17 February 2012

Blessed Are the Meek

Another great sermon on the Beatitudes. I will put links to these on the right side of the blog--like I did for the sermons on the Seven Deadly Sins from last year-- when the series is concluded.

The sermons are great to read, but are even more powerful to hear. If you can, I highly recommend getting to the Oratory for some of these, which will continue to run each Sunday until Passiontide.

This week's installment on the Beatitudes comes from Father Jean-Pierre Herman, of St. Francis de Sales Oratory:

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land (Matthew 5.5)

Gandhi, although not a Christian, highly valued the beatitudes.  Nevertheless he valued them in a wrong way.  He considered them to be a charter of universal love and saw them as a genuinely inspired text from aspiritual author, without reference to Jesus Christ Himself.  He did not understand the real meaning of the beatitudes.  If we wanted to sum them up, we could use the title of one of the most famous books of spirituality: “The Imitation of Christ”.  Who is pure in heart? Who is the meek one? Who is the one who is persecuted for justice? It is Jesus Christ Himself.  The beatitudes are self-descriptions of Jesus, inviting those who want to follow him to imitate His perfections.

Meekness… who are the meek?

“Beati mites quoniam ipsi possidebunt terram,” says the second beatitude, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the land.”

If we want to understand what Jesus says, we have to ask two questions: “What is meekness?” and “What does inherit the land mean?”

The word used in Latin is mites: “Beati mites.”  It has been translated in numerous manners by the different Bible translations.  In English, the word “meek” has usually been chosen, French translations speak of “les doux,” the sweet, whereas many others talk about “the humble” and in more progressive translations “the non-violent.”

In fact, mitis is a word difficult to translate adequately and we could say that it embraces all the meanings of those translations.  The meek are those who can be humble, sweet in character, docile to the will of God, and who will never use violence.

What about the second part of the statement: they will inherit the land? Meekness never was the best means of conquering the world.  Can the meek rule over this world on earth?  No! The land of which Christ speaks is not down-to-earth reality, it is not the land once promised to our forefathers on earth, but the land promised to all those who follow Christ: life eternal.  “My kingdom,”says Jesus, “is not from this world.”[1]
Jesus, the meek

Since the beatitudes are a self-portrait of Jesus, we can consider that Jesus is the meek, i.e. meekness incarnated.  Everything in his behavior is imbued with meekness: when he performs miracles, calls his disciples, preaches, heals the sick, welcomes people in distress and especially in his patience: "He will not wrangle or cry out, he will not break a bruised reed nor quench a smoldering wick,”[2] the prophet had foretold.

Nevertheless we must notice that Jesus’ meekness never means passivity or leaving room to the adversary.  Jesus’ meekness is also imbued with firmness, one of the best examples being when He kicks the merchants out of the temple.

But the climax of Jesus’ meekness is to be found in the sacrifice of the Cross.  The meekness of God manifested in Christ is revealed in the Cross.  The way by which Christ is going to win the victory over death is not violence, but submission.  "When he was reviled,” Peter says, “he did not revile in return, when he suffered, he did not threaten."[3]

Jesus is victorious over death by lowering Himself, as the letter to the Philippians states:

“He lowered himself unto death, even death of the Cross therefore God elevated him and give him the name above all names.”[4]

The way to the Promised Land, to eternal life, was re-opened by God’s meekness manifested in Christ.
Meek and humble of heart

"Learn from me,” Jesus says, “for I am meek and humble of heart."[5]

The best way to eternal life is the imitation of Christ.  Thus all things in our Christian behavior must reflect the meekness of Jesus. The martyr St. Ignatius of Antioch suggested to the Christians of his time, in relation to the outside world, this always relevant attitude: "Faced with their rage, be meek; faced with their arrogance, be humble."[6]

And our beloved patron Saint Francis de Sales recommended to his faithful:

"Be as sweet as you can and remember that more flies are captured by a drop of honey than with a barrel of vinegar."

Never in life and on earth will we acquire anything with violence, but by meekness and patience, which are the meekness and patience of Christ Himself.

We must be convinced that it is not only a matter of external behavior, but an attitude of the heart.  An act of charity does not mean anything if there is no love in the heart.  Allow me to quote the following text.  It is written by a monk and it is about monastic life, but everybody could draw guidelines for himself from what he says:

"Observe even for just one day, the course of your thoughts: You will be surprised by the frequency and the vivacity of the internal criticisms made with imaginary interlocutors. What is their typical origin? It is this: The unhappiness with superiors who do not care for us, do not esteem us, do not understand us; they are severe, unjust, or too stingy with us or with other 'oppressed persons.' We are unhappy with our brothers, who are 'without understanding, hard-bitten, curt, confused, or injurious.… Thus in our spirit a tribunal is created in which we are the prosecutor, judge, and jury; we defend and justify ourselves; the absent accused is condemned. Perhaps we make plans for our vindication or revenge."[7]

Most of us could easily replace the words superior and brother by boss, wife, husband, colleagues, or neighbors and apply them to his or her own life.

The beatitudes are a charter of the Kingdom, a self-portrait of Jesus.  Our Christian life is a time which is given to us, from baptism to the great encounter with our Savior, to prepare for our eternity.  The surest path to it is the imitation of Christ and meekness is an essential feature of it.

We should make ours that prayer which Saint Augustine offers in his Confessions:

"O God, you have commanded me to be meek; give to me that which you command and command me to do what you will."[8]

In the coming week, let us constantly repeat this short prayer, which is part of the patrimony of Catholic devotion:

Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart like unto Thine.  Amen

[1] John 18.36
[2] Mark 12:19-20
[3] 1 Peter 2:23
[4] Philippians 2.8
[5] Matthew 11.29
[6] St. Ignatius of Antioch, "Letter to the Ephesians," 10, 2-3.
[7]A monk, "Le porte del silenzio," Milan, Ancora, 1986, p. 17 (Originale: "Les porte du silence," Geneva, Libraire Claude Martigny).
[8]St. Augustine, "Commentary on the First Letter of John," 7, 8 (PL 35, 2023).


Anonymous said...

May this sermon (and the first one by Canon Wiener)stay with me all of lent! Thanks for the publication of it and thanks to Fr. Herman.


thetimman said...

Another great sermon on the Beatitudes. I will put links to these on the right side of the blog--like I did for the sermons on the Seven Deadly Sins from last year-- when the series is concluded.

The sermons are great to read, but are even more powerful to hear. If you can, I highly recommend getting to the Oratory for some of these, which will continue to run each Sunday until Passiontide.

Anonymous said...

I think somewhere in the catechism it says that our lives here on earth presage our lives in eternity. Yes, we see the rewards of eternal life, but those rewards also begin in this life. Sacrifice yields not only eternal rewards but rewards in this life too. The essence of suffering, which is not always preached, is that it yields rewards in this life and in the next. The life of a Catholic is not one of perpetual suffering here while alive, it is one of intermittent sufferings, sacrifices (which are like investments) which yield blessings in this life (which are like profits). I think many Catholic preachers miss this vital point and are always preaching a life of perpetual suffering with rewards only in the next life, which is why many Catholics become Pentecostal or even pagans.