We 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.
24 Replies to “Holiness is More Than Being Nice”
The spiritual fruit of kindness makes us holy but does not constitute holiness, for holiness is not just kind but loving, understanding, modest, self-controlled, chaste, good, joyful, patience, peaceful, generous and faithful.
Father, could you contrast what it means to be “charitable”? They seem similar. Thanks!
I’m blogging on that tomorrow.
Fr. Faber of the Oratory, one of Bl. Newman’s contemporaries, wrote a great treatise on the virtue of kindness. I had always thought of kindness as similar to niceness i.e. a good thing, but bland. How wrong I was! I certainly urge all men to read it – you’ll soon see that kindness is a mighty weapon we must avail ourselves of in the good fight. Download it here:
Bl. John Henry Newman himself wrote about how, in his day, the social virtues of the gentleman were often mistaken for the moral virtues of the Christian. E.g.:
“Liberal Education makes not the Christian, not the Catholic, but the gentleman. It is well to be a gentlemen, it is well to have a cultivated intellect, a delicate taste, a candid, equitable, dispassionate mind, a noble and courteous bearing in the conduct of life;—these are the connatural qualities of a large knowledge; they are the objects of a University; I am advocating, I shall illustrate and insist upon them; but still, I repeat, they are no guarantee for sanctity or even for conscientiousness, they may attach to the man of the world, to the profligate, to the heartless,—pleasant, alas, and attractive as he shows when decked out in them. Taken by themselves, they do but seem to be what they are not; they look like virtue at a distance, but they are detected by close observers, and on the long run; and hence it is that they are popularly accused of pretence and hypocrisy, not, I repeat, from their own fault, but because their professors and their admirers persist in taking them for what they are not, and are officious in arrogating for them a praise to which they have no claim.” — The Idea of a University, V, 9
Thank you, Father, for taking on the “Gospel of Nice.” Too many Christians today believe that all that’s required is to be nice and charitable and accepting of others. This actually raises Man to the focus of faith and crowds out God!
When asked the greatest commandment, Jesus replied it is to love the Lord our God. Loving our neighbor is second and subordinate. When being nice becomes the measure and we tolerate our brother’s or sister’s apostasy from God’s word and will, we fail the love of both God and neighbor. How can it be love of others when we fail to point them back to God? How can it be love of God when we fail to stand up for Him and say it’s OK for others to turn their backs on Him as well?
Thank you for these thoughts. A most fantastic reflection on Holiness I found and have continued to return to is “Holiness” by Donald Nichol
I recommend it to anyone striving to achieve it.
Abe Lincoln once said: “You can make all the people happy some of the time, and some of the people happy all of the time, but you cannot make all of the people happy all of the time.”
True holiness requires us to hate what God hates. Proverb 6:16-19; These six things doth the Lord hate; yea even seven are an abomination unto him; a proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood; a heart that deviseth wicked imagination; feet that are swift in running to mischief; a false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethern. Proverb 8:13; Hate evil, pride, arrogancy, the evil way, the forward mouth, do I hate.
Eccleaiastes at 3:8; A time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, a time for peace.
Pope Urban I (1095), hated what the new religion of Islam was doing in the Holy Land of Jerusalem, and sent forth the 1st Crusaders.
When a person hates that which is evil or wrong when it effects our religion, we must speak up like like NY Bishop Dolan did regarding the recent New York Times article which disparages Catholics. The Catholic Church has many enemies. Tonight I have an appointment with two Mormom Missionairies. I will tell them, among other things, that their founder of their religion, Joseph Smith, if alive today, could not even get into his own chruch, because the tenents like polygamy which he built his new religion on have been discarded. Our church has remained true to Christ’s doctrine. I cannot be nice to those who will attack our Pope, tradition, and customs. I will speak firmy, and respectfully, but what I say will not be nice. I wil offer them bottled water, and my motive will be to save their souls, and plant the seed of the True Jesus Christ into their misguided beliefs. Will I make them angry? Yes! The Truth is not always nice, nor plesant. Standing up for the truth means standing up for Jesus who is the pure, and absoluteTruth.
Yes, “kindness” is better phrased “benevolence”, which is to say “wishing the good” for our neighbor, as in the fruit of the Holy Spirit, of which St. Paul names twelve.
Well, nobody will accuse you of just being “nice.” You are a holy man of God. And as my children have so often heard me say, “I am not a nice mother.” I shall have them read this reflection so they understand what it means to be holy.
I guess this is the problem of modern society and the whole hypocricy of Political Correctness: You must be ‘nice’ not ‘good’.
A ‘nice person’ will turn a blind eye on your faults, a good person will help you to improve yourself (and this is true not only in the religious context, by the way).
THANK YOU, Monsignor, for this excellent post. I really, really, really needed to hear this right now. I’m quite vulnerable to enjoying being “the nice guy.” You drove it home well, good Father, and I’m grateful. Please pray for me from across the distance.
Good day Msgr. Pope, nice topic that you discussed today. For me holiness is not just being nice but rather i see it as a form of being “divine”. Divinity is holiness as i see it in my own way. I remember Jesus telling me to call for a “divine government” i look at it as the Lord calling His people to be holy not only in words but in practice. A practice of man’s way of life of staying holy..sticking to Jesus way or practice or simply following Jesus teachings for men. The only problem that i encountered when i tried to follow the Lord’s teaching is really to be called as a “weird” person or as the human resources head would say..a one hairline to insanity..but life must go on..if we really want to follow Jesus…it must be to the end..on the Cross because you as a servant is promoting your God and you have to stand up for Him. Be holy like your Father in Heaven is Holy. May the Holy Spirit give us the strength to be Holy in our ways, thoughts and relationship with other human beings. God bless us all.
After much hesitation and careful consideration, I’ve decided to take a risk and post the following. In light of Msgr. Popes articles this week on culture and nice, I thought this was timely and brilliant. I’m also curious what others may think regarding it’s tone, so I’ll start. In my opinion, in our current ever darkening social and political culture I find the following to be an exemplary model of charity and compassion.
“O Stupid Catholics, Who Has Bewitched You?”
Voting Catholic! Are You Going The
Way of Evil or The Way of Truth
By Fr. Richard Perozich (Written for the Church Bulletin) – Elections are coming up November 2, 2010. Catholics must engage in the political process to form a nation that reflects the values held by Christ’s followers.
Learn who you are and act like a Christian.
1 Peter 2. 9 But you are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises” of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
Your job is to announce to the whole world that Jesus is the anointed King of God’s everlasting reign and to offer all men His salvation given by grace and received by faith.
One forum in which you do this is politics. Politics comes from the word pole and polarity. Poles are opposite ends of an idea, of a temporal structure, or of a force.
Catholics Have A Higher Calling
Catholics, even though we live in a country and are citizens of that country, have a higher calling and responsibility to God and to our neighbor to promote God’s truth even when others hate it, reject it, and hate us for proclaiming it.
We are citizens in an earthly realm, but more importantly we are citizens of the new kingdom of heaven with Jesus as the Lord, His laws as our prime way of life, and called to live them and to promote them even to unbelievers.
We live in a society where many people with power, possessions, and prestige are promoting ideas that are not founded in Christ.
In order to promote their ideas over ours, they tell us we must stay in our churches, keep our religion to ourselves, and that their idea of separation of the church from the state (which does not exist in our American constitution as they say it does) trumps any ideas we might have, so we have to shut up. And Catholics sheepishly keep quiet and vote for men and women who promote evil.
In chapter 3 of Galatians, St. Paul, frustrated with the Galatians allowing non believers to silence the truth even to the point of the Galatians returning to pagan or evil ways chastises them saying, “O stupid Galatians. Who has bewitched you?”
“O Stupid Catholics, who has bewitched you?”
It can be said of us in America in the year 2010, “O Stupid Catholics, who has bewitched you?” We easily go over to pagan ideas, putting aside our faith, our truth, in order to accommodate the evil of people who will not accommodate us! To promote their ideas they attack us personally calling us the far right, ultra conservative, bigoted, homophobic, hate mongers, holy rollers, and other epithets. This silences many Catholics. It only emboldens me, and it should embolden you also to promote your faith.
In the fights in politics, all sides cannot win. It is either going to be the way of evil or the way of truth. You must engage it as an ambassador for Christ and not as an agent of the devil.
God is life. Jesus is King. Christians are citizens of the kingdom sharing in life, the mission of God to promote it constantly in every forum.
People are most concerned with their economic power to purchase, to live, to save. Their greatest fear is losing this, evident in how they voted in 2006 and 2008.
Our Greatest Concern Should Be With Life
For Christians our greatest concern should be with life, and we vote for those who promote it. You have heard the mantra, “I’m a fiscal conservative, but a social liberal.” Nonsense. The societal responsibilities come first, and from a sound society built on biblical principles flow the economic concerns.
In a healthy economy there will be rich people. I who earn $20,000.00 a year do not envy their wealth, their homes, their power to shape the economy. The people Americans put into office in 2006 and 2008 DO envy, and are using the economy to tear apart the entire social fabric of society to promote abortion here in our country and abroad; to kill new life in embryos; to kill the elderly and sick; to destroy the nature of gender and marriage; to allow sexually immature people to be predators of others to try to satisfy their lack of psychological development.
Here Are The Fundamental Issues
For us Catholics the basic issues are: Life from conception to natural death, that is protection of the unborn, those with life, and those who are sick; protection of new life in its most nascent form, the embryo; protection from cloning to farm body parts; protection from sexual deviance in the form of pederasty, homosexuality, adultery, fornication, prostitution.
An elite class has assumed power in the United States, transcending political parties. They claim to know more than the people the elites represent. They do not. Their interest is keeping their positions in which they earn upwards of $200,000.00 with a health plan that is not part of the new one passed for the rest of us. They plan the destruction of the military, the silence of the churches and free voices, the destruction of children, embryos. They simply cannot stay in power. I have voted for some of them despite their mixed policies.
But enough! I refuse to cast a vote for anyone who supports abortion, sexual confusion to be forced in the military, marriage, school curricula, or any other societal aspect, cloning, embryonic stem cell research, or euthanasia.
A Stand Must Be Made!
I am a Catholic. I am a citizen of the Kingdom of God and will promote that kingdom in all parts of my life.
To you politicians who promote non Catholic values, I will not vote for you just so your opponent will not get into office.
If you do not represent me, you do not have my vote. I don’t want your government money. I don’t want your ideas of equality, fairness, and justice. I don’t want your health care. I am not a prostitute who sells my vote for temporal benefits.
I am checking your voting records through various organizations which monitor your voting. If you do not promote life from the moment of conception to natural death, chastity and sexual distinctions, traditional marriage, respect for embryos in science, then you will not get my vote. You do not belong in political office. Teachers who sheepishly follow their corrupt unions do not belong in the classrooms. Clergy who follow non Christian teaching do not belong in the pulpit.
My hope rests in Jesus Christ and his salvation exactly FROM the very things these politicians are promoting. Change is repentance from sin, conversion to God, and reparation of the damage by following the commandments without relativizing them.
Hope and Change did not come in 2008. I’m going to do my part to see that it does in 2010.
Fr. Richard Perozich
One should strive to be holy….but does it hurt to be nice to others while “striving”? Just ask anyone who has
ever lived with a saint! Often they are not the “nicest” people to be around . Sometimes that makes me wonder
about life beyond the pearly gates! Can you imagine spending eternity sitting next to St Jerome at the banquet
table? Or afew other “holy grouches”? I know there are no really bad seats at the heavenly banquet
table, but still…can’t one be sincerely nice….and holy as well? Just asking! I find it extremely difficult to be either
all the time but am going to make more of an effort at being holy…and not just settling for nice. Watch out!!!!!!
Beautiful article Father.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen had a wonderful teaching on politeness or being nice which I think hit many of the same points.
absolutely, could not have said it better. This is something that is extremely true! – really pathetic in a way when Christ died on the cross for us, and yet we give away our truths in order to ‘get along’ with the ignorant. ‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the world, but a sword’ weren’t these Christ’s words? How many of us give up everything – including popularity with others, in order to follow Him – and stand up for Him. Could not have said it better. It is a common problem today, and results in many people thinking one faith is as good as another and so, so what? why go to any if it’s just one person’s opinion vs another, when a faith (be it islam/christianity, or even catholic/non-catholic christian) is just a different flavour of the milk etc.
Christ did not say that chocolate or strawberry would suffice; he talked about Heaven or Hell. He talked about faith in Him for those who have heard His words and he created One Church – we sell out that Church and the Truth we have been given, in exchange for popularity with the competition – at our peril.
Hi, any chance i could use this blog post as an article in the parish magazine? I can put a link to this blog if you like…
Certainly, feel free to use it.
I heard the Beautitudes yesterday in church. I missed the part about blessed are the self congratulatory,
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