Nice. I hate the word nice. In fact, I really hate the word nice. It means to be inoffensive. Milquetoast. Essentially it is a blandness of personality. People think it is a really a synonym of kind. It is not. Kind/kindness is an action where one is altruistic to another person regardless of that person's merit. Kindness is a quality of love, as St Paul reminds us I Corinthians 13. Nice is just there. Being nice is a virtue in this society. I hate it.
Why? Because love is not nice. It is not inoffensive. Sometimes when you love someone you must risk giving offense in order to say what another person needs to hear. Niceness is an excuse to hide behind; an act of selfish self preservation, whereas I will condone bad behavior if the person will like me. Our Catholic Faith is not nice. It offends the hell out of people...lots of people. Pick a subject, really any subject, and someone will take offense. It could be our teachings on marriage and family, sexual ethics, the nature of salvation, the sacraments, priesthood...the list is massive. Nice wants things to be easy. There is nothing easy about our catholic Faith. No, our Catholic faith challenges us to excellence, to the development of virtue, to growth in self giving, and in the exercise of restraint. God gives us His grace to accomplish these things, which should say something of what He desires for us.
The teachings of the Church have not changed on these issues, even though you would be hard pressed in most parishes to know that. No, many have become the church of nice. A milquetoast arena of self help platitudes and bland enabling morality. A place where we are absolutely terrified of saying anything of consequence lest people abandon the pews and take their money with them. The church of nice is a business which sells happy thoughts and moral numbness. It is the cotton candy of religion. Given what we are seeing in statistics released by such groups and Pew and CARA, the church of nice might be selling, but fewer and fewer people are buying. The church of nice is absolutely filled with the worse kinds of poison. It would be the height of delusion to believe that God would bless the church of nice.
Why? Because Jesus wasn't nice! He was kind. merciful, forgiving, loving...but NOT nice. Jesus offended the hell out of people. Many of the Scribes and Pharisees were repeatedly offended by Him, to the point where they wanted Him dead. Nice guys don't merit such wrath. Jesus was no hapless victim, He provoked and called to excellence. He offered His life on the Cross. The Cross...a symbol of horror and violent execution. He re-appropriates it to the new tree of life. talk about offending the sensibilities of His world! Jesus adhered to the truth and taught the truth regardless of the suffering it brought. His love of us provoked beyond any fear of suffering. His desire to see us in heaven meant telling us the truth, calling us to a new life, challenging us beyond our selfishness, and giving totally of Himself, even to the point of giving us His Flesh and Blood!
I left the church of nice as young man. Why? Because it offered nothing to help me combat the problems of life. Jesus was reduced to hippie, powerless and emasculated, in the church of nice. I needed a champion. I want to be a champion. Once I understood that Jesus is the Lion of Judah and not the puppy of Candyland, I desired Him. I knew that if I were to do priesthood correctly, that my life would have to be modeled after His. There could be no being nice. The people He would place under my care needed the truth even if it offended them. That segued into an understanding that the Gospel was a medicinal salve that prevented disease and cured disease brought on by sin. I couldn't apply this salve by being scared whether the patient would feel a sting.
All this said, even though we are not called to be nice, we are not called to be jerks either. Truth is to be applied with charity, always with the good and salvation of the person in mind. I'm not called to Nurse Ratchit, applying truth like a weapon of mass destruction to punish people. When Pope Francis calls repeatedly for mercy, he is not saying to be nice. There is nothing of mercy in being nice. To worry about the negative reaction of somebody so much so that you let them die is as merciless as actively attacking them.
As a pastor, I want all of my parish in heaven. Every. Single. One. Of. Them! If I love them, I will tell the truth and help them reach that truth. I will teach and preach about the controversial matters and exhort them the greatness to which they are called. If I love them, I will call out bad behavior and call them to holiness. I will afford them the means of reconciliation, sacramentally and otherwise. To call out behavior without affording them the means is being a horrible shepherd.
I know people fall. I did. I continue to do so. I know I don't always appreciate the truth about my actions but thank God for my friends and Church who believe I am capable of better. In this lies the most deadly poison of nice: The nice person doesn't give the chance for the possibility that person can be greater that what they are. Christ looks at us and KNOWS the greatness of which we are capable with His help. Nice doesn't cut it, love does!
So quit telling your children to be nice. Tell them to be kind, respectful, patient, and so on. I can tell you as a man, I find being told to be nice as an attempt as emasculation. We are to call to virtue! Let us lay aside nice, and become the warriors of faith we are called to be.