by Rev. Nicholas L. Gregoris
"Buonismo" is an Italian word that refers to a tendency of certain people to be "nice," no matter the circumstances or the cost. My Uncle Frank (God rest him!) epitomized "buonismo." Whenever one of my family members needed money, even if he knew the money was not going to be well spent, he would give it away until – alas! – he didn't have anything left to give.
Of course, my Uncle Frank was a kind and generous man and, as the Bible teaches us, "love covers a multitude of sins." However, if you give money to an alcoholic, you could very well be enabling that person to get his next drink and, therefore, could end up hurting rather than helping such a person.
The Bible also carries this bit of wisdom: "Spare the rod, spoil the child." I recall a priest telling me that whenever his father spanked him for misbehaving as a little boy, his dad would preface the corporal punishment with the sincere remark: "Believe it or not, this is going to hurt me a lot more than it hurts you!" In other words, an integral part of being a mature, responsible Catholic-Christian adult, relative, parent, teacher, priest, or bishop is knowing the difference between charity and "buonismo," and acting accordingly. Charity encompasses the demands of truth and justice, not to mention those of prudence and discipline.
"Buonismo," which is superficial, doesn't even bother embracing those realities because they are viewed as impositions, obstacles to be overcome along the path of being considered always and everywhere: nice, politically correct and, therefore, popular.
In the light of the Synod and as we prepare ourselves to enter into the spirit of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy called for by Pope Francis, it will be important to remember to distinguish the virtue of Christian charity from mere "buonismo." While tolerance certainly has its place in civilized societies, and it's better to err on the side of charity in many circumstances of our daily lives, "buonismo" is more often than not counter-productive, although it may not always be counter-intuitive.
Giving handouts and bailouts in a welfare state, in a culture where not only adults but especially young people bank on entitlements, "buonismo" is not only costly in economic terms but potentially perilous in moral, ethical and spiritual ones. Charity doesn't just hand a hungry man a fish; it goes the extra mile in teaching a man how to fish.
Pace Amsterdam, if a drug addict comes to me for help, I don't hand him a clean needle. Pace Japan, if a sex addict comes to me for help, I don't pay for him to see a prostitute. "Buonismo" might sound and even feel good at a certain level, but unforeseen consequences may be much worse than one thinks. Goodness is indeed a virtue, but "buonismo" or "niceness" is not. The virtue of goodness as Saints Paul, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and Blessed John Henry Newman taught means conformity of the individual to the objective truth of God, Who is all-good and deserving of all our love. True goodness leads us to love our neighbor as ourselves; to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors; to love sacrificially even as God loved us in Christ Who, while we were still sinners, died on the Cross for our eternal salvation; in the spirit of the spiritual works of mercy, to instruct the ignorant, to counsel the doubtful, to admonish the sinner.
The Bible, and especially the Gospels, recount God's goodness – not His niceness. We must pray daily for the grace to be good and not just to be nice; for the wisdom to know the difference; and to live each day according to the logic of that heavenly wisdom befitting the freedom of the children of God in the family of the Church and in the human family.