Sunday Scriptures

Kindness and Courtesy Are Rewarded

by Father John P. Cush

HERE’S A LITTLE riddle for you: How many people can fit on a bus in the city of Rome, Italy? The answer: always one more! As someone who has lived in Rome for a few years, in my first incarnation as a seminarian and as a newly ordained priest, and as someone now who is back as a doctoral student priest, I am very used to the ways of the good people of the city of Rome. I can sometimes forget how disconcerting at times some “Roman practices” can be for visitors, especially those from the U.S., in a particular way.

Over the Easter holiday, my two sisters visited me from Brooklyn over here in Italy, and I was blessed to have them stay with me at the Casa Santa Maria of the North American College where I am in residence. They had the opportunity to go to Mass on Easter Sunday with the pope, to attend a papal audience, to have a private tour of the Sistine Chapel and to see the four major basilicas of Rome, but I think the thing that they will remember the most is the buses!

You see, there is not much of a sense of personal space as we understand it here in America among some of the people of Rome. It would not be unusual to have 40 or so people cram on a tiny bus at a bus stop all at once, so much so that, if one had to exit, it could almost be impossible. With people pressed up against each other, people trying to get off the bus and people trying to get on board, it can be a rather unpleasant experience. Courtesy – usually a trait of the good people of the city of Rome – can be forgotten.

The first reading that we proclaim today from the Book of Genesis, I think, can teach us all about the great habit of courtesy, of politeness. In the selection, three men appear before Abraham by the terebinth of Mamre and, although busy himself, Abraham shows them great courtesy. For these strangers, people whom he had never met, Abraham goes out of his way to offer food, shelter, rest and refreshment.

These three men, as we learn, are really the angels of the Lord, and the kindness and courtesy of Abraham (and Sarah, who is recruited to suddenly whip up a meal) is rewarded. One of the men tells Abraham, elderly and without an heir, that he and his wife, likewise elderly and without children, will have the one thing that they desire most in this world this same time, next year: a son. This great blessing is done, seemingly, because of the kindness and courtesy of Abraham and Sarah.

Now, a question for us (and it may seem rather benign or even insignificant, but it is one that I think can reflect a great deal on our own interior life): How courteous are we? How much do we go out of our way, in the midst of our very busy schedules, for others? The little things, the little gestures we perform, the random acts of kindness, both for those familiar to us and to strangers, can betray the interior disposition we have.

When was the last time that we held a door open for someone? Or said “God bless you” when someone sneezed? Or sent that thank you note or e-mail? Or returned that call to that friend whom we know will keep us on the phone for longer than we really have to give, thus “wasting” that most precious of commodities we have – our own time.

As seeming insignificant and trivial as some of these gestures may seem, they all help us realize one thing: namely that the Lord is in our midst, that we all need to see Christ in each other and, in doing so, need to learn to be Christ to one another. These little polite gestures, in which we show the goodness of Christ to one another, need to go on, not only to make the world a more civilized place but also to help us remember that, as Saint Benedict of Nursia tells us in his Rule: “Let everyone be welcomed as Christ.” For it is true, all those whom we encounter bear the image and likeness of the Lord and, in everyone whom we meet, we, like Abraham, are entertaining angels in disguise.