The Power of the Meek
By Donald Senior, C.P.

"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land" (Matthew 5:5).

As a boy I remember seeing in comic books the famous ad about the "weakling" shamed by the bully who kicks sand in his face on the beach and walks off with his girlfriend. Only when the weakling decides to lift weights to build up his body and begin to look like Jack Armstrong is he ready to bop the bully on the chin and reclaim his "prize." The meek inherit the earth? No way!

Few of the Beatitudes confront the values of our culture so directly. The land belongs to the strong, not the meek—that is the axiom of our geopolitics today. In the land of the Bible, the same equation is played out daily: Both sides believe that the "only language" their opponent understands is force.

What can Jesus mean in this third Beatitude of Matthew's Sermon on the Mount? The first three Beatitudes highlight those whom the Gospel believes God favors in a particular way: the poor, those who mourn, the meek. The Greek word translated as "meek" is praus, and its meaning is not meekness in the sense of insipid weakness or a lack of assertiveness—as the English term can imply—but a lack of power or being defenseless.

When one sees the long tattered lines of Afghan refugees or staring eyes of hungry African children, their plight is not one of being "meek" in the sense of shy or retiring, but of being without power or resources and, therefore, terribly vulnerable. By extension, the word can also move beyond the level of one's social condition and refer to a lack of pretense or arrogance, a gentleness and authentic humility that come from understanding that ultimately one's life and power rest in God.

Biblical Vision

Jesus' Beatitude is a quotation from Psalm 37:11: "But the meek shall possess the land, they shall delight in abounding peace," and it taps into a strong biblical vision. Because the Israelites were people of the land, their dreams for peace often included the longing for a time when the land's bounty would not be destroyed and all could live on the land in peace.

Particularly beautiful is the vision of the future in Isaiah: "They shall live in the houses they build, and eat the fruit of the vineyards they plant; they shall not build houses for others to live in, or plant for others to eat. As the years of a tree, so the years of my people; and my chosen ones shall long enjoy the produce of their hands. They shall not toil in vain, nor beget children for sudden destruction....The wolf and the lamb shall graze alike, and the lion shall eat hay like the ox. None shall hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord" (65:21-25).

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus also envisions a kingdom of God where peace and justice abound, where all God's children have a place of security and joy. This is the powerful dream Jesus summons up at the beginning of his ministry. Blessed are the meek, the powerless, the downtrodden, because in God's reign they will not remain disenfranchised but will inherit the land. The Gospel's vision of a just future that reverses the situations of oppression that so often hold sway extends now beyond the land of Israel to the whole earth and encompasses all those whose lives and hopes are threatened and who have no resource to lean on other than God's own providence.

Embraced by Jesus

What is remarkable in the Gospel of Matthew is that Jesus himself throws his lot with people like this. He describes himself as "meek and humble of heart" (11:29) and the evangelist cites the words of the prophet Zechariah to emphasize the paradox of Jesus the king entering Jerusalem on a donkey. "Behold, your king comes to you, meek and riding on an ass..." (Matthew 21:5, citing Zechariah 9:9). Jesus' mission is to identify with the least (21:35-46), to teach and heal that they might have justice and to exemplify the virtues of gentleness and humility that the Spirit of God instills.

Without fail, Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount summons us to take stock of our values from God's point of view.

Passionist Father Donald Senior is president of Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, and professor of New Testament studies. He is past president of the Catholic Biblical Association of America and newly appointed to the Pontifical Biblical Commission.

Next: Blessed Are They Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness

Questions for Reflection:

• Name someone you know who exemplifies the Beatitude, "Blessed are the meek...." Explain.

• Have you ever been in a situation where you were defenseless? How did you respond?

Responses to this month's Questions for Reflection from "God in Our Midst."


The Meek's Inheritance
By Judith Dunlap

If the word meek describes someone who is patient and mild-tempered, that person is blessed. Patience does not come easily to me. That was especially true when I was raising my children. Every time I'd read First Corinthians, "Love is patient...it is not quick tempered" (1 Corinthians 13:4,5), I cringed.

I love my children, and I would give my life for them. But there were times when they were young that I was anything but patient and mild-tempered. At one point I had a six-year-old, three little ones under the age of three and a husband who traveled. There were days I just lost it. I went to bed hating myself, resolving to do better, but awoke the next day only to lose my temper again. Finally, on a retreat, I learned that there were things about myself I couldn't change.

So I turned it over to God. Every morning I asked God for the patient love I needed to get me to lunch. At lunch I prayed to make it to dinner, at dinner to bedtime. After a few weeks I woke up to a different household. Because I was calmer, so were the kids. God's patient love became mine. I'd like to say the change was permanent but it wasn't. I'd break the cycle and start praying all over again. But I learned something very important through it all.

I learned that the meek inherit more than the land. They also inherit the peace that comes with God's never-failing love. That was the love Paul was talking about in First Corinthians: God's love, a love more powerful than a mother's. A love I can claim as my own and share with my children. What an inheritance!


For Family Response:

Talk about how difficult it is to change old habits and how we sometimes need God's help. Suggest everyone write down one habit he or she would like help with. Say a prayer together and burn the pieces of paper as a sign of your turning it over to God.

Responses to this month's FAMILY CORNER.


The Fellowship of the Ring
By Frank Frost

Tolkien's trilogy The Lord of the Rings reportedly sold more than 100 million books. Now the movie version of the first volume in the series, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, is finding box-office success.

The plot of the film is simple enough. A gold ring recovered from the severed finger of a slain warrior at the beginning of the film carries magic power over all things. Forged in a hellish inferno at the end of Middle Earth, the ring has been turned to the service of evil and can only be redeemed by returning it to the fires from which it sprang. The ring turns up in the home of Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood), a youthful and pure-hearted lad who becomes a reluctant recruit to carry the ring back to its primal furnace. Mentored by an aged wizard, Gandalf (Ian McKellan), Frodo sets out joined by three other youthful male hobbits
(a cheerful race of "little people") in search of adventure.

The trip is hardly begun when Frodo is threatened by ghostly figures riding giant horses in the night who are out to capture the ring. Frodo and friends are helped by a brave human, Aragorn, to elude the "wraiths." Shortly Frodo's companions include two other humans, Boromir and Gimli (a dwarf), and Legolas, an elf. Together they form the Fellowship of the Ring, resolving to help Frodo safely transport the ring to the fiery furnace at Mount Doom on the other end of Middle Earth.

The movie traces their journey in the face of life-threatening obstacles—from scaling the highest snow-covered mountains to descending into the deepest mines in the earth. The physical hazards are made increasingly more dangerous because of malicious attempts on their lives by subhuman killers and because of magical power turned against them by a good wizard turned bad.

The Fellowship of the Ring is a dark film. The confrontation of the fellowship's goodness versus the powers of evil is heightened by the ugliness of hateful creatures born out of the mud and the violent conflicts that repeatedly put the lives of the fellowship in extreme danger. Hope is always present in the person of Frodo, however, and in the Wizard Gandalf.

Much has been made of the fact that Tolkien was Catholic, and of the moral universe created in his books and evoked so effectively in the movie. This is a world where power corrupts (and absolute power corrupts absolutely). It is a world where the antidote to evil is found in selfless dedication, acceptance of responsibility, in loyalty and integrity whatever the risks may be. This unambiguous world is primarily male.

The box-office success of The Fellowship of the Ring is not surprising given the cult status of Tolkien's books for two generations. But it is welcome for the clear moral universe that it presents to a young audience through commercial entertainment.

By Judy Ball

St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380)

From an early age, Catherine of Siena knew her mind. She also spoke it, impressing all with her wisdom and holiness.

A bright, happy, imaginative child, Catherine liked to be alone. She spent hours in her room in prayer. At six she reported a vision of Jesus, surrounded by his disciples, inviting her to belong to him alone. At 12 she told her parents that she had no intention of marrying.

As she grew she became even more determined to follow her own path. She briefly thought about becoming a nun but instead chose to remain a layperson and immerse herself in Dominican spirituality as a member of the Third Order. She devoted herself to the care of the sick during famines and plagues. She attracted disciples of her own who supported her calls for unity and repentance during a chaotic period of Church history.

Catherine's cries for reform were meant for all to hear. Though she did not learn to write until later in life, she dictated many of her thoughts over the years. She challenged Church leaders to be "mirrors of freely chosen poverty" rather than live in "pretentious vanity." She met personally with Pope Gregory XI in Avignon, France, urging him to return to Rome and leave luxury behind. Her fearless counsel strengthened his resolve. His successor, Urban VI, continued to rely on Catherine's advice and her tireless work for Church unity.

Catherine of Siena left behind nearly 400 letters. Her major work on the spiritual life, The Dialogue, is considered a spiritual classic. She is the first layperson and one of the first two women to be named a Doctor of the Church. She was canonized in 1461.

Mary Catherine Hilkert, O.P.

The special relationship between Catherine of Siena and Mary Catherine Hilkert began when she was given the name of the saint at Baptism. It was nourished when, at age seven, she received the book Saints for Girls and learned about her patron's family life, her deep love of God, her strong will. It was deepened when Mary Catherine joined the Dominican Sisters in Akron, Ohio.

Now the author of the book Speaking With Authority: Catherine of Siena and the Voice of Women Today (Paulist, 2001), Sister Mary Catherine feels blessed at their lifelong friendship.

"Catherine went into the streets of Siena during the bubonic plague to nurse the dying. She worked with political prisoners. She did things women weren't supposed to do," Sister Catherine told Every Day Catholic. She spoke from her office at the University of Notre Dame, where she is an associate professor in the theology department.

Catherine of Siena stands out in her "freedom and boldness," her "sense of vocation," her "devotion to the gospel," her "deep trust in God in very dark times." Her letters show that she "always spoke the truth in love. She was unflinching. She had a deep sense of herself as a preacher," said Sister Mary Catherine, who is regarded as one of her congregation's top preachers.

She also finds something appealing in Catherine of Siena's "limits and frailty. She didn't always get things right. She was politically naïve. She got in over her head."

When Catherine of Siena was named a Doctor of the Church in 1970, says Sister Catherine, she was recognized for the totality of her gifts and "her response to her moment in history."

The following material is available at www.AmericanCatholic.org:

"Community of the Beatitudes," St. Anthony Messenger, March 2002
"The Forgotten Art of Blessing," St. Anthony Messenger, October 2000

The following products can be ordered from St. Anthony Messenger Press/Franciscan Communications (1-800-488-0488):

"Lessons from the School of Suffering: A Young Priest With Cancer Teaches Us How to Live" (book)
"Jesus' Plan for a New World: The Sermon on the Mount" (book) "Breaking Open the Gospel of Matthew: The Sermon on the Mount" (book) "Sermon on the Mount" (audiocassette)
"The Beatitudes: Finding Where Your Treasure Is" (Catholic Update)


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