What makes Christian kindness to be Christian? The substance of Christian kindness doesn’t seem different from any other kindness. The corporal works of mercy, for example, are things that most people who aren’t Christians would still consider to be kindnesses. Rather, kindness is Christian because of the one to whom the kindness is shown. If it is Christian kindness, then it is a kindness like the kindness of Christ, who while we were still sinners died for us. Thus, as a Christian it is not enough to give food to a hungry friend or to visit one’s son in prison. Remember the words of Christ: “I say to you, love your enemies … For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same?” (Mt 5:44-46). Christian kindness must be directed toward an enemy as much as toward a friend, toward a stranger as much as toward a family member.
This is seen nowhere more clearly than in the call to evangelization given to all Christians. Jesus Christ describes the Christian as “the light of the world” and therefore instructs Christians to “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Mt 5:14,16). What are these good works but acts of Christian kindness? The good works that we do and the kindness that we show reveals God’s glory to friends, family, enemies, and strangers. For this reason, Catholic hospitals, schools, orphanages, refuges, and other institutions founded for the welfare of mankind are vital to the Christian mission of spreading the Gospel. Likewise, the myriad Catholics who volunteer their time do not only care for the physical welfare of their neighbor but also prepare the way for the preaching of the Gospel.
As Pope Gregory XVI elucidates concerning missionaries in his encyclical On the Propagation of the Faith, there are three primary aspects of evangelization: to go out to where evangelization is needed, to bring the peace of Christ through Christian kindness to those suffering physical and spiritual ailments, and to impart true faith and real virtue. He clearly emphasizes the need for acts of Christian kindness before the true faith can be received. Indeed, he specifically describes the effect of Christian kindness as pacification. Thus, acting out Christian kindness is a living out of Christ’s call in the beatitudes to be a peacemaker. Receiving such peace is the first preparation for receiving the Gospel. In other words, if we desire to be evangelists, first we must show kindness.
Image: David Teniers the Younger, The Works of Mercy.