Holiness is more than being”Nice.”

101513We live in a time that has tended to reduce holiness to merely being nice and agreeable. In this manner of thinking holiness tends to be variously thought of as: getting along well with everyone, being kind, agreeable, helpful, likable, generous, pleasant, mild mannered, amiable, good humored, middle of the road, even tempered, placid, benevolent, friendly, forbearing, tolerant, thoughtful, and the like. It can all be summed up by saying that “so-and-so” is “basically a nice person.” And thus the goal seems more to be nice than holy.

If you think this isn’t so, listen to how people talk at funerals. “Wow, Joe was a great guy!….We’re all gonna miss his jokes….Joe liked everybody! Joe would do anything for you!” Now all this is fine. But did Joe pray? Did Joe raise his kids in the fear of the Lord? Did Joe set a moral example that summoned others to holiness? Maybe he did but people don’t usually talk about that at the wake service. All that seems to matter is that Joe was a “great guy.” But the goal in life is not just to be a great guy, it is to be holy.

Now, none of the qualities listed above the previous paragraphs are wrong or bad. But the problem is that we have largely reduced holiness to these sorts of qualities, to being “basically a nice person.” Oh sure, holy people will be known to pray and that sort of stuff but God forbid that some one might exhibit righteous anger or rebuke sin. No, that wouldn’t be nice at all! It’s wrong to upset people isn’t it? And thus we tend to limit what holiness should be like.

But true holiness, while it does not seek a fight, does not easily fit into this world’s schemes and categories. It tends to run against the grain and upset the status quo. Jesus could surely be kind, merciful and forgiving. But he was also holy. And true holiness does not compromise the truth, does not go along to get along. It does not remain silent just so everyone can be happy and unoffended. Jesus did not end up on the Cross because he was “basically a nice person.” He spoke the truth in love. He prophetically denounced hypocrisy, duplicity, sin and injustice. It is true he also blessed children and repentant sinners found refuge in him and a strong advocate. But Jesus was no fool, and he didn’t just go around slapping every one’s back and being nice. Jesus was holy. And holiness is hot to the touch. It is not easily endured by the tepid and worldly minded. They killed him for it.

Too many Christians have substituted niceness for holiness and hence endure almost no hostility from the world. Too many Christians think that getting along and being popular is their main task. Having enemies is somehow “unchristian.” Never mind that Jesus told us to love our enemies (which presupposes we have some). No, having enemies is surely a sign that we are not getting along with people and that is not very nice (err….”holy”).

Now this attitude is deadly to living a prophetic Christian witness. Of course the word “witness” is Biblically tied to the word “martyr.” Martyrs do not end up dead by being nice. They usually end up dead or at least persecuted by running afoul of the world’s norms and priorities. And when told to be nice and go along to get along, they declined and continued as an irritant to a world that demands compromise with evil, approval of sin, and silence about faith. But this is our call, not to be nice, to be holy. Holy means “set apart,” “distinct from what is around it.”

There is a place for niceness and ordinary human kindness. But the point is that holiness cannot be reduced to this. There are times where holiness demands that we speak out strongly and unambiguously. True holiness will lead us increasingly to live in a way that others will often find an irritant. Perhaps our radical simplicity and generosity will prick their conscience. Perhaps our deep devotion to God will cause them to feel uneasy. Perhaps our moral positions will offend their politics or worldly ethics. Our mentioning of a day of judgment that looms may incite their anger. And so forth…. We do not seek conflict, but conflict finds us. The world demands that we back down and be nice, that we get along better.

Holiness is not of this world. True holiness brings an increasingly radical transformation that makes the recipient seem to be a foreigner in this world who speaks with a strange accent and has foreign ways. He does not fit into simple political distinctions, does not conform to worldly categories. True holiness ignites a fire in the recipient and fire changes everything it touches. In the end no one remains neutral to a truly holy person. Either they complain of the heat or draw warmth, but no one is neutral.

Holiness is a lot more than being nice.

Here’s a clip from a recent sermon where I speak on this topic.

38 Replies to “Holiness is more than being”Nice.””

  1. OUCH! Your words are painfully poignant after a death in my family. He was a nice guy, but no, not holy. I pray for his soul, and I hope that he may be saved, as I myself hope that I will be saved. But that begs the question, how to awaken those around us who are merrily trodding the pathway to perdition. How do we evangelize and call out to our friends and neighbors in love?

  2. I have to say that I’m yet to find a critic of ‘the Church of Nice’, as Voris calls it, who’s not a member of the ‘Church of Nasty’. At least most of them have their attention distracted at the moment with berating Pope Francis for being nice.

    1. How about me? I don’t like Mr Vorris overall tone either. But that does not require the other extreme. I find your remarks both nasty and extreme using your own bipolar world. But as for me i stand by what I have written, which is written not from your bipolar world of false dichotomies, but from the perspective of the Biblical texts which speaks the truth rooted in a holy fear of the Lord and as a firm but respectful stance where, as St. Paul says, we commend ourselves to every mans conscience.. In medio stat virtus. But it does seem that you are in that middle, even as you criticize others. Blog to Peter I am not Michael Vorris…. but neither am I Mr. Rogers…..

      1. Peter sets up a false dichotomy: Church of Nice vs. Church of Nasty. There are certainly some people who fit each of these labels, but not most people, in my opinion. I think virtually everyone applaud’s Pope Francis’ focus on recovering lost souls. Yet, some people do have concerns about the strategy he seems to be employing.

        Look at this in the context of the story of the prodigal son that we heard at Mass a few weeks ago. One of the keys to the story is that the prodigal son repented. He returned to his father sorry for his sinfulness, even going so far as to ask only to be treated like a servant. What if the prodigal son had returned without sorrow, but instead with haughtiness and making demands on the father? What if he was unrepentant and even had designs to steal that portion of his father’s wealth what he had not already obtained so that he could squander even that? How would the story have ended in that scenario? Differently? And would his brother’s “ungrateful” attitude be viewed differently?

        You see, I believe that the Church has many, many, prodigal sons and daughters who want to be welcomed back into the fold without any sorrow, without repentance, without any intention of reforming their sinful ways. Instead, they think the Church should change to accomodate their sin by re-defining it as not sinful or at least looking the other way,

        The concern that some have about Pope Francis’ strategy is that he seems to emphasize mercy, without focusing on repentance, as a strategy for recovering the lost. Get them in the door first; repentance will come later. But which legitimately comes first? Is repentance required in order to receive mercy or does mercy, reflected in a Church that is welcoming and open even to the unrepentant, provide the grace that eventually leads to repentance? Or is it somehow “both”? This is a real puzzle because I believe both points of view can be supported by Scripture. What is the right balance between the two?


        1. Don, I think you hit the nail on the head with your comment that people don’t want to repent, they want their sins to be confirmed. I don’t have the answer to what comes first- get them in the door and then catachesis and repentance, or vise versa. Last week I had the honor of attending a lecture given by Cardinal DiNardo, and he very briefly made the remark that the Church is a hospital for sinners, and we are all in need of healing from our sins. He went on to say that we need to get people in the door first to “heal the wounds,” (Pope Francis et al.,) but they (the sinners) need to recognize that once they are healed up, there are some behaviors that absolutely much change and are contrary to the life of a Christian.

      2. We are the Church of Truth! Period! Sometimes to speak the truth is called – Tough Love!
        Read about St. Paul, he is on fire for the truth and he will speak it. That’s why he was killed. He is so intense!
        We are nothing like the Apostles, so sad!

  3. It is a joke in Spanish regarding this wise post by Monsingnor Pope:

    There are two friends that meet after a long time. One says to the other:

    – John, it’s amazing how well you’re keeping!
    – That’s because I never contradict anyone!
    – This is ridiculous! I don’t believe that’s the reason.
    – You’re right, that’s not the reason!

    1. very funny indeed @Pedro, he’s still in the job of “false niceness”, you see, this happens to most of us (me inclusive), this is not the first time this has been spoken of, it did not start today, for me i believe the characteristics stated by Msgr. Pope are of “lukewarm” persons, a kind of “niceness” that streams out of fear (you know “i don’t know how he’ll feel if i tell him the truth”), but as Christians this behaviour is selfish, “going along to get along” will never bring others to the Light of Christ, and many people may falsely claim that this “false niceness” was what St. Paul meant when he said that he has “become all things to all men to save some”. I pray that God inflames our lukewarm souls and grant us the grace we need to be HOLY.

      Vos estis Corpus Christi

  4. This is truly relevant at this time. I often hear someone being criticized as “un-Christian” because they speak out about having children out of wedlock, co-habitation, etc.. And usually, just as often, I hold back and do not say anything because I want to be nice. I have a difficult time speaking up about such things as many people do. We really do need to ask the Holy Spirit to give us the courage to do so.

  5. Thank you for this post, Msgr. I have a hard time speaking up about my faith sometimes and need to ask the Holy Spirit for more guidance. On one hand, I do want to speak up more and rebuke with love, but on the other hand, I do not want to judge and I also remember where Jesus says not to give our pearls to swine. If we rebuke with love and we know that it’s just going to get trampled on, should we do it? I need to pray for discernment, because there are some people that would trample on what I said, yet there are also people as you mentioned who need their consciences stirred. God have mercy on me and may the Holy Spirit light a fire for all of us.

  6. The trick is to balance being nice with holding fast to the truths of the faith. I have a problem when truths of the faith are compromised or ignored in the name of niceness (whether it is called ecumenism, embracing the modern culture, non-judgmentalism, or whatever). Jesus said his Gospel would turn father against son, mother against daughter, etc. He said families would be divided 3 against 3 and 2 against 3. He said he came to cast fire on the earth. “Niceness” risks moral relativism unless kept in the proper perspective. When we are nice because we want to be loved more than we want to follow, obey, and love Christ, that’s when there is a problem.

  7. Some food for thought on this point: being “nice” by welcoming everyone.

    The first admonition of Jesus’ public ministry in both Matthew and Mark is “repent.” How far should we go to welcome the unrepentant – e.g., those who have no intention of reforming their immoral behavior or who openly mock the doctrines of the faith?

    Hypothetical: A baptized member of the Church is living in sin, publicly, with his father’s wife. This is incest. He has neither desire nor inclination to reform his behavior. Should he be welcome to remain a part of the Catholic community? Not according to St. Paul. He says of this situation: “Drive out the wicked person from among you.” 1 Cor. 5:13.

    Hypothetical: A person explicitly and publicly rejects established Church doctrine, yet wants to remain in the Church, all the while attempting to get others to accept his false doctrines. Should this person be welcomed? Not according to St. John. He says: “Do not receive into the house or welcome anyone who comes to you and does not bring this teaching; for to welcome him is to participate in the evil deeds of such a person.” 2 John 1:10-11

    1. Today’s audience by the Holy Father (quoted in part below) supplies a counterpoint to my hypotheticals above using today’s gospel reading. “Open the doors of the Church”, he says; quit being “moralists” without faith who lock people out. But at what point does defense of truths of the faith become mere “ideology” and “moralistic requirements”? And how do we square this with the admonitions of St. Paul and St. John, above? Or with the prospect of the unrepentant prodigal son, also discussed in my post above?

      The Holy Father:
      “Today, Jesus speaks to us of this “image of closure” which is “the image of those Christians who have the key at hand, but carry it off and do not open the door.” Worse again, “they stand at the door ” and “don’t let anyone in”, and in doing so “not even they enter”. Lack of Christian witness does this and when that Christian is a priest, a bishop or a pope it is worse. But how does a Christian start behaving like this, of having the key in his pocket and leaving the door closed? His Faith fades, so to speak, it is distilled and becomes ideology. And ideologies cannot convoke. Jesus cannot be found in ideologies: his tenderness, love, meekness. And ideologies are rigid, always. Of every sign: stiff. And when a Christian becomes a disciple of ideology, he loses faith and is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he becomes a disciple of this attitude of thought. And this is why Jesus says to them: ‘you have taken away the key of knowledge’. Knowledge of Jesus is transformed into a ideological and even moralistic knowledge, because they closed the door with a lot of requirements”.

  8. nice (adj.)

    late 13c., “foolish, stupid, senseless,” from Old French nice (12c.) “careless, clumsy; weak; poor, needy; simple, stupid, silly, foolish,” from Latin nescius “ignorant, unaware,” literally “not-knowing,” from ne- “not” (see un-) + stem of scire “to know” (see science). “The sense development has been extraordinary, even for an adj.” [Weekley] — from “timid” (pre-1300); to “fussy, fastidious” (late 14c.); to “dainty, delicate” (c.1400); to “precise, careful” (1500s, preserved in such terms as a nice distinction and nice and early); to “agreeable, delightful” (1769); to “kind, thoughtful” (1830).
    “In many examples from the 16th and 17th centuries it is difficult to say in what particular sense the writer intended it to be taken.” [OED]
    By 1926, it was pronounced “too great a favorite with the ladies, who have charmed out of it all its individuality and converted it into a mere diffuser of vague and mild agreeableness.” [Fowler]
    “I am sure,” cried Catherine, “I did not mean to say anything wrong; but it is a nice book, and why should I not call it so?”
    “Very true,” said Henry, “and this is a very nice day, and we are taking a very nice walk; and you are two very nice young ladies. Oh! It is a very nice word indeed! It does for everything.” [Jane Austen, “Northanger Abbey,” 1803]


  9. St. Paul in person made no great impression. Reading his words one can get the impression that he was a walking thunderstorm of holiness, but he doesn’t deny that in person he made no great impression. Evidently, he trusted more in the power of his words than in the power of his personality.

  10. “Go along to get along” has created a nation whose citizens are racked by fear in trying to conform to the ever encompassing dictates of what is politically correct. Being a good Catholic should not mean cringing and compromising on issues like abortion and impure relationships. Too many have been duped into believing this. Thank you for this article because it needed to be said. I’ll bet at the funerals of guys like John Gotti or Genrikh Yagoda the cliche “he was a great man” was on everyone’s lips.

  11. Great post. Let’s not confuse Christian charity with being nice. True concern or charity often involves telling people what they do not really want to hear.

  12. YOU SAID IT, FATHER!! Thank you!

    Are the “holy” those of us who go to daily Mass, smile serenely in our Churchyness way and hustle up and down the pew during the “shake of peace” at Mass? Or simply because we’re elderly and now have the time to really focus on trying to save our souls?

    Our Lord never said, “Blessed are the nice!”

  13. The first paragraph immediately reminded me of Revelation 3:14-16. Giving some credit that the comment of 16 October @ 6:40 AM (blog location time?) did mention “lukewarm” Bravo for that.
    The last comment in the second paragraph leads me to suspect that “Joe” was an enabler/caretaker under the blanket of co-depennce: but then again – there are a significant of, seemingly, self appointed leaders who teach addictions counselling who claim that there’s no such thing as co-dependence. Granted that they do give some facts to back their play but, it seems like a paucity of those facts. I strongly suspect that this belief is in support of “harm reduction” which I regard as an infection. Sort of like, reduce the misery and teach the vicitim to live in it.
    In a little over ten years of working the 12 Steps of Recovery I have said, from time to time, “Thank God for the people who tell me what I need to hear instead of what I want to hear.”
    Those people have beem sometimes irritating but, without them I am certain that I would have died a shameful death and left behind a starved and skeletal corpse behind a dumpster – or worse. And many may have noticed that I rarely declare non-Scriptual sa “certain.
    Just occured to me that I haven’t said it in a while. Time to bring it up again at a meeting – soon.

  14. Be Nice Or Leave. The secular definition of Compromise. There is no compromise in matters of faith in the teachings of Christ. It’s not of this world and therefore has become the antithesis of liberalism and socialism.

  15. I regret the times I should have said, “It is a sin.”
    St. Maria Goretti, pray for me.

  16. Msgr. Pope:

    I believe that the root of the problem with wanting to be nice more than holy is that we desperately seek the approval of others more than the approval of God. Our human condition is to seek personal approval instead of our heavenly Father’s pleasure and will for us.

  17. We always risk ruffling a few feathers in applying the Spiritual works of Mercy, particularly in counciling the doubtful and admonishing sinners. There is no compromise with the Truth. But we must always strive to cultivate within ourselves the twelve Fruits of the Holy Spirit and ask for increase of His Gifts. Blessed be God forever! God bless us all in Jesus our Lord and Saviour!

  18. Thank you Msgr. for your devotion to the Truth, unafraid to speak the Truth. Thank you for being more, much more than “nice”, thank you for being Loving, for being the Love of Christ.

  19. This post gives me a lot of hope because niceness is not my strongest virtue. Thank you Msgr. and I expect more.

  20. I am getting the feeling that this publication and the vast majority of its readers are lamenting the papacy of Pope Francis. Too bad for you: Holy Mother Church is slowly entering a new paradigm — one based upon mercy, forgiveness and outreach. So….get over it.

    1. ???? I have never linked anything here to our Holy Father. Your comment says more about you than me or anyone else. You ought to apologize for your unjust accusation. Shame on you. I am a man of the Church

  21. I think it is clearer to show the difference between being “nice” (or kind) and being charitable. That’s the real confusion today. Holiness is a bit too abstract.

    To be “nice” is to be pleasing to the other.
    To be Charitable (or to “love” the other) is “to desire the good of the other”.

    To put it another way, to be nice is to give what the other *wants*; to be charitable is to give what the other *needs*.

    While in a great many circumstances, charity demands also being nice/kind, this is not always so. Sometimes a person needs a kick in the butt, which is not pleasing to the other.

    In defense of Mr. Voris, most people only see his Vortex episodes which is a very small piece of what he does. They do not see the catechetical works that make up the majority. Furthermore, they are emmeshed in the worldly idea that we must be nice, and anything else is by default “nasty”. It is not charitable to the laity to keep pretending that Springtime is coming with the next dawn, only for them to see continuing scandals emerge to demoralize them. The fundamental crisis in the Church is not the falling away of the laity nor even the scandals in the priesthood–both of which are effects, not causes in themselves–but rather the spiritual crisis in the episcopacy. To see what I mean, consider the actions of the bishop in the next scandal. Notice how he is operating on a *natural* level in his decision making–most likely at the advice of secularly minded lawyers. When do you see a bishop act as a true spiritual father looking after the real spiritual needs of his subjects?

    Now priest bloggers, such as Msgr Pope, cannot talk about these episcopal issues because of their special relationship with their bishops. That leaves it to laity such as Mr. Voris to point them out–since no bishop is stepping up to the plate. Understanding the depth of the crisis is without doubt challenging to one’s faith, but at least then one can truly prepare oneself for the task at hand. Each scandal can be seen as just one more symptom, rather than an occasion for discouragement and demoralization. The laity can’t fix the crisis, but they can gird their loins for the long fight and avoid being distracted by each new revelation–but first you have to face up to the full reality.

  22. There is a major shift in emphasis being inaugurated by the Holy Father that is not being welcomed by many of the faithful. It is not a doctrinal change, but one of attitude. Pope Francis is orienting us to the true mission of the Gospel. This is the new evangelization. I have felt for awhile that we as a Church have taken the anti-Gospel attitude of “surely if you knew what type of sinner this was you would never sit down with him”. We have spent so much time condemning the sinner in charity that we have forgotten Christ’s example of mercy and compassion. Homosexuals, abortionists, atheists and relativists are NOT THE ENEMY. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ who need us to be the light of Christ to them and show them the love and mercy of God! They are the lost sheep that compel us to leave the 99 behind and seek them lovingly and exclusively. Imagine if the Good Shepherd upon having found the lost sheep had beaten and scolded it instead of putting it gently upon HIS shoulders. Imagine if the Father of the prodigal son had run out to meet the son and instead of embracing him had yelled at him and told him to leave. Something is happening here. Something huge. The Good Shepherd is manifesting Himself through the actions of our Holy Father. Lets follow his lead.

    1. You are committing the same offenses you excoriate by your remarks here. Your caricature those in the Church who think that we need to speak clearly to the moral question of our day and the claim that we see those who struggle as “enemies” is offensive. Does a doctor who says to his patient, you have cancer and must stop smoking see that patient as an enemy? Your invective and superior tone is the very thing you claim to be against. I not what you describe here. I am a well known pastor and a few people even like me. I am not the pharisee you unjustly lump me in with, neither am I unaware of the Prodigal Son story and all the images of Luke. I have preached and written much on these. You are not only mistaken, but you then add injustice and a mean-spiritedness by your remarks here . Most of my readers are not the ugly caricature you so unjustly paint. Based on your own standards, you ought to be ashamed with what you have written.

      Further the Jesus I read in Scripture was not this affable fellow you describe. He had some pretty rich and unambiguous ways of speaking to unrepentant sinners of his day. Try reading the Sermon on the Mount and then read the Sermon on the plain. I don’t suppose he ended up on the cross by merely affirming everyone.

      Your invocation of Pope Francis is gratuitous and divisive. This is not an issue for or against Pope Francis, nor is it right for you to suggest he would take sides on this issue or my article. He is well known in his daily Homilies to say some pretty clear warnings about death, judgment, heaven and hell. I think it is clear that you are screening his logia through your filter.

      As for me, I am not writing at odds with Pope Francis. He is the Vicar of Christ, and I am a loyal son of the Church. How dare you suggest anything other than that about be and seek to sully my reputation in that way. As for me, I rebuke strongly your unjust accusation that I am not following the Pope’s lead. Try actually reading a few of his sermons, where he speaks pretty clearly about the deadly nature of sin, the reality of Hell. In particular I would guide you to his several sermons on the sins of speech and how awful gossip is and how it ruins reputations and poisons conversations. Which is what I argue you are doing here.

      I, we, are not your enemies either Patricio. Spare us your lecture and make room for us in your heart.

  23. Sorry for not elaborating more than I should have. Let me clarify. I am the ugly caricature that I painted Msgr. I am the one being challenged by the Holy Father’s words. I am the one who has shut out those who are most in need of the mercy of and love of God. I am the one who has been pharisaical in my approach to living out the faith. Whether you or any of your other readers belong to that same group of sinners will be up to your conscience.

    Your article was very well written and the points were extremely valid. You mention whether or not Pope Francis would agree with what you wrote. I am sure he would agree whole-heartedly. As I sat reading your article and the following commentary this morning over a coffee I began to think about all that is going on right now and what it all really means. I felt compelled to write it down and share it with my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, members of the Catholic Church hoping that it would resound in someone else’s heart as well.

    The real problem with online comments is that the reader is charged with creating the context for the writer. We create moods in our mind and the lens through which the writer might see the world etc. Sometimes the context is easily discernible; sometimes not so much.

    I have no doubt that you, and the readers of this article are much further along the way to living out the message that I wrote about earlier. Really the whole point of what I felt inspired about this morning is that we should not be judging but embracing those who might not share our point of view. So I feel as though there has been some type of misunderstanding. Which, unfortunately, happens when we are not face to face speaking about things.

    My context is one of conversion and struggle to adapt myself to the word that is being spoken in the moment. I am more rigid than that usually. I am a staunch moral absolutist, adhere to the Church’s moral teachings and if someone were to label me, it would most likely be along the lines of “Social Conservative”. I am well aware of the Holy Father’s constant focus on the real enemy of sin and the spiritual battles for souls and also see this as an incredibly necessary message of the Holy Spirit for our own times. It is I Rev. Father who have considered the lost sheep to be my enemy for many years and am starting to come around… though it is a difficult process.

    I sincerely apologize if I have in any way been gossiping, poisonous, divisive, gratuitous and judgmental. Though I never accused you of anything in my commentary it was only after seeing your own comments that it even occurred to me that you would read it in such a way. No one here on earth is my enemy Father. I have, in the past, made them to be that way but I feel as though we are being called to be the Mercy of God in the world to those who are lost in sin and confusion (that’s not you, and that’s not what I mean by this comment).

    Msgr… please continue your incredible ministry. Don’t be discouraged. But, in the future you are not sure what the context for a comment might be then I am sure that any reader of such a distinguished Catholic page such as this one would be more than willing to clarify.

    God Bless

  24. To take the path to holiness is sometimes inconvenient. Our common mentality directs us that to to become one, we must be different from the others, such one should be more prayerful, church going or religious.

    However, one can attain it according to one’s status in life. For example, the ,ultimate goal of marriage is to become holy. It is not always HAPPINESS as most people seek in marriage, for certainly there are times that this particular vocation is not always a bed of roses. If one choose to do the right thing within the marital bonds and in the on going relationship of the couple, then this on going process brings us to holiness.

    This I think is also true with the other vocations, such being a father or a parent to one’s children. Fatherhood or parenthood is not always delightful. Along with it are the challenges in raising and disciplining children. And to top it all, it has a divine call. If we fulfill it according to God’s ways , then this could be basis for holiness.

    So is with the young professionals, the single person and in whatever status one is in at the moment. These are opportunities to become holy.

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