“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and goodwill toward men.” Luke 2:14
In September, CatholicMom.org began publishing this Virtue of the Month series. To date, we have discussed four virtues that were intended to help you — and me — think about, act upon, and put on the virtue of the month — more deliberately — for the “main goal of the virtuous life is to become like God. For whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” [CCC1803]
Since Christmas and the Feast of the Epiphany has just been celebrated in churches and homes around the world, let’s study goodwill, the virtue. The word - goodwill — is not commonly used today to describe personal virtue; more often than not, we think of it in terms of being or establishing goodwill between customers and businesses or between countries. So it might be a stretch to think of goodwill as a virtue. Yet, consider that it was an important part of the greeting from angels several thousands of years ago to shepherds watching their flocks. It is highly likely that the shepherds were alarmed at the sight of the ‘heavenly host singing and praising God’ and therefore needed reassurance that they were not all hallucinating. And so the angels delivered peace and goodwill from the highest source himself - God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This message is as relevant today as it was then. God desires to bring us peace; His goodwill sustains us.
So what is goodwill? The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines goodwill as (among other things) having —benevolent interest or concern for others. By its very definition, this invokes a myriad of other virtues. Goodwill, being a rather old expression, may be best thought of as a jumbo virtue — in other words, a group of virtues produce goodwill. And with good results.“Then seeing the star they were gladdened by a very great joy. And entering the home, they found the boy with his mother Mary. And, so, falling prostrate, they adored him. And opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold frankincense and myrrh.” [Matthew 2} What were the most obvious fruits of the Magi’s goodwill? Joyfulness, awe and wonder, and generosity. Similarly, these fruits also result when we practice goodwill toward others. They are also the same fruits that are showered down on us because of God’s goodwill or benevolence. And they also result when we show goodwill toward God.
God’s supernatural goodwill — runs infinitely deeper than any virtuous thoughts or feelings we can conjure up toward Him or other human persons. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” [Romans 8:28] This is the extent to which we must try to repeat and imitate the virtue of goodwill. So, it’s good to contemplate God’s goodwill toward men — its depth, meaning, purpose and fruit — first, before considering the natural side of goodwill.
Assuming the goodwill is indeed a jumbo virtue, what other natural virtues are inextricably linked with it? Naturally, it requires the following: friendliness, helpfulness, good attitude, and cooperation. Genuine goodwill also makes it important to affirm others appropriately; to empathize with others; and to respect the dignity of all human persons. Goodwill requires our generosity. It requires service toward others. It is also inseparable from mercifulness, forgiveness, love, kindness, compassion, gratitude, thankfulness, and appreciation of others. Goodwill allows us to celebrate others’ successes joyfully and to mourn with them when they experience loss. Goodwill never delights in others’ difficulties circumstances. Goodwill necessitates having good intentions. It naturally incorporates the practice of the corporal and charitable works of mercy. Goodwill is the result of both doing and feeling.
The fruits of goodwill are many. Consider how putting on goodwill produces peace in and among spouses, children, families, neighbors and strangers. Authentic goodwill comes from God’s grace and mercy. While personal effort is required, God’s grace helps us to desire all virtue. Goodwill pushes aside resentments, long or short standing. It also taps down urges to retaliate against others’ offenses. It motivates us to do good rather than react in kind to the cause of our own negative feelings against someone. Goodwill is always good; it can never be duplicitous or deceiving or faked. Like other virtues, it fosters virtue in the givers and receivers. Goodwill allows us to bless others by giving the best or ourselves to them. Timothy Keller, author of the Prodigal God wrote that, “One cannot forgive another person when/if that person feels superior to the one they need to forgive.” Doesn't it seem likely that not one of us can increase in both human and divine virtue if we feel we are already superior to the ones in need? And civil treatment of someone, while part and parcel of extending goodwill toward others, requires a heart that is into benevolence — no matter the circumstances — without feeling superior or inferior.
We have already learned that every virtue has an opposing vice that waxes as a specific virtue wanes. So what vices oppose goodwill? Hostility opposes goodwill as do the following: having ill will toward others; conjuring up bad thoughts about others; cursing others; denigrating or dismissing others; gossiping or making fun of others; refusing to forgive others; arguing; holding grudges; trying to even the score when wronged; sarcasm; harassing others with words or actions. You can probably think of many more vices that oppose goodwill; al which fail to promote peace and goodwill among family, friends, neighbors, and strangers. Matthew, one of four Gospel writers, warns us about the opposing vices to goodwill when wrapping up the details to the Magi’s visit to the Holy Family. “Having received a response in their sleep that they should not return to Herod, the Magi from the East went back by another way to their own region.” Matthew 1:12 Why were they warned? Because Herod fostered nothing but ill will toward the new King. His insane jealousy and selfishness lead to hostility against many innocent children. “When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.” [Matthew 2: 16]
We are called to put on and exercise virtue — everyday, everywhere. That is a tall order — especially today. We can be easily swayed by others’ lack of faith, irreligious sentiments; mixed messaging; relativistic beliefs, ill will, bad tempers, demanding personalities, etc. We also know way too much information — scandalous information — about people we do not need to know anything about. Do I really need to know the scandalous details about various celebrities, for instance? Today, all too often, truth is laced with innuendo, falsehood, mixed messaging, slander, or pure gossip. News Media corporations and Social Media really have a way of testing our goodwill — don’t they? But does that really change the need to become more and more like God? No, in fact, these subtle distractions from virtuous living are modern forms of persecution that we Christians have to face. They are all attacks on our virtue even though we often fail to see their effect immediately. They are life-threatening in the sense that they ebb away at living the virtuous life, even if they are technically life threatening. We are called to put on the armor of God - including goodwill — no matter the hostility presented against or to us.
Hopefully the following to-do list will help you better arm yourselves with Goodwill this month. Pick out several — or all of them — in order to put goodwill to practice in your life regularly.
Pray daily for the virtue of goodwill and its necessary companion virtues. Ask God to help you overcome negative feelings and biases toward others.
Prayer of St. Francis
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.
Hopefully you have created a virtue journal by now that allows you to detail your successes and failings this month. You may order one from me also. This is in the works as we speak. Name the virtues that assisted your goodwill; name the vices that hindered your goodwill. Write about the circumstances, your feelings and fears, and situations surrounding your successes and failings.
Define goodwill for your children; teach them about the importance of this virtue; teach them about the companion virtues and opposing vices.
Honestly assess your level of goodwill from 1-5. It helps to admit that none of us can really understand other peoples’ hearts, fears, worries.
Strive to be grateful and thankful for everything everyday.
Do a few random acts of kindness that are personal and meaningful this month. “Whatever we do for the least of our brothers, we do it for the Lord.”
Strengthen personal and emotional bonds with friends, family, co-workers, etc. Sorry, Facebook or other social media just doesn't have the personal touch needed to strengthen emotional bonds. Pick up the phone, talk face-to-face; write a letter, dine with people.
Try to earn back goodwill that has been lost with someone in your life.
Use kind/quality words this month. Give up swearing, cussing, sarcasm, joking at someone else’s expense, or taking God’s name in vain — for good!
Remember that one’s first impression is often made in just a few seconds. Try and make good first impressions when meeting someone for the first time while revealing the real you!
Pray that your efforts will always be of goodwill.
Offering goodwill to an estranged Catholic may result in them rejoining the Church.
Do at least one community service project this month with your family.
Marshall Field, businessman (1834-1906), once said that our goodwill cannot be undersold or destroyed. It’s true. Practice it and mean it.
Pray for change of heart as needed in self and others.
Work to establish goodwill within your family — first. Think about the following advice from Dr. Margaret Paul. “Research into good marriages indicates that the most important choice healthy couples make is to have goodwill toward each other. This may seem like a simple requirement, yet many couples have anything but goodwill toward each other. Instead, they make it far more important to control through criticism, anger, whining, refusing to take responsibility for their own pain or joy; avoiding responsibilities, or looking for the bad or wrongdoing of their spouse. Within marriage, goodwill means that kindness is more important to you than being right or controlling your spouse. It means that you care deeply about how your behavior affects yourself, your spouse, and the relationship. It means doing whatever inner work you need to do to heal addictive behaviors that are causing problems in the relationship. It means having your own highest good and your spouse's highest good at heart. You receive joy from supporting your spouse in what brings him or her joy. It means being open to learning from your conflicts about yourself and your spouse. It means being devoted to doing inner work to learn to take full responsibility for your own feelings of pain and joy rather than making your spouse feel responsible for your feelings.
Goodwill does not necessarily mean being nice. Niceness is often another form of control, since it often comes with an agenda: If I am nice to you, you will be nice to me.” Goodwill has no agenda other than the desire to be a loving person. It is a decision that you make for yourself, not a choice that is dependent upon your spouse's behavior. Source: The Power of Goodwill. Dr. Margaret Paul. March 12, 2007.
If you enjoy these articles, you may be interested in ordering Book For all Seasons - 2017 edition. It challenges readers to select a virtue from one of the Sunday readings and work at that one during the week. There is also space for taking Homily notes (so we better retain them) and space to journal about the selected virtue. There may be other aids you may enjoy looking at throughout the website for Fortifying Families of Faith. Thank you.
Hoping you enjoy this short poem scrounged from the Internet for this Virtue of the Month article. It seems to fit perfectly even if its a bit corny! (get the pun?)
Tending the Garden of Daily Living (unknown author)
Plant Three Rows of Peas:
Peace of Mind
Peace of Heart
Peace of Soul
Plant Four Rows of Squash:
Plant Four Rows of Lettuce
Lettuce be kind
Lettuce be faithful
Lettuce be patient
Lettuce really love one another
No Garden is Complete Without Turnips
Turnip for meetings
Turnip for service
Turnip to help one another
Our Garden Must Have Thyme
Thyme for each other
Thyme for family
Thyme for friends
Water freely with patience and cultivate with love.
There is much fruit in your garden because you reap what you sow.