Inspired by St. John Henry Newman, a holy English priest and poet wrote eloquent and moving thoughts about kindness.
Priest and poet … this double vocation made Frederick William Faber (1814-1863), an English Calvinist theologian who converted to Catholicism, the author of magnificent spiritual reflections. As a poet, he was a friend of Wordsworth, and as a convert from Anglicanism to Catholicism he was inspired by St. John Henry Newman.
In his spiritual writings on kindness, he praised charitable words and demonstrated their power: “In truth, there is hardly a power on earth equal to them. It seems as if they could almost do what in reality God alone can do—namely, soften the hard and angry hearts of men.”
An eloquent preacher, Faber founded a religious community called St. Wilfrids in the Archdiocese of Birmingham, which later merged with the Oratory congregation led by St. John Henry Newman. Newman decided to establish a second Oratory in London, known as the London Oratory, of which Fr. Faber remained superior until his death.
While Fr. Faber devoted much of his work to writing the lives of Oratorian saints, he also left this beautiful text on kind words:
Kind words are the music of the world. They have a power which seems to be beyond natural causes, as if they were some Angel’s song which had lost its way and come on earth and sang on undyingly, smiting the hearts of men with sweetest wounds, and putting for the while an angel’s nature into us …
Kind words will set right things which have got most intricately wrong. In reality an unforgiving heart is a rare monster. Most men get tired of the justest quarrels. Even those quarrels where the quarrel has all been on one side, and which are always the hardest to set right, give way in time to kind words.
(…) All quarrels probably rest on misunderstanding, and only live by silence, which, as it were, stereotypes the misunderstanding. A misunderstanding which is more than a month old may generally be regarded as incapable of explanation. Renewed explanations become renewed misunderstandings. Kind words patiently uttered for long together, and without visible fruit, are our only hope.
They will succeed; they will not explain what has been misunderstood, but they will do what is much better — make explanation unnecessary, and so avoid the risk which always accompanies explanations of reopening old sores.
In all the foregoing instances the power of kind words is remedial. But it can be productive also; kind words produce happiness. How often have we ourselves been made happy by kind words, in a manner and to an extent which we are quite unable to explain? No analysis enables us to detect the secret of the power of kind words; even self-love is found inadequate as a cause.
Now, as I have said before, happiness is a great power of holiness. Thus, kind words, by their power of producing happiness, have also a power of producing holiness, and so winning men to God.