Saint John Chrysostom

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the memorial of St. John Chrysostom, an eloquent preacher of the fourth century. (Despite the quality of his sermons, I’m guessing the length would annoy many today – they sometimes lasted two hours!)

St. John Chrysostom invites us to examine not just what we do, but the attitude with which we do it. Regarding helping others, he said:

Helping a person in need is good in itself. But the degree of goodness is hugely affected by the attitude with which it is done. If you show resentment because you are helping the person out of a reluctant sense of duty, then the person may recieve your help but may feel awkward and embarrassed. This is because he will feel beholden to you. If,on the other hand, you help the person in a spirit of joy, then the help will be received joyfully. The person will feel neither demeaned nor humiliated by your help, but rather will feel glad to have caused you pleasure by receiving your help. And joy is the appropriate attitude with which to help others because acts of generosity are a source of blessing to the giver as well as the receiver.

Not a whole lot to add to that one; res ipsa loquitur as the lawyers among us would say.

Chrysostom also challenges us to think about how we deal with those who have done harm to us and others, saying

When your enemy falls into your hands, do not consider how you can pay him back and let him feel the sharp edge of your tongue before sending him packing; consider rather how you can heal him and restore him to a better frame of mind.

What an enormous difference that would make on a social and individual level! To have an aim of restoration and healing rather than punishment and shame. I’m sure we can all think of situations where we’ve had the less noble aim in mind. And I’m guessing we could imagine ways in which acting in accordance with John Chrysostom’s advice might have made a difference.

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