Learn of Me, because I am meek and humble of heart.
The one who first said that "meekness is not weakness" was the author of much more than a good rhyme. Meekness is a virtue, and for that reason it is an exhibition of strength. No one would consider trained muscles, graceful, vigorous and untiring, evidence of passiveness or weakness of body. The athlete is our ideal of a strong man. Now, virtues are the trained muscles of the will by the help of which man exercises his freedom energetically, perseveringly, at the proper time and in the proper way. Meekness, then, is strength, if to throttle a lion is strength, if to hold one's place on the fighting line is strength.
All virtues keep to the golden mean; they travel in the middle of the road; they swerve not to the side of excess, nor slip to the side of defect. Meekness has a hard road to travel. It holds the curb upon anger, keeping it to the path. The touchiness of resentment, the tenacity of revenge, the cry of rage becoming a, curse, the fierceness of wrath tuat vents itself in abuse or blows, these meekness must rule and govern in their incessant manifestations along the way of life. In this work meekness should have occasions enough to display its strength, and yet it has another task, not so laborious, not so frequent, but often necessary. There are times when just indignation is called for, when the voice must be raised in protest and when energetic resistance becomes a duty. Meekness then must put spurs to the laggard soul, that it may not weaken or fail in life's journey. So there is the hard task of meekness, to keep the currents of our irascible nature at the proper temperature, not permitting them to be chilled into inactivity or to boil over into fiery vaporings, but retaining them in sparkling, refreshing vigor anywhere between freezing and boiling point. Or (to put it another way) meekness performs the duties of a good policeman towards our inclinations to anger. It will not allow them to loiter when they should move on or to break the law in any way, as rarely listless anger is more prone to do.
Have you ever considered why our Lord said: "Learn of Me because I am meek and humble of heart"? Some have thought that He wished to teach us those two virtues of meekness and humility in this passage. Such an interpretation neglects the rest of the passage where those words occur. Christ was opening a school in opposition to that of the Pharisees. He invited all to come to it. "Learn of Me." Never had any school a more attractive advertisement. The teacher was "meek and humble of heart"; the pupils would find rest for their souls; the lesson was sweet and easy. Christ, then, in calling Himself meek of heart was not inviting us to learn that lesson alone. He had many an other lesson to teach us. Rather was He describing the teacher to us and showing His qualifications for the position.
No doubt the first lesson the pupils would learn would be that of meekness, which displayed itself in every word and motion of their friend and teacher, especially as the Pharisees who conducted the rival school had not the meekness of Christ. They were serpents and the brood of vipers, always lying in wait, always stinging to death. They were relentless tyrants in little things, with microscopic eyes and souls, seeing and counting anise and cummin, and choking at a gnat. They clung to the letter of their rules and never looked to the spirit of them. They might wear for a time the mask of meekness, but spying, revenge, treacherous questions, reviling, persecution, death, these were the usual accompaniments of the course of studies in the school of the Pharisees. The pupils of Christ might shudder at the words, yoke and burden, if they forgot how their meek teacher would fit yoke and burden sweetly to their shoulders and necks, and how by His hands He would make them light. Yokes are made for two, and the other one, they would recall, is Christ.
Meekness is properly of the heart; it is the safety valve of anger; it keeps the hot blood of the heart at a normal temperature. Anger, according to Saint Thomas, has six daughters. The smallness of the family may excite some surprise, but the great theologian in his usual way shows why they are six and where they keep themselves. Two reside in the heart wrath and revenge. Three live on the angry lips the scream which is a confused cry, the abuse which attacks the neighbor, and blasphemy, which execrates God. The last of these unlovely daughters is blows, the latest-born of the children of anger. Meekness has to manage this unruly household, and does it by keeping the heart under its strong sway.
To call the roll of anger's brood will help us to appreciate better the meekness of Christ's Heart. On rare occasions we know that meekness fired His Heart with zeal, put a lash in His hand, and kindled just indignation upon His lips. But, more frequently, the meekness of Christ is displayed in patience, and gentleness. There could not be in Christ the sinful strife of passions, but there could be the holy rivalry of virtues. Christ had real feelings and real passions, though not sinful ones. How many times meekness and just indignation struggled for the control of Christ's Heart, and how rarely did the victory go to the latter! Saint Mark pictures that struggle for us on one occasion where Christ knew that the Pharisees had determined upon His ruin, and where He forced them by their silence to admit His right to heal upon the Sabbath. "Looking round about them," relates Saint Mark, "with anger, being grieved for the blindness of their hearts, He saith to the man: Stretch forth thy hand." That was one occasion out of a multitude where meekness allowed not anger to flame into rebuke, but melted anger into grief.
The Passion shows us meekness winning its greatest triumph in the Heart of Christ. Justice might have summoned legions of Angels, but meekness said to Peter: "Put up thy sword." That is the constant cry of meekness: "Put up thy sword." The silence of Christ in His Passion is another manifestation of His meekness. "When He was reviled, He did not revile; when He suffered, He threatened not." Nor was the silence of Christ the outcome of a want of feeling. He felt every pain, every insult in its full strength. He felt the waves of just anger beating and raging ever, but ever stayed by the unyielding firmness of meekness.
Even in His innermost thoughts during the Passion we may behold His meekness. The frightfulness of the torments to come, the dark deluge of sin, the lavish generosity of His Redemption and its futility in many cases, these were so many motives why His will should complain and rebel, but meekness preferred the shame and won another triumph at the expense of Christ's Heart-blood. "Not My will but Thine be done," said meekness, with bloody lips. From that dearly bought victory until the end, meek ness was king in the Heart of Christ, and around the throne stood all the fair children of that virtue, as beautiful as the daughters of anger are ugly. There were there silence under lash and cross, the look of longing for the denier, the kiss of peace for the traitor, the prayer of forgiveness for all, the hands fettered forever in the widest embrace of love, the Heart shedding its treasures by every avenue upon the world, giving blood for blows, giving life for death. Teach me, Christ, because Thou art meek of heart!
- text taken from by Father Francis P Donnelly, SJ; it has the Imprimatur of +Joannes Murphy Farley, Archbishop of New York, New York, 1 May 1911