September 19, 2011
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
For the 19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, Christianity was synonymous with weakness. Christian morality, in Nietzsche's view, was insipid, replacing the power of the human will with an obedient cowering before God. For the human person to reach his or her full stature, God had to be destroyed and man had to assert himself.
Were Nietzsche to consider the Beatitude, "Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth," he would have found it to be laughable sentimentality. The meek will never control anything; they are pathetic victims.
Nietzsche has offered a challenge to Christianity: You guys are a bunch of wimps.
Truth be told, there is no small amount of Christian art that glorifies a saccharine, sentimental Jesus. It might make us wonder, Was Nietzsche right? Are Christians simply pushovers for the strong and virile? Or, is there virility in Christianity after all?
At first glance, St. Francis de Sales, in his Introduction to the Devout Life, might appear to be an advocate of wimpy weakness. He says only a little lamb can calm a raging elephant and only wool can break the force of a cannonball. Throughout his work, Francis is an advocate of a calm and mild demeanour in all circumstances.
In considering meekness, it is no different. For Francis, anger is the opposite of meekness, and anger must be avoided at all costs. Once anger gets a toehold in one's life, it will grow and grow, eventually taking over one's entire emotional outlook.
However, the first lie is the belief that one's anger is righteous. Anger, says St. Francis, "is nourished by a thousand false pretexts; there never was an angry man who thought his anger unjust."
Francis offers good advice on overcoming a tendency to get angry. He advises self-control, but knows that human efforts at self-control are prone to failure. So he urges us to seek God's help as well.
Despite Francis' good advice, I must disagree with his view that anger is the opposite of meekness. The opposite of meekness is grandiosity, the belief that I am almighty and can accomplish everything on my own. The grandiose have larger dreams and fantasies for their own lives than are attainable. They want to do everything and do it on their own.
In contrast, the meek are those who accept that they have a limited role in God's plan. They discern that role and they pursue it with intensity. However, they don't try to do everybody else's job too.
The meek believe in the Body of Christ. Their lives are oriented to building up that Body rather than towards their own personal satisfaction. They know the existence of the Body of Christ implies that each person has a unique role, a personal vocation, in making the Body healthy.
The meek person has no power on his or her own. But the meek know and act as though the team of which they are a part has great power. They trust in others and they trust primarily in God.
The meek bring their passions under control in order to follow God's will for their lives.
A natural part of being a team player is frustration. Others do not play their part as well as they should; some don't even realize they have a part to play. Frustration can lead to anger. In that, Francis is correct in saying the meek are notable for overcoming a tendency to anger.
But the essence of being meek is to focus on carrying out your important, albeit limited, vocation without resentment.
Nietzsche's sin was the sin of grandiosity. He believed in a cadre of passionate, wilful people who are responsible to no one and unencumbered by moral norms.
But this passion is not creative as he believed; it is dangerous and destructive. It will consume the person who lives by Nietzsche's vision and it will consume society if that person gets any power.
It is the meek who inherit the earth. They inherit the earth not because they are gutless wonders, but because they are strong and passionate, passionate people who are the servants of God's will. They inherit the earth, not as individuals, but as Christ's Body.
The meek have passion, but it is a harnessed passion, harnessed to the will of God. The meek are rulers; they are rulers of their own grandiose ambitions because they realize those ambitions can be a mirage. They seek to do no more than is humanly possible, but they do it well.
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