March 12, 2019

A Chaplain’s Thoughts: Courtesy

By Rev. James F. Quigley, O.P. ’60
Associate Chaplain, National Alumni Association

Rev. James F. Quigley, O.P. '60
Rev. James F. Quigley, O.P. ’60

A former student of mine talked about a career in politics. I was told that to go in that direction it would be necessary to hire “an opposition researcher.” The purpose of that position would be to dig up the dirt, the scandals of the opponent, and that they would then be publicized — and doing that was fair game. Faults, mistakes, and immature events in one’s youthful past could be legitimately exposed and exploited. My student never did get into politics.

Our culture today seems to tolerate, at times condone, and promote rudeness. It’s OK to trash the other person to their face or behind their back. This is happening in many areas of life and communicated almost instantaneously by texts, emails, or tweets. Politeness or courtesy, on the other hand, is a virtue, a way of relating to another woman or man. 

As children, most of us were taught and trained to behave, to act graciously toward another person.  Those habits hopefully continue through adulthood. The virtue of courtesy makes one thoughtful, respectful, considerate, and gracious in speech and action. It becomes the usual way of relating to another. You respect and show reverence for the other person.  

We don’t have the right to belittle or vilify someone else. We don’t have the right to insult, use pejorative labels, ugly words, racial slurs, or lie about another person. It is not only impolite, but it is unjust, a sin. In Scripture we read: “All of you should be sympathetic, loving toward one another, kindly disposed and humble. Do not return evil for evil, insult for insult. Return a blessing instead” (1 Peter 3:9). Wouldn’t that be such a better way to live! 

This kind of rude behavior has, at times, infiltrated the Church. One Catholic speaks or writes harsh denunciations of another Catholic, or a Catholic institution, or even Pope Francis. Some relish reporting on the sins or mistakes of the other. This kind of vitriol challenges the unity of the communion, which is the Church. 

Yet, our faith lives are supposed to be rooted in Jesus Christ. We try to see Christ in others even if we disagree with their theological interpretation or their political position. The virtue of courtesy or politeness, if practiced, can go a long way to making life gentler and a lot more sane.