Home Catechetical Corner The Beatitudes: Meekness not necessarily weakness, rather a composure of spirit

The Beatitudes: Meekness not necessarily weakness, rather a composure of spirit

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Rosanne Barber prays during Mass Nov. 21, 2021, at Our Lady of Victory Church in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, N.Y. True meekness is defined by self-control; it speaks of what we possess. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land” (Mt 5:5).

The beatitudes are perhaps the most beautiful and compelling part of the Gospel. They are poetic and inspiring, and yet enigmatic and confusing.

Among the virtuous characteristics praised in the beatitudes, the most misunderstood is likely meekness.

For the most part, we get the gist of poverty of spirit, of mourning, of the pursuit of justice, of mercy, of purity of heart, of peacemaking and even, to some extent, being persecuted for doing what is right, but aspiring to meekness isn’t on many a bucket list.

And how vague a reward is it to inherit the land?

The way we think of meekness is often in terms of weakness, a certain mousiness, a fear of assertion, a preference for standing down or staying put. This is not biblical meekness as displayed by Jesus, which is a certain composure, a gentleness of spirit.

To grasp this well, we look more closely at Jesus who put aside the power and privilege of divinity to take on our humanity. He could have simply appeared on the human scene as a triumphant Messiah, but that would have done little for us.

We would have been redeemed, yes, of course, but you and I would have learned nothing about the tragedy of sin and the merciful love of God. We needed to see the story played out in our humanity by a man like us.

A God became man — the magnificence of God took on human flesh to dwell among us. He came as a child, lived our ordinariness, shared our toil and died our death in a supreme act of meekness.

He who cured the paralytic and raised the dead could certainly have made short work of his enemies, but his was a mission of mercy (another name for true meekness).

Children are often thought of as meek, but true meekness is defined by self-control; it speaks of what we possess.

We like to invent superheroes and assume their persona to experience their superhuman powers — to escape from our own natural weakness.

How unaware it seems we are that Jesus Christ already went there and did that — as one of us, and best of all, he enables us to live in his image, to possess his power by our incorporation into him at baptism. A part of this Christ-power is meekness.

Bullying at all levels of society can be countered by meekness. Rather than lashing out at irritation or insult, the meek rely on a positive energy that steels the nerves and soothes the spirit.

Meekness is complete engagement, calmness, strength and self-control. The meek appreciate who they themselves are. This means not just mastery over the strong inclinations, like anger and greed, but also over our weaker inclinations like discontent and dissipation.

As I explain in my book, “Blessed Are the Stressed: Secrets to a Happy Heart from a Crabby Mystic,” meekness is more like the martial art of the soul, the black belt of the spiritual life. When we are meek and humble of heart, as Jesus said of himself (Mt 11:29), we are flexing those unseen muscles of the human spirit. We are in possession of ourselves.

This brings us to reflection on the second part of this beatitude that assures us that if we are meek, we shall inherit the land. I prefer to speak of inheriting the “earth” because in Genesis we see God bring forth the first man from the earth.

Then at the end of life we will be consigned to the earth. The Ash Wednesday liturgy reminds us, “remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” This realization will keep our heart humble and our spirit meek.

Most of us will at some time inherit at least a patch of earth, or a few of the goods of the earth. We may even receive a monetary inheritance. And we know that an inheritance must be claimed. We need to come forward and say, “Yes, that’s me, and so that’s mine!”

In the Old Testament to say we will inherit the earth refers to the Promised Land; in the New Testament, it is the kingdom of the righteous. The church fathers claim that our body is that earth. “We shall inherit our own body” — strange to say since we already possess our body.

But we must admit that we are on a constant quest for self-possession, to discover our identity, who we are and how to be our best self. So we need to act in integrity, building up our spirit like an athlete who possesses bodily control and coordination.

We inherit the Christlikeness that is meant to be ours by our baptism into Christ. You are our inheritance, O Lord.

And this isn’t a once and forever state of being — the beatitude speaks in ongoing terms — the meek will possess, but like all virtue we have to work at it and keep up the good fight until our earth becomes the new heavens and the new earth.

By Sister Mary Lea Hill, FSP, Catholic News Service

A member of the Daughters of St. Paul since 1964, Sister Mary Lea Hill has been engaged in various apostolic activities from film production to her current position as author and editor at Pauline Books and Media. She can be found on Twitter and Instagram @crabbymystic.