SECTION TWO: Some Remarkable Words of Monsieur Vincent About the Meekness We Should Practice in Regard to Our Neighbor
These remarks are taken from a collection of his remarks on this subject, gathered by one of his confreres from his various talks:
Meekness and humility are two sisters who go hand in hand. We are urged to study them carefully in the person of Jesus Christ, who said of himself, “Learn of me because I am meek and humble of heart.”1 The Son of God tells us, “learn of me.” O my Savior, what a lesson! What happiness to be your pupil, to learn this short but excellent lesson which makes us so like yourself. Should you not exercise the same influence over us as the ancient philosophers did over their followers? They had such a reputation among them that they had only to say “the master has said” to end all discussion.
If by their reasonings philosophers could develop such committed disciples in regard to human affairs, how much more, my brothers, Eternal Wisdom deserves to be believed and followed in the things of the spirit? What would we answer at this very moment, if we were called upon to recite the lessons he has given us? What will we say at the hour of death when he will reproach us for having learned these lessons so imperfectly? “Learn of me,” he said, “to be meek.” If it were Saint Paul or Saint Peter who had told us to learn this lesson of him, we might have found an excuse, but it was God made man, come to point out the way we must act to be pleasing to his Father. The Teacher of Teachers had taught us to be meek. Give us, O Lord, some share in your great meekness, but we pray so gently and meekly that you cannot refuse our request.
Meekness has several aspects, but they can be reduced to three, the first of which is further divided into two parts. This first act of the virtue of meekness represses the first movements of the passion of anger. These are the first outbursts of this fire which rises to our features, troubles the soul, makes us lose control of ourselves, and changes the color of our face, making it either dark as a cloud or all inflamed. What of meekness? It stops these changes, it prevents him who has this virtue from experiencing these bad results. He does not allow the passion to influence him, but holds firm, not to be carried away. There may sometimes be a tint in the face, but this immediately goes away. We must not be surprised at this, for the movements of nature precede those of grace, but grace triumphs. We must not wonder at attacks of anger. We should rather ask grace to conquer them, being well convinced that even when we feel this revolt within ourselves contrary to meekness, we still may be overcoming it. This, then, is the first part of this first act of meekness. It is a beautiful virtue. It prevents the vice from showing itself in our physical makeup, and has its effects even on our minds and souls, for it not only tempers the fires of anger but eliminates the least trace of its action.
The second part of this first act of meekness consists in allowing anger to develop within us, on those occasions when we see that it is expedient that we do so. Yet even then this comes about by our conscious decision, not by the movement of natural forces. This was the case when our Lord called Saint Peter, Satan,2 and when he said to the Jews, “Woe to you, hypocrites,” not once, but several times.3 This word is repeated ten or twelve times in a single chapter. On another occasion he chased the sellers from the Temple, overturned the tables, and gave other signs of being angry.4 Was he carried away by anger then? No, for he possessed meekness in an infinite degree. In us, this virtue makes us masters of the passion. In our Lord, who was not ruled by any passion properly so-called, he simply allowed the acts of anger to manifest themselves as he thought best. If on some occasion he who is meek and kind showed himself to be angry, he did so to correct those he spoke to, to oppose sin and to avoid scandal. He did this to build up souls and for our instruction. What great fruit the Savior gained by acting in this way! His corrections were well received because reason dictated them and not simple inclination.
When he spoke with such vigor, it was not by reason of his anger, but solely for the good of the person concerned. Since our Lord ought to be our model wherever we find ourselves, those who lead others ought to see how he conducted himself, and be guided by him. He guided by love. Sometimes he promised a reward, but at other times he threatened punishment. We must do the same, but always under the banner of love. We are then in the same state as the prophet, when he said, Domine, ne in furore tuo arguas me [“O Lord, in your anger punish me not”].5 It seemed to the poor king that God was in anger against him, and he prayed not to be punished when God was in this state. Everyone is like that. None of us wants to be corrected in anger. It is a favor granted to only a few not to feel the first emotions of anger, as I have said. The meek person quickly comes to himself and conquers anger and vengeance, so that nothing comes from him but what is ruled by love. This is, then, the first act of meekness. It represses the first signs of anger, either entirely, or in using them reasonably when this is necessary, but even then, meekly. This is why, gentlemen, now that we speak of it, any time that you are annoyed, stop at once to recollect yourself, and raise your mind to God, saying to him, “Lord, you see me tempted. Deliver me from any evil it may suggest.”
The second act of meekness is to have a great affability, cordiality, and serenity of expression for everyone we meet, so as to be agreeable to them. Those who have a smiling and agreeable countenance please everyone. God gave them this grace, by which they seem to offer their hearts and invite others to open theirs. Others present themselves with a narrow face, sad and disagreeable, all contrary to meekness. A missionary must strive to be affable, and so cordial and simple that he puts everyone he meets at ease. Hearts are attracted and gained, according to this word of the Lord, “the meek shall inherit the land.”6 On the contrary, we have seen people in authority who are so cold and grave they make people afraid of them, and we avoid them.
Since our work takes us among the poor country people, the ordinands, the retreatants, and all sorts of people, it is not possible for us to produce any good fruit if we are like arid land, capable of growing only thorns. We must be attractive to others, with a pleasant exterior that will repel no one.
I was consoled just three or four days ago at the sight of someone leaving here. He was all smiles, and said to me, “I noticed here a gentleness, an openness of heart, and a certain charming simplicity (these were his words) which touched me deeply.”
Isaiah says of our Lord: Butyrum et mel comedet, ut sciat reprobare malum, et eligere bonum. He shall eat butter and honey so that he may know how to reprove evil and choose the good.7 This discernment is given, I think, only to meek souls. Since anger is a passion which disturbs reason, it must be the contrary virtue which gives discernment and light to reason.
The third act of meekness consists of not reacting adversely, even interiorly, when we have received some discourtesy from someone. We say within ourselves: maybe he did not really think this, or maybe he acted too hastily, or perhaps he was surprised by a moment of passion, or anything else which might deflect thinking we have received a deliberate insult. If someone says unkind words to us, the meek person does not open his mouth to reply, but acts as though he heard nothing.
It is related of a chancellor of France8 who one day was leaving the king’s council, that he met a man who had lost his case before the court. He told the official he was a wicked judge for having fined him and ruined his family by his decision. He called down upon him the judgment of God and his punishments. The chancellor said not a word, but continued walking, looking neither to the right or left. If Christian meekness or some other quality enabled him to act in this way, I do not know. Be that as it may, we ought to be ashamed of ourselves sometimes to be carried away by trifles, seeing that the first minister of justice in the entire kingdom endured the insults of a citizen without making the least reply. What an admirable thing considering his rank and his great power to punish such disrespect.
But you, O Savior, do you not have even greater power over us? We see you practicing an incomparable meekness towards the most guilty, but we do not imitate your meekness. When will we be moved by your example and learn from the lessons we are given in your school?
Meekness does not make us simply excuse the affronts and unjust treatment we receive, but goes so far as to make us say a kind word to those who have offended us. Even if we are insulted by a slap in the face, we suffer it for God. This is the way meekness works. Yes, a servant of God who is truly meek offers the rude treatment he receives to God, and remains in peace.
If the Son of God was so condescending in his usual meetings with people, how much more so did he show his meekness during his sufferings. He carried it to the point of not saying a word of protest against the deicides who covered him with insults and mocked his sufferings. “My friend,” he said to Judas, even while he was delivering him up to his enemies.9 He overcame the treachery by this salutation, “my friend.” He spoke with the same courtesy to those who came to arrest him: “Whom do you seek? Here I am.”10 Let us meditate on this, gentlemen, for we will see these are powerful acts of meekness which surpass human understanding. O Jesus, my God! What an example for us who have undertaken to imitate you. What a lesson for those who are unwilling to suffer anything; or, if they do suffer, become anxious and bitter.
After thinking of all this, should we not love this virtue of meekness by which God gives us the grace not only to stifle the movements of anger, but to deal with our neighbor most graciously and to return good for evil? It enables us to endure afflictions, wounds, torments, and even death that men may cause us. Give us the grace, my Savior, to profit from the pains you endured with such love and meekness. Some have already profited from this gift of your goodness. Possibly I am the only one here present who has not yet begun to be gentle and patient.11