Gregory the Great: Discipline and Kindness

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He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ Luke 10:34-35

“The spiritual director must be careful that he show himself to the laity as a mother with respect to kindness and as a father with respect to discipline. And in every case, care should be provided in such a way that discipline is never rigid, nor kindness lax…

Spiritual directors should have compassion for the laity that is justly considerate and discipline that is affectionately severe. For this is what the Truth teaches through the Samaritan who took the half-dead man to the inn and the oil soothed him. Indeed, it is necessary that whoever directs the healing of wounds must administer with wine the bite of pain and with oil the caress of kindness, so that what is rotten may be purged by the wine and what is curable may be soothed by the oil.

In short, gentleness is to be mixed with severity — a combination that will prevent thee laity from becoming exasperated by excessive harshness or relaxed by undue kindness…

Let there be love that does not soften, vigor that does not exasperate, zeal that is not immoderate or uncontrolled, and kindness that spares but not more than is befitting. Therefore, as justice and clemency are forged together in the art of spiritual direction, the one who leads is able to sooth the hearts of his subordinates when he inspires fear; and yet by soothing them he will inspire awe.”

Gregory the Great (c. 540-604) in The Book of Pastoral Rule (Crestwood: St Vladimirs Seminary Press, 2007) 67-68.

Gregory the Great is the third of the Four Doctors of the Western Church that we will explore on the topic of kindness as it relates to generosity.

Gregory the Great wrote this classic work to instruct all those in generous service as pastors or spiritual directors to combine discipline with kindness. That’s a good word.

He uses the Good Samaritan as an example for us. Picture the scene. The Samaritan does not leave the person half-dead, but helps him with a combination of wine and oil. He becomes a model of love, generosity, discipline, and kindness for us.

Neither excessive harshness nor undue kindness helps those we serve over time. The former crushes them while the latter fails to shape them in the ways of Christ. What should we do? I am inspired to pray and act accordingly.

Father, help me find this balance in my life. By your Holy Spirit grow my generous service so that discipline is combined with kindness. Help me learn this so that my life reflects the love of Jesus, in whose name I pray. Amen.