An old Italian woman once told me the only sin is not to be kind. It's a wise summary of the greatest commandment: to love the Lord with all your heart and to love your neighbor as yourself.
Catholicism can be as easy as that. Over the years as a reporter I've heard some anecdotes that explain principles of the Catholic faith in easy terms.
You're called to serve where your shadow falls. Some years ago, I interviewed a woman who worked with Mother Teresa and asked what got her into helping the destitute and dying in Calcutta. She said her husband was a U.S. diplomat in India and at night they'd dress up in fancy clothes for government receptions. When they came home in their finery they had to step over the poor sleeping in their portico. Any person with a heart had to get involved, she said, "I couldn't just play bridge all day."
Ungodly ultimatums are dangerous. Back in the '60s and '70s, clean-cut fellows went off to college and came home bearded and with long hair. In one family I interviewed about those days, the mother said she had hardly recognized her son at the door. That evening her husband found her crying in the bedroom, feeling like life had been turned upside down. He became angry and told his son, "You get a haircut tomorrow or get out of this house!" A few hours later, he calmed down and told the kid, "I hate your hair, but I never want you to leave." The long hair remained until styles changed. In a house down the street, meanwhile, another father also told his son to get a haircut or get out. "I see the young man downtown now," said the first dad. "He's a businessman any father would be proud of. But he's never gone home."
Even death can't end it all. The late Mary Reed Newland, a noted religious educator, spoke of an experience when a neighbor's child drowned. Though not close to the family of the drowning victim, she and her teenage children went to the wake. Before they left the house, the kids gave her the "Godmother speech," as in "God, mother! Don't say anything." To their horror, she ignored them and told the grieving mother a basic principle of Catholicism, that she would see her son again. The children were put out until the boy's mother came by some days later to learn more about the next time she'd see her son.
You're God's favorite child. The late pastoral theologian Father Henri Nouwen told me this during an interview, and I scoffed at the idea. He went on to say that I was limiting God because of my limited imagination and that God, being God, can have more than one favorite child. The concept stayed with me and has helped me just glimpse the magnitude of God's love. On a bad day, it prompts me to check in with the prayer, "Your favorite child is in need. Do something."
Help those in need. Don't disrespect relationships with ultimatums. Know there is a tomorrow and never forget God loves you. Simple and key principles of Catholicism. Some things are so important they shouldn't be complicated.