When we speak of random acts, we often are speaking of random acts of violence. We often read in the newspapers that so-and-so was a victim of a random act of violence. Some evil and furious person lashed out violently and the innocent person who got in the way by chance was the victim of that random act.
But I remember the story of an individual who would regularly keep quarters in his pocket, and when he saw that a parking meter (remember them!) had run out on a poor soul, he would put in a few quarters so that the owner of the car would not get a ticket. He said that he was practicing random acts of kindness. He just wanted to help people and did not want any attention or credit given to him.
A few times when traveling on the subway, I have seen some beautiful acts of unsolicited kindness. On a number of occasions, when the train was very crowded and I was standing, a seated rider offered me his or her seat. When it first happened, I was confused and then a little embarrassed. I never saw myself as ‘elderly’ and thereby eligible for an act of compassion. It was, to tell the truth, a little humbling! But my point is that I have seen that happen on a number of occasions, not only with myself as the beneficiary, but others as well. Was this hard and tough New York?
Deep in our nature, there is the desire to be of service to someone. While it is often obscured by circumstances, it lies deep enough that it often comes to the surface through simple acts of kindness and compassion. With all the negative views of human nature blaring from the headlines, it is a sign of God’s goodness and benevolent design that charity is more deeply embedded in our nature.
When I look at the world, for instance, while flying overhead in a jet plane, the order of life is amazing. Seeing the city of New York from the plane window, I see order and purpose and interlocking sacrifices to make things work together for the good of all. Business and building, protection by firefighters and police, sanitation, hospitals, schools, the armed services, stores and goods of all types, electricity in every home, indoor plumbing, hot water, etc. All of this is built on the desire for good—the good of our families, our friends, our neighbors, ourselves, moving toward a great crescendo of care and concern. This is all constructed on the foundations of the moral order God has inscribed in our hearts: honesty, compassion, justice. When it all hits me, I am moved to spontaneous prayer and praise! How can we not worship and adore such a good God! How can we not love and forgive each other?
Often what keeps us bound to destructive patterns are fears and resentments. We go over the hurts we have endured over and over again. We become afraid of more hurts in the future. This makes us suspicious and unwilling to let go. To let go means to risk being hurt again. Some of this is very human. We learn not to let go of our guard so we can prevent more hurt in the future. Some of this is demonic as well. The evil one uses our fears and our propensity to defend ourselves by an addictive return of the feelings we most need to avoid, so to confuse and discourage us. The antidote of course is the Cross.
The Doctrine of the Cross is not simply about enduring pain. It is about the struggle to be good, to postpone gratifications of all sorts, to sacrifice our comfort for others, of uniting our unavoidable sufferings to the sufferings of Christ. Properly understood, it gives us freedom in the most difficult circumstances to see all things in Christ and in His Holy Will. Therefore, we are not afraid of pain; we don’t look for it either. We accept some of the legitimate sufferings that we undergo for others and for God. This does not include the illegitimate sufferings we bring on ourselves by avoiding change and subscribing to false solutions. A young person may have a real problem with his or her parents. The solution is not to start drinking. God does not will this. So that person will spend many wasted years of suffering with blind alleys and plenty of hitting one’s head against a wall until, finally achieving sobriety, they can deal with the problems that first caused the drinking! This resolving to false solutions is done in many ways and causes much unnecessary sufferings unwilled by God. The struggle to achieve sobriety, however, and maintain it is salvific since God wills it, because it is for our true good.
So it is with much of life. Discovering and accepting the path of God is the surest way to happiness and the productivity resulting in random and non-random works of charity and kindness.