Cordiality: Salesian Comity

This week's reflection is written by
Very Rev. Lewis S. Fiorelli, OSFS

A few weeks ago I read an editorial that suggested that the world today, fractured and combative, needs to rediscover comity. What is comity anyway? An early 1948 edition of Webster’s Dictionary defines comity as “mildness and suavity of manners; courtesy.” A later dictionary speaks of comity in terms of “international courtesy,” which is closer to its meaning in the recent editorial. Both definitions are related. How we relate with one another in one-on-one relationships when, writ large, is how political parties and nations tend to relate to one another.

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In our Salesian tradition, comity is related to cordiality, a word we Oblates seldom use. Yet, we need to rediscover it, for it is often used by Jane and Francis to describe the attitude and disposition that one Visitation Sister is to have toward the other. For Francis and Jane cordiality is the genuine warmth and unfeigned affection that one person is to have for another person because both are made to God’s holy image.

The root of cordiality is “cor,” “heart.” Cordiality or cordial behavior is the way one believer reveals to another believer something of the warmth and tenderness of God’s love for each of us, a warmth and tenderness that is revealed in a preeminent manner in the Heart of Jesus--in Jesus whose heart knows how to suffer for the one it loves and how to save the one it loves by suffering for it.

In the Salesian tradition, “cordiality” can never be construed as a pie in the sky, sugar-sweet sentimentality. Far from that, cordiality is the outward expression of one’s deepest commitment to do all in one’s power –even if that involves suffering and pain—to insure the spiritual, material and human well-being of the one who is embraced. In that sense, cordiality is a form of what Francis calls benevolent love in the Treatise.

The brief, warm and very tender embrace between Mary and Elizabeth in the mystery of the Visitation is only the first moment of the mystery of the Visitation. That moment of embrace translated itself into months of very hard work and countless concrete acts of kindness and care, patience and love. “Cordiality” is a love that serves the one it embraces. It is a love that places the other before the self; it places the “we” before the “me.” It is a love that makes smooth the way and levels the path of the other (small “o”) as she makes her way to the Other (capital “o”). Only such an embrace, only such a cordial love --given and received countless times every day—permits a real encounter between the Prince of Peace and the Prophet of Justice.

Peace and Justice are the fruit of such a love, both on the relational level of one-on-one relationships, as in the mystery of the Visitation, and in the interactions between members of different political parties, religious traditions and among the many nations of the word.

As with so many other aspects of Salesian spirituality, what at first seems like something small and insignificant is in fact the very stuff of sanctity and the true force that moves mountains, builds bridges, and makes things whole and good on every level of human encounter.

If, as the author of the editorial suggests, the world today needs comity, then it would do well to begin with the Salesian virtue of cordiality.