Blessed are the meek

Back in 1991 I was studying the Beatitudes in Germain Grisez’s moral theology, vol. 1 textbook, Christian Moral Principles, and he had a description of meekness that really shed clear light on my life at the time. In my mind, I always equated meekness with weakness, and so found it unappealing. But Grisez gave me a fresh perspective: “Meekness is recognizing, accepting and carrying out one’s limited role in the Body of Christ.”

But, I thought, why a limited role?

Tempted by Good

My moral theology professor at the time, as I recall, made some intriguing points applying this principle a bit more in detail. He said that a common temptation in carrying out one’s personal vocation is to reach beyond (or evade) a vocation’s limits to do things that, though they may be very good in themselves, don’t serve our vocation. He said something like this:

Those who lack meekness risk burnout from the dissipation and squandering of their limited energies; they risk compromising the integrity of their primary vocational commitments by engaging in diverting, often more agreeable tangents, and tend to reinforce, by their unwise wandering and fragmented lives a kind of addiction to pleasure and ego-satisfaction; or, said otherwise, they engage in a chronic avoidance of all that is unpleasant or difficult. However, our primary Christian vocation is to carry the Cross with Jesus, and carrying one’s Cross requires that we not live in avoidance of what is unpleasant, but rather that we live relentlessly faithful to God’s will in the particulars of our daily life.

Mother Teresa once said that the Devil disguises himself as an Angel of Light to tempt good people not with obviously evil things, but rather with apparently good things. Those who succumb to this seduction often wind up doing many good things poorly, instead of doing the few things they were required by their vocation to do well. Or , they wind up distracted and confused by peripheral goods, losing their focus and weakening their commitment to the “one thing necessary.” It’s almost a Satanic “mock of God” as the Evil One allures us to disobey God precisely by making us do what we think is good.

Applying that principle of discernment in my own life has been, and is, a work in progress. In fact, I find it the most insidious and challenging of the Devil’s wiles in my life — the “temptation of lights” that, if unchecked by consistent discernment, can lead me into dark places. I have seen it wreak havoc in the lives of many good and faith-filled people I have known throughout the years, and have seen it take some twisted and tragic shapes.

I’ve seen life vocations undone in burnout caused by indiscriminate over-committing. I’ve seen couples suffer when a spouse invests too much time in church or service activities at the expense of their marriage. And I’ve seen marriages broken up by infidelity justified as the discovery of a fresh, beautiful and vibrant love into which God had supposedly “led” the adulterer. I’ve seen zealous Catholic young adults justify their premarital sex as a God-granted exception-to-the-rule, a passionate expression of their love as a “naked without shame” theology of the body. I’ve seen well-discerned commitments suddenly abandoned for greener pastures once the unpleasurable Cross manifested itself as the inevitable cost of discipleship.

And while all of these examples confirm Benedict Groeschel’s sardonic contention that “self-deception is one of humanity’s greatest strengths after the Fall,” we must all realize that all of us are susceptible to the power of that terrible “strength.”

Fr. Aidan Kavanaugh once famously said of those disciples who set their hands to the Kingdom plow, but were later waylaid by tempting irrelevancies, “They began by blowing their minds in Mystery and ended up blow-drying their hair in mediocrity.”

Avoiding Dissipation

All this by way of introduction to my own discerned decision to pause my Blog for a bit until the present and intense spate of work and home related commitments pass. I will date that restart at 12/17, the commencement of the Advent “O Antiphons.” And note — if you want to get emailed copies of these posts, and risk jamming your Inbox with daily intrusions, just click on the Subscribe button above to the right and fill in your info. And feel free to browse any of the 765 posts!

As I have said ad nauseam, I love, love, love writing this Blog, have long felt impelled to do so since I began in earnest in 2011 and find that God seems pleased to enlighten me most brightly (and playfully!) when His light shines for you in me.

While I’m not trying to be melodramatic about this pause here, I am trying to use my small decision as a way of sharing with you an insight I myself have received; one that has served me well. Prayerfully discern every day of your life what decisions serve best your present vocational commitments  — and everyone has a vocation to fulfill at every moment, whether it’s had within or without a settled state of life like marriage or priesthood. Judge what decisions threaten to distract you from (or lead you to betray) those commitments, and, even more, beg daily for the grace to carry your tailor-made Cross, to bloom where you’re planted in your unique path to sainthood.

So, see you when the O Antiphons begin! Let’s let Hayley Westenra lead us nearer:

6 comments on “Blessed are the meek

  1. Thanks Thomas, great insights, particularly important this time of year. Beautiful video too.

  2. Ben Patterson says:

    Good one Tom. Thanks for sharing.

  3. WoopieCushion says:

    I’ve also “heard” how anger can be transformed into meekness. I would love to delve into this mystery as I believe there is much dumping ground business that happens in life (ie. promiscuity) because of unhealed sources of anger. It all seems to point to a gentleness with self that I always discern at the foundation even of the most divine ire-filled passage of sacred writ. HAVE A GOOD, BREAK filled with the BLISS of EMBRACED LIMITS, bro! Very Incarnational—practice what we preach eh?

    • Absolutely, W.C. Meekness also includes the classic “strength under control,” including in “strength” the passions, which would include anger. Here gentleness would be the expression of an attitude of “under control” when approaching those things that are fragile and weak, delicate and small, deserving of reverence and a discriminating delicacy that preserves what is good, leaves the smoldering wick smoldering in hopes of stoking a flame, etc. This is why the key to all inner healing of wounds and such must be the cultivation of grace-drenched virtues that give the passions work to do in service to the good. Like the vices, wounds should be attended to by strategies that draw forth the God-given salves latent in our capacity to do the good as God would have us do, e.g. Isaiah 58:8-9 “Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed.”

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