Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Problem with "Nice"

"Be nice."

I tell my children this all the time. "Play nicely", "behave nicely", "be nice to your brother", "is that a nice thing to do?" These words come out of my mouth constantly.

Nice is good. Nice is great when you are trying to get along with others. There is a place for nice.

Nice helps you to talk to others. When you are not nice, conversations tend to go badly.

But "nice" isn't always nice.

In a blog being passed around by several of my friends, Msg. Charles Pope reflects on the problem with "nice". Nice is not the same as "holy". And too many Christians think it is, or have let themselves be shushed up by the argument that nice people do not make a fuss. Holiness is usually a virtue that draws attention to itself. Not that the one who is holy deliberately seeks the spotlight, but that the virtue itself is like a beacon, drawing the eyes of those who see it. It can be a confusing thing, a scary thing, a thing which challenges and defies popular belief.

Next Monday is All Saint's Day in the Catholic Church. One of my favorite feast days of the year. All those stories of men and women, boys and girls who lived their lives totally for others and for God. Some gave their lives for that love. Many of them were not "nice" by today's standards. Oh, they loved, but they also stood up firmly for their faith.

"Nice" is possible to fake. Holiness is not. How many times have you witnessed someone you know being polite and nice to someone else, only to see them turn around and say "Oh my gosh!" and launch into a diatribe as soon as that person leaves? Sometimes "nice" helps us when we feel like being uncaring - "nice" can help us remain decent when we don't feel like it.

But that is the challenge, right? To go beyond "nice". "Nice" is like a pretty covering for the ugly underside. Holiness makes it all clean and pure - it takes "nice" and elevates it to something far more. Holiness challenges us to truly respect all around us.

Holiness is a challenge, to us and to all around us. Sometimes holiness means we speak up and speak out. Holiness means sticking with the true and good, and that is often not a very popular way to go.

Nice is not a bad word, but it is a much lesser form of the ideal. Why shoot for nice, when you can be holy?

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