The daily newspapers have mentioned several times lately the sad lack of civility that is noticeable in our current American way of life. That means that some people are no longer polite and refined in their dealings with others. We need to be aware that this is an offense against the virtues of respect and kindness which we as Christians are obliged to show to one another.
I can remember years ago, one of our Dominican priests who had been studying in England was asked about the spiritual life of the English people in general. He replied, “They are largely a civil, godless people.” His answer has stayed with me. Civil, but godless. That means that they treat one another with politeness and all the social traits of refinement, but are not prayerful, nor devoted to God and Our Lord Jesus Christ, nor truly interested in the spiritual well-being of one another. I’m afraid that it might have to be said about us Americans nowadays that we are both uncivil and godless. We insult one another in public as well as in private; we use vulgar, profane, and obscene language; our motion pictures and popular literature are filled with the sort of language that was once associated with the dregs of society. I remember so well how shocked the world was when in the 1939 movie, Gone with the Wind, Rhett Butler responded to Scarlett O’Hara’s anguished questions: “Where will I go? What will I do?” by saying, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!” The world gasped in horror at that use of profanity in our movie theaters. Now, that is considered amusing, and we chuckle at it. And I am told that sometimes people who collect tolls in tollbooths from passing cars are grossly insulted by the drivers in those cars. That certainly is not the way Our Lord wants us to behave. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” he tells us. And that is not just an empty recommendation or suggestion. It is a commandment of God on which we are to be judged one day.
The opposite of a civil person is a surly, hostile, insulting, boorish one who often shows a disposition like a bear with a sore paw. For us to treat one another like that is lacking in justice and charity and unworthy of people who call themselves followers of Our Divine Lord. We make distinctions between a woman and a lady, a man and a gentleman. And yet, many now act like men and women, not ladies and gentlemen.
One day, after I had spoken of refinement in public, a lady came up to me and said, “I didn’t know anyone took refinement seriously any more.” What a pity! What a commentary on our social life, our spiritual life! Let us think of these things and make a real effort to “do unto others as we would want them to do unto us.” Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This Message was composed some years ago.