Friday, August 20, 2010

The motive power behind gentleness is always love

"Gentleness is the virtue that restrains the passion of anger. Over the centuries it has been variously described. Sometimes poetically, sometimes theologically. Where anger flares up, gentleness calms down. Where anger is a bursting flame gentleness is a gentle rain. Where anger asserts itself and crushes, gentleness embraces and quiets and soothes yet as we hear these and similar descriptions of gentleness we are liable to make the mistake as I dare say so much of the modern world makes the mistake of identifying gentleness with weakness.

A gentle person is a meek person. So most people think that a gentle person is a weak person. It is just the opposite. In order to be truly gentle and that does not mean soft or sentimental, one must be strong. Only strong people can be gentle, because gentleness restrains strength by love. Whether its strength of body that could destroy physically or strength of will that could crush volitionally or strength of mind that could devastate intellectually. It’s only such people that can even begin to be gentle. And the reason of course is because they’ve got something to restrain.

But the motive power behind gentleness is always love. Love of the other for whose sake I restrain myself. There are then two qualities that belong to the meaning of gentleness and they are strength and love. As we turn to the Gospels and ask ourselves where and how has the Savior commended this virtue to our practice? At first sight we may be shocked to learn that there is only one expressed occasion when Christ explicitly told us to learn from Him; now of course He was teaching constantly. But only once did He formally tell us, command us to learn of Him. Learn of me He told us, for I am gentle and humble of heart. So the first and primary lesson that we learn from Christ’s own telling us, bidding us, to imitate him especially in His gentleness is that if we are to be gentle as He was we must be humble like He was. Gentleness or meekness which are synonymous are impossible in the absence of humility. Why? If we’ve ever asked ourselves why do we get irritated with people. Why do they bother us? Why all these inner and sometimes outer flares of passion isn’t because somehow though we may not even articulate the fact to ourselves that we, well, don’t like what the person is doing because we feel the person has no right to be doing this. At least in my presence or I wouldn’t do this. Who does she think she is talking that way to me? If we wish then in imitation of Jesus to be gentle we must become humble. So much so that I do not hesitate to say that the best single barometer of humility which by its nature is quite hidden and not so easy to identify, the best single barometer of how humble we are is how gentle we are. Only humble people will be gentle. Because only they will honestly say to themselves why should I get angry with her, come to think of it I’ve just done the same. Or why should I be irritated? If I’m really honest I know there must be things that are irritating to him or her. So why should one irritant be irritated with another irritant?

If we are humble, if we look into our hearts, and not just at times, but constantly, what do we see there? If we look, you know we don’t see except what we’re looking for. If we look into our hearts we see sin, passion, weakness, ineptitude, crudeness, self-conceit. You name it and we’ve got it. All it takes is a good hard look but that takes humility. We are so prone, as the same Jesus has been telling us, we are so prone to see the faults even the minorest of them, the littlest thing that Christ calls speck in our brother’s eye, and we don’t see the beam in our own. And do you know why because maybe the beam is so big in our own eyes we can’t even recognize the fact that the person does have virtue, does have fine qualities. Remember this: we always see others through our own eyes. And our eyes are sinful eyes. So much and more that could be said about Christ’s teaching about gentleness is practice. Christ practiced his gentleness from the womb of His mother. No objections recorded by Mary or Joseph for having to trek the long miles to Bethlehem."

-- Gentleness by Fr John A Hardon, SJ

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