Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. (Mt 5:5)
As by the gentleness of our minds Christ dwells in us, we also shall be clothed with the glory of His renewed body. (St. Hilary of Poitiers)
We tend to think of meekness as simply another word for wimpiness, or at best a sort of extreme humility (“extreme” in the pejorative, fanatical sense). But this is not quite the sense of it. Instead, perhaps it’s better characterized as a slowness to anger, a kind of self-control. As the Dominican theologian Servais Pinckaers (d. 2008) put it:
We all know the force we have to exert over ourselves when we feel our anger rising or when we are stung to envy or jealousy or seized by any passion, if we want to preserve a modicum of calm, self-control and meekness with regard to another person and remain reasonable and fair. Far from being associated with weakness, true meekness is rather the outcome of a long struggle against the disordered violence of our feelings, failings, and fears. In such instances meekness implies tremendous inner strength and merits the praise of the Book of Proverbs: He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city (16:32).
So meekness is not mere passivity or weakness, but maintaining a profound calm and control over our feelings and knee-jerk reactions; St. Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274) says that meekness “restrains the onslaught of anger” (Summa Theologiae II-II, 157, 1). Where is this virtue better learned than in the family?
It’s no secret that spouses can irritate us, siblings can annoy us, and children can just plain exasperate us. It’s meekness that keeps us from snapping back angrily with unkind words or actions. As with many virtues, we learn it by doing it—so the very family members who most try us also give us some of the best opportunities to learn how to be meek.
Husbands and wives can live with this meekness towards each other too: difficult though this may sometimes be, ultimately this virtue helps in living out what the real meaning of marriage calls for: giving of oneself.
Of course, giving of oneself is at the very heart of marriage and is in fact indispensable to it: marriage is a total gift of self of a man to a woman and a woman to a man. By its very nature, love is fruitful; the total gift of self that should pervade the whole of a marriage is given expression in the conjugal act, which alone is able to bring forth the fruit of a new life—a sexual act between two men or two women is not able to bring forth this fruit, so a total gift of self cannot be given. (This is also one of the main reasons that we are called to refrain from using contraception. Contraception is neither open to life nor truly unitive; likewise, sexual acts between two members of the same sex are neither open to life nor truly unitive. Since neither of these is able to involve a total gift of self, neither of these is an adequate expression of the authentic meaning of marriage.)
Returning to meekness, then, the husband and wife who cultivate the virtue of meekness towards each other are thereby enabled to love each other more fully and perfectly. By doing precisely this, they become better able to “lead a life worthy of the calling to which [they] have been called” (Eph 4:1), namely, marital happiness leading at last to eternal beatitude.
* The quote above is taken from Servais Pinckaers, O.P., The Pursuit of Happiness—God’s Way: Living the Beatitudes, trans. Sr. Mary Thomas Noble, O.P. (Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2011), 61.
This series is a guest contribution by a Dominican student brother who has been fulfilling his pastoral ministry assignment by serving as an intern at the USCCB’s Secretariat for Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth.