Seventh in a series
THERE IS A section in Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, “Rejoice and Be Glad,” in which he comments on the Beatitudes. It is wonderfully provocative section filled with insights. Pointing out that the word “blessed” in the Beatitudes means “holy,” Pope Francis offers inspiring insights into what Jesus, in presenting the Beatitudes, has told us about holiness. I find his comments on meekness especially illuminating. The Holy Father seems very perceptive in viewing attitudes in the contemporary world that will not help people grow in holiness. In fact, he points out that some attitudes will make it difficult for people to respond to the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives. He writes the following:
“‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.’
“These are strong words in a world that from the beginning has been a place of conflict, disputes and enmity on all sides, where we constantly pigeonhole others on the basis of their ideas, their customs and even their way of speaking or dressing. Ultimately, it is the reign of pride and vanity, where each person thinks he or she has the right to dominate others. Nonetheless, impossible as it may seem, Jesus proposes a different way of doing things: the way of meekness. This is what we see him doing with his disciples. It is what we contemplate on his entrance to Jerusalem: ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey’ (Mt 21:5; Zech 9:9).
“Christ says ‘Learn from me; for I am gentle meek and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls’ (Mt:11:29). If we are constantly upset and impatient with others, we will end up drained and weary. But if we regard the faults and limitations of others with tenderness and meekness, without an air of superiority, we can actually help them and stop wasting our energy on useless complaining. Saint Therese of Lisieux tells us that ‘perfect charity consists in putting up with others‘ mistakes, and not being scandalized by their faults.”
Pope Francis’ words have moved me to examine my conscience. For most of my life I have thought of myself as a very patient person. Probably that has been because I almost never lose my temper. In my more than 50 years of teaching philosophy I can count on the fingers of one hand the times in class that I was seriously tempted to lose my temper. Two or three times I had to act as though I was angry, but I really was in complete control. That type of control has contributed to my image of myself as patient.
Reflecting on Pope Francis’ words about meekness I have become aware that I am often impatient when waiting on line in a store or driving through traffic. I am often mentally critical of people and exaggerate their weaknesses in my mind. Because of the pope’s insights, I am wondering if that type of impatience is due to pride or vanity. Could it be that I half-consciously think that I am more important than other people who are waiting on line or driving slowly through traffic? This is something I want to discuss with my confessor the next time I celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation.
I am thinking of friends whose lives seem to provide shining examples of meekness as it is described by Pope Francis. They seem to be at peace with themselves, with others and God. They are not easily upset. Even in situations that would seem to upset anyone, they seem able to keep everything in proper perspective. I suspect that kind of peace comes from God.
I tend to be a person who keeps busy with many projects, which I believe are important and worth my time and energy. I think of almost all of them as efforts at evangelization. If any of them go well, that is primarily due to the Holy Spirit. What the pope has written about meekness should help me to keep the right attitude about efforts of evangelization. Christian zeal is wonderful and we should try to be zealous, but it is good to remember that we do not save or redeem people. Jesus does that. We should rejoice that we can play a role in helping to build God’s kingdom. If I can remember that the Holy Spirit’s presence makes the building of the kingdom possible, then when the future does not happen the way I wish, being patient may allow me to be disappointed but prevent me from being discouraged.
Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his 24-part lecture series on the Catholic Novel, every Tuesday at 9 p.m. on NET-TV.