Sunday, August 27, 2006

Be Nice to One Another?

If you've grown up in the midst of a cool Christianity (see the On Fire entry), you might think that the call of the Gospel today is to "be nice." And Jesus said unto them "Be nice to one another as I have been nice to you." But I think we're called to step beyond "nice." To be "nice" is the secular equivalent of being virtuous, but with the fire taken out of it. "Nice" is like bizzaro holiness. It's not a hot word, but it's not cold either. It's like Cream of Wheat without the brown sugar. We say so often today that a given person is "nice" and what do we really mean to say? That person is innocuous. There is no spice in them. They are about as tasty as a meatloaf dinner at a diner (by the way, you should never order a meatloaf dinner at a diner. My wife thinks it should be illegal). Nice is not a heroic adjective. People are called nice if they don't do bad things. It's a word that serves more as a filler than a flattery. What do you say when there's nothing else to say? "Oh, it was... nice." "No, it looks really... nice." "He's a nice guy though." I was talking to a friend awhile back about the etymology of the word "nice" - we were smoking rich maduro cigars on a balcony (trust me this is like once a year), and trying to blow smoke rings like a couple of hobbits. (Many people do not believe cigar smoke is a nice thing to subject people to, by the way). We thought maybe the word "nice" comes from the Latin nescio, which means "I don't know." "What do you think of this outfit?" "It looks.... nice." "How was your date last night?" "He was... nice." Rabbi Abraham Heschel once said "God is not nice. God is not an Uncle. God is an earthquake." I love it. The gospel today, no matter how it may be translated through the heart of a given priest or deacon, is still a gospel of radical fire. It is an remains a two-edged sword, slicing through our common everydays and calling us out into the deep! One step beyond mediocrity, it's been said, and we are saved! It's with the deepest love and reverence for our priests that I say this now: Some of you are handing us Cream of Wheat on Sundays. There are so many insipid homilies and catechetical blackholes in Catholic parish life today. Challenge us! Speak the Truth in love! Call us higher, even if we kick and scream on this path to holiness like kids on the way to the dentist. Be our fathers and fearlessly lead us. Today, ironically, a visiting priest came to our parish. In a quiet tone, he preached a challenging word to us. It was so refreshing. May God stir more hearts to the radical love of the gospel! May we move from the nice to the new, from the bland to the beautiful banquet that Our Father has prepared for us! And... have a nice day. (By the way, New Zealand has a website devoted to Nice People. I'm not making this up)
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