What Mr. Rogers Shows Us About Holiness
We often fail to appreciate the power of small, loving gestures towards people, of taking the time to acknowledge them as good. Right under our noses, we get too busy to savor the goodness of God in people, in beauty and in our very backyards. Rushing through life, we waste many opportunities to praise God and to be good neighbors. The cardinal virtue of justice, a virtue that Venerable Concepción Cabrera (1862-1937) says is “almost nonexistent in the world” is a very powerful force in “being a good Samaritan” for it helps us “shock the conscience of the World” towards holiness! Justice moves the heart of God and assists us to meet the deepest needs of others for love!
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) challenges us to be people of “social justice,” those able to recognize their own gifts and needs but ones able to share their resources. It calls justice, “a cardinal [or key] virtue” (cf CCC paragraph 1805) that effects our ability to love God and neighbor and “consists in a constant and firm will to give [to God and to neighbor what’s due them]” (cf CCC 1807). God favors the just person with many spiritual helps for “he who pursues justice and kindness will find life and honor” (Proverbs 21:21) with God, rather than worldly acclaim. Justice orders our life of holiness and keeps our deepest purpose in living in view, to be another Christ in the World. As people of justice, according to the Catechism, we are to be in the business of “making neighbors,” of “looking upon [the people around us], without exception, as ‘another self’ above all bearing in mind his life and the means necessary for living it with dignity” (cf CCC 1931). We are meant to effect change, to help redeem the world by how we live. We help redeem the world by offering both physical and spiritual sustenance to others, and discerning how to offer sacrifices on their behalf, in union with Jesus.
To be just, we have to have discernment, to learn to consider the best options from the alternatives and the greatest good we could enact, in the light of the moment, as based on our gifts and God’s presence with us. The virtue of justice helps us recognize God’s gifts to us and unique vocation to impact people. By developing our gifts and the gifts of creation, we have something to share with others because God desires us to share our resources generously.
What are some simple ways to be a good neighbor and practice justice towards people in the midst of the moment? Consider yourself in action. Do you rush through life, pumped up on coffee or have you developed a contemplative pace/tempo that allows you to respond in grace to the needs of others, to be guided and inspired in your actions towards them? Rushing makes the good that we do unstable, while being able to reflect, and consider yourself living in the loving gaze of God, keeps you perked for good.
Living in Iowa, I have come to recognize the neighborliness that justice requires. Although I live in a metro area of Iowa, many practices from the farm still continue that facilitate that “Mr. Rogers” dynamic of holiness. In Iowa, we talk to people we don’t know when we shop, are out in restaurants or in public. We share sugar and eggs with the family next door when they run out. Many of us still buy sweet corn from the corner vender both to help them out and so we can shuck and eat it for dinner. Think about yourself in practice. How often do you speak to people you don’t know? While we each have different temperaments, and live in different situations, some find this easier to do, next time you are out in public, could you offer a stranger some simple eye contact, a quick smile or a pleasant word if the situation allows? Mother Teresa often said that in the West, we struggle with the deepest kind of hunger, loneliness!
Consider how patient you are with others, when you have to wait. A friend of mine at the drive through at a fast food restaurant recounted the story of feeling very frustrated with the woman in the car ahead of her who was taking too long to pay. She said, “’I was muttering something like, why do I always run into the dingbats when I’m in a hurry?’ When it was my turn to pay, I revved my engine to emphasize that I had been waiting. When I pulled up to hand the clerk my money, she smiled and said, ‘The car ahead of you asked to pay for your order. There is no charge for you.’ She said, ‘I just lost my breath. She paid for me when I was so unkind in my thoughts towards her.” How would you assess your attitudes towards people that thwart your plans?
We are called to be people who can handle the delays. We are to be salty, not blended in with the World, and neutralized by comfort but to live in a counter-cultural way as Catholics. In fact, if we’re not considered “weird for the Lord,” I’m not so sure that we’re living our Christian life as God would have us. While some days we do this better than others, we want to keep our mooring, the virtues, most especially that of justice, which functions like a loving navigation system towards holiness. By developing the virtue of justice, we can “shock the conscience of the world” and help people encounter Christ through us.
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