After enduring frigid temperatures back home, the warm Florida sun beckoned us out among the lush green flora and endless blue sea. A morning of beach walking and shell picking inspired us for an afternoon of exploring. Our first stop was a place promising “the most scenic hiking trails in Northeast Florida.” Fresh snow at home made us eager to experience the promised “majestic live oaks draped in Spanish moss” enjoyed by hikers and bikers.
We fell into a comfortable walking rhythm on the trail, quietly delighting in our natural surroundings. After a few minutes, a bike zoomed past us and we had to quickly move over among the brush. This happened another few times and we commented on how fast the bikers were riding. We hiked awhile longer, taking in the beauty of the trees when suddenly another biker came up behind us. This one didn’t race past us though, she stopped and looked at us kindly saying, “Hey, do you guys know that this is the bike trail? You might want to be careful because riders usually go really fast along this route.” When we told her that we were visitors from Boston, she directed us to the nearby hiking trails. We had a pleasant hike thereafter – and the trail was just as lovely, only a little bit safer thanks to the kindness of a stranger.
Away from home, Pete and I discovered a Saturday Vigil Mass at the first Catholic parish in the nation – the beautiful Cathedral Parish of St. Augustine founded in 1797. In the weekend’s gospel from the sixth chapter of Luke, Jesus advised us to beware of judging others. I’ve heard this gospel (and accompanying homily) many times, thus was surprised when the priest focused his entire homily on the very last line of the gospel – “for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.”
The priest invited us to consider the reality that spoken words reveal the condition of one’s heart. (Really, I thought?) “If your hearts are far from God, your words reveal that.” he shared. He tied his message to the familiar ‘judging others’ part of the story by observing that a hardened heart will easily revert to words of judgement rather than love. He then invited us to look within ourselves first – fix what needs fixing through prayer – then speak with kindness, not judgement. His words really hit home for me and I silently promised to try and practice his good advice during Lent and beyond.
As we ended our rejuvenating excursion south, I thought about a few memorable people we had met during our trip. There was the biker, of course, who advised a few strangers with unsolicited, helpful advice revealing a kind hearted person. – “for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.” Then there was this TSA agent I encountered on our departure home. It had been a long, rainy travel day and my back was throbbing (perhaps the pain showed on my face.) When he glanced at my license he smiled at me from beneath his large mask and said, “Another Christmas baby! You must have been the best gift for your Momma that year, just like me. I was born on the 24th.” This simple act of unexpected kindness allowed me to forget about my pain for a few moments and focus on a beautiful memory of my beloved Mom who always reminded me that I was indeed truly special because I was born a mere four days before the baby Jesus. “for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.
These folks reminded me that kind words make a huge difference! God invites us to look within our hearts and prayerfully work on ourselves before judging others. This good advice is particularly needed in the world today. Look around, there is too much division, strife and now – a war in Ukraine! Words matter and kind words make the world a better place for our families and children. We can heal our broken world but to do so, we must first heal our wounded hearts. I believe that this requires a constant dose of God. When we fill our hearts with LOVE each day, our words of kindness naturally follow.