John Cassian: Ordinary Kindness

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And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith. Galatians 6:9-10

“How kindness should be shown even to the idle and careless: Nevertheless, like a far-sighted and careful physician, he is not only anxious to heal the wounds of the sick, but gives suitable directions as well to the whole, that their health may be preserved continually, and says: “But be not ye weary in well doing:” ye who following us, i.e., our ways, copy the example given to you by imitating us in work, and do not follow their sloth and laziness: “Do not be weary in well doing;” i.e., do you likewise show kindness towards them if by chance they have failed to observe what we said. As then he was severe with those who were weak, for fear lest being enervated by laziness they might yield to restlessness and inquisitiveness, so he admonishes those who are in good health neither to restrain that kindness which the Lord’s command bids us show to the good and evil, even if some bad men will not turn to sound doctrine; nor to desist from doing good and encouraging them both by words of consolation and by rebuke as well as by ordinary kindness and civility.”

John Cassian (c. 360-435) in Institutes (The Twelve Book on the Institutes of the Coenobia and the Remedies for the Eight Principal Faults), Book 10 – The Spirit of Accide, chapter 15 – “How kindness should be shown even to the idle and careless.”

John Cassian is the Christian monk credited for bringing the spiritual practices of the desert fathers to the Western church. In his instructions for the coenobia (or the colony of Christ-followers he served), he suggests that the idle and careless be served with ordinary kindness. Great advice!

To be idle and careless is to lack intentionality in the care of your soul (your being), the filling of your mind with good things (your knowing) and intentional service (your doing). When we attend to these aspects of soul care and it seems like few others join us, we could be tempted to grow weary and give up.

Cassian would say that our kindness intersects with generosity when we are in good health and when we extend it to those who are not taking care of themselves with ordinary kindness. Our words to them might sound like consolation and other times rebuke, but they always seek to build them up.

How is your soul? Are you in good health? How about the souls of those around you?  The lesson for us today is to look inward at our own health before we look outward. When we look outward, we must put on kindness so that our interactions with others lift them up following the example of our Lord Jesus Christ.