“Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit; he shall bring forth justice to the nations, not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the street. A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench, until he establishes justice on the earth; the coastlands will wait for his teaching.” (Isaiah 42:1-3)
Throughout these weeks of Advent we are given visions of the coming Kingdom of God and of the long awaited messiah who will usher in this kingdom. Many of these visions that we hear from and reflect upon these next few weeks as Church are from the prophet Isaiah. It is interesting to note how much the quality of gentleness figures into the description of the God’s Kingdom and the very character of the messiah himself. Isaiah, again and again in a variety of ways, gives voice to this characteristic.
I am currently reading “Beatitudes: Eight Steps to Happiness” by Rainero Cantalamessa. In the chapter entitled, “Blessed are the Meek, for They shall inherit the Earth“, Cantalamessa offers these words which I believe are worthy of consideration and reflection:
…Violence is not just physical but mental as well. Within ourselves, if we pay attention, there are almost continuous prosecutions conducted “behind closed doors.”
I said that in some English translations of the beatitudes, we find the word “gentle” instead of “meek”. There is a nuance about meekness in that word that is important to understand. Saint Paul made this recommendation to the Christians at Philippi: “Let all men know your forbearance” (Philippians 4:5). The Greek word that is translated “forbearance” indicates a whole conglomeration of attitudes that range from clemency to the ability to yield and to show oneself friendly, tolerant and welcoming. This is not far from what we mean today by “gentleness”.
It is necessary first of all to rediscover the human value of this virtue. Gentleness is a virtue at risk even of extinction in the society in which we live. Gratuitous violence in films and television, deliberately vulgar language and the competition to push beyond the limits of the tolerable in public venues in terms of violence and explicit sex has accustomed us to all kinds of expressions of brutality and vulgarity.
Gentleness is a balm in human relations. I am convinced that people would be much happier in families if they were a bit gentler in their actions, in their words and above all in their hearts. Nothing spoils the joy of being together as much as rough treatment.
“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)
“A gentle tongue is a tree of life.” (Proverbs 15:4)
“A pleasant voice multiplies friends and softens enemies, and a gracious tongue multiplies courtesies.” (Sirach 6:5)
A gentle person leaves behind a wave of affection and admiration wherever he or she goes. “What a nice person!” is the first thing others say as soon as he or she is out of earshot.
In addition to the human value of this virtue, we need to rediscover the gospel value of gentleness, which goes beyond a good upbringing and good manners. In the Bible the words “meek” and “gentle” do not convey a passive meaning of “submissive” but rather a sense of someone acting with respect, courtesy and mercy toward others.
Paul places gentleness among the fruits of the Spirit when he says that the fruit of the Spirit is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). For Saint Thomas Aquinas, gentleness is one of the characteristics of charity. It does not exclude righteous anger, but it is able to moderate anger in a way that does not prevent a person from evaluating circumstances with peace and justice. The clearest sign of its presence is that we respectfully acknowledge whoever is before us as a human being, with his or her sensitivity and dignity, and that we do not consider ourselves superior.