Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength. —St Francis de Sales
The Beatitudes give us the ultimate portrait of what it means to be a saint. But our contemporaries, who especially value self-assertion, individualism and ‘getting on’, have a very hard time accepting that being meek is any sort of ideal or blessing!
Meekness is anathema in our aggressive culture of strivers where winning is all important. Life for many is a Darwinian jungle where ‘survival of the fittest’ is the only golden rule.
Even in the Church, these last decades we have seen too many polarising ‘culture warriors’ who seem desperately searching for enemies within to fight and condemn. It is fascinating how extremists of all ideological types despise meekness and gentleness. They see it as a sign of weakness.
Thank God Pope Francis is meekly suggesting a wiser pastoral strategy! In calling the Church to a style of evangelisation that ‘attracts’ rather than endlessly ‘scolds’, Pope Francis is affirming with St Francis de Sales that ‘nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength’. Even better, it actually works pastorally!
For after all, meekness and gentleness are not character flaws. They are the ‘power of the powerless One’—which is available to any one of us who risks solidarity with the Crucified and Risen Jesus.
Christ Jesus came not to the proud or the assertive ‘winners’. He came to the poor and the humble. He came meekly. Dorothy Day once wrote: ‘As for ourselves, yes, we must be meek, bear injustice, malice, rash judgement. We must turn the other cheek, give up our cloak, go a second mile.’
Of course, one cannot read books and earn degrees so as to become meek and humble. It cannot be achieved at all! Meekness and humility can only be ‘learnt’ by removing oneself from the endless competitiveness of our culture and simply being present to the suffering ones all around us. It is ‘caught’, not ‘taught’.
Think of our own Australian secular ‘saint’, Sir Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop. ‘Weary’ demonstrated exceptional personal qualities of humility. He spent his life in service to others. Renowned as the ‘Christ of the Burma Railway’, he served for four years as medical officer, leader, motivator and death-defying advocate for fellow diggers during World War II. On ‘Weary’s’ return to Australia he became a powerful force for good in our community.
God dwelled within this talented but self-effacing surgeon. God’s meek ‘power’ in the world radiated from his humble persona. In his own way he was literally an ‘icon’ of Christ the healer.
I suppose one could give an erudite theological definition of the beatitude of ‘meekness’. But ultimately this mystery is revealed not in grand theories but in the faces of real living persons like ‘Weary’ Dunlop. That is where God’s glory truly shines.
This article is part of a series of reflections entitled Blessed Are You: Meditations on the Beatitudes & Daily Life by Br Mark O’Connor FMS.
Br Mark O’Connor FMS is the Vicar for Communications in the Diocese of Parramatta.