fine, she is so patient that you may make the mistake of thinking her apathetic and of not taking a lesson from her virtue to control yourself when placed in like circumstances. I think you may say that her vanity is cancelled out by her patience, especially as it is being exercised for supernatural motives.
Countless opportunities to imitate others’ virtue
So you can go round your circle, be it great or small, and always discover something in each one to admire and imitate. Don’t lay stress upon the little outbursts of temper to which the choleric old Colonel, retired from the Indian Army, sometimes gives way, but think of his generous nature which never refuses help when called upon. All that he has seems to be at the disposal of others and he never thinks that others are asking too much of him. There is that aristocratic gentleman who may take undue pride in his birth and the nobility of his family, but against that, you may remark how careful he is never by any word of his to hurt the feelings of others. In the company of one less well educated than himself, he does not exhibit his knowledge in such a way as to show up the ignorance of his neighbour and so to cause humiliation and shame. He remembers that another has not his social advantages and so avoids any topic or remark that may lead to the other’s embarrassment.
Life is about serving God; not about others entertaining us
At first inspection some of the people with whom in the course of our lives we have to live appear very unattractive and dull, and if we are only on the look-out to be entertained and amused we may turn away from them with a feeling that almost amounts to contempt. A little more insight into character and a closer observation will often reveal in such people qualities of mind and heart of much greater worth than those superficially attractive accomplishments we in our self-seeking prefer.
God sees good in all His creatures
But the thought that the all-seeing and infinitely wise God Himself sees good in all His creatures, if for this reason alone that in them all He sees the impress of His own likeness, should be incentive to us to try to regard them with something at least of His vision.
Regarding people with God’s eyes
And when He came down upon this earth and took our human nature, it was the “sinner of the city” whom in her repentance He favoured.
So eager was He to find good in every one, however degraded and condemned by his fellows, that He gladly bore the reproach of being “the friends of publicans and sinners”.
He died making a friend of the felon who in his agony turned to Him for consolation and help. He saw that there was good in all these, even though it was only a glimmer that showed it.
We may pray with great profit to our souls that we may imitate the example of our merciful Saviour, and turning a blind eye to the faults of those about us may see the good in them to the betterment of ourselves.
– From: Lift Up Your Hearts, Christopher J. Wilmot, S.J., The Catholic Book Club, London, 1949