Reports abound about Pope Francis performing small acts of kindness, whether to a Swiss Guard, a hotel clerk or a newspaper salesman. Saint Therese of the Little Flower said that "small acts of kindness, done well and done often, mean more to God than anything else." BOTH Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis are men who show kindness because they RESPECT others. When Father Brighenti and I presented a special hard-bound copy of John Paul II for Dummies to B16, he treated us with KINDNESS. That is the sign of a true gentleman and a real Christian. He opened the book and actually read a page before spending another five whole minutes conversing with us. He looked you in the eye and spoke to you with respect even though he was light years ahead of us intellectually and spiritually. Two simple diocesan priests having a conversation with the Supreme Roman Pontiff. He even remembered our first book (Catholicism for Dummies) which we sent him when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger. Pope Francis is likewise showing DELIBERATE (not random) acts of kindness. He treats people as PERSONS (as did B16 and JP2 before him). All too often, clergy, especially those who are prelates, ACT as if they are better than others and patronize and denigrate others, particularly their ecclesiastical subordinates. Rudeness is always a sign of insecurity. Graciousness, when genuine, comes from a loving heart.
All too often people misjudge others by how they dress, whether it is the clothing of a poor man or the traditional vestments of a priest. What matters is what is in the heart. I have seen and heard about too many who say they love the poor or say they love the Church and then treat people as though they were expendable and incidental. I personally met Pope B16 and he is a true gentleman, scholar and a very holy man, yet many attacked him for wearing old fashioned attire. His kindness to others transcended style as it always does in all holy people. True clericalism is when an ordained minister thinks he is better than others and expects preferential treatment. It has nothing to do with ones attire or personal taste. What I find most repugnant about real clericalism is when some clerics act as if they are above the laws of God and His Holy Church. I have seen many good, holy, talented, honest and hard-working priests get overlooked or persecuted for their loyalty to the Magisterium while other bureaucrats, politicians and sycophants get promoted and end up abusing their power. Papal honors, like knighthood and monsignors, are supposed to be given to priests who have gone over and above the normal duties and served selflessly. Often, that is the case, but sadly, there are other instances where old-style cronyism merely rewards buddies, placates the ambitious and promotes the incompetent so as to only have 'yes men' in the court.
One can show loving respect without the recipient allowing it to go to his head. I would never dare call my dad by his first name. Yet, I loved and respected him more than any other man I have ever had the privilege and honor to know. He always sat at the head of our table, whether in the kitchen or the dining room. He also was fair, just, patient, forgiving, merciful, honest and a very devout and staunch Catholic. THAT is what I want to be and what I think all clergy should emulate as spiritual fathers. We clergy are not better than the laity. I know of far more many laypersons who are much closer to sainthood than anyone else I know. The laity want to be treated with respect and so does the clergy. Kindness can be expressed by merely listening even if one disagrees. Kindness is showing civility and good manners at all times to all persons. Kindness is treating others with respect especially when you have authority over them. I found out very soon as a new pastor (11 years ago) that parishioners respect you respecting them. In other words, when making executive decisions, if done abruptly, with no explanation, they can be misinterpreted as clericalism. When people are treated as intelligent adults and given a rationale, they may not always agree but a majority will always appreciate and respect the authoritative decisions when implemented in such a way. What works in a parish, works in a diocese. Trouble begins when laity and clergy alike are treated like ignorant imbeciles who are not sophisticated enough to understand the wisdom of the shepherd. The church is hierarchical by divine choice and institution. Exercising authority with kindness and respect is the hallmark of a GREAT leader. Strength is not found in being rude or obnoxious. Real strength is being firm with compassion and being consistent with reason.