If, as Jesus taught 2,000 years ago from his seat on a mount, the meek really do inherit the earth, then my fellow Americans and I are in for a mighty puny inheritance someday.
A prediction: Sometime next year, a book will hit the market with a huge splash. The title will be The Donald, Hillary and the 2016 Presidential Campaign: The Year That Embarrassed America. I will not be the author; I won’t even be a reader. I’ve had enough already, and we still have about four months remaining of this nonsense.
Sadly, it’s important nonsense. What’s at stake the next four months is the direction of the United States, possibly for a long, long time. Will we become fear-mongers, apprehensive and suspicious of everyone from a foreign country or associated with a religion we don’t completely understand? Will we incite laughter, derision and flat-out anger among people throughout the world who see our leadership as caricatures of all that is embarrassing and clownlike? Or will we plunge more deeply into a culture of death and debt, as well as cement the hold corporate America has on the country and further abandon respected morals in our society?
One thing appears frighteningly clear to me. We are no longer a Christian nation.
Why does that matter? Because our country was built on the bedrock of Christian virtues: zeal, fortitude, prudence, courage, justice were among them. So was meekness.
Don’t confuse “meekness” with “weakness.” A Christian never would – although even an overwhelming number of American Christians, including Catholics, find themselves lacking in meekness.
I know, we’re not supposed to be a Christian nation – or Jewish or Buddhist or Muslim or any other specific religion. Our Founding Fathers ordered that with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” So there is no established national religion in the United States.
Strike that. I think there actually is an American national religion: Politics. It’s a religious practice in this country that includes charisms such as lunacy and idiocy, greed and shamelessness, hatred, and name-calling. Apparently, whatever training sessions the power-brokers have for politicians completely ignore the subjects of politeness, respect, heart, and courage.
Not that we ever would get an opportunity to see the name of a saint on our presidential ballot, but it wouldn’t matter. Given what apparently works in politics, the people of the United States never would elect Jesus Christ himself to the position of Most Powerful Person on the planet.
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest,” Jesus told his disciples. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.” (Matthew 11:28-29)
Jesus is meek and humble. Though a large majority of the men and women governing our nation probably claim to be Christians, I can’t think of many TV commercials or stump speeches that strike me as meek or humble.
It’s not that venom and name-calling is new to American politics. A look back at newspaper coverage of some presidential, senatorial, mayoral, even dog-catcher campaigns can uncover all sorts of cruelty, slander and R-rated mud flung between candidates. Yet as I consider the type of candidate I would find most attractive, he or she would earn my support if they exemplified the virtue of meekness.
Again, I’m afraid much of America’s citizenry has lost that virtue. It perhaps is one reason Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump appear to be the leading choices when November’s election rolls around. But consider this: A May poll authorized by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal found that 47 percent of American voters would support a third-party candidate. That means that more than half of the country likes one or the other of the two candidates but that well beyond half of the country dislikes Clinton and well beyond half the country dislikes Trump.
What if the American public decided to embrace the virtue of meekness? What if we demanded a like-minded, like-hearted president? What would such a man or woman display?
Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, in his Catholic devotional “Divine Intimacy,” explained that meekness “is the virtue by which man is enabled to master everything that falls under the heading of ‘anger.’ Restrain and dominate all those passionate movements – even slight ones — which make us lose sight of (God). … If we lost sight of Him, then we end up following our own passions, no matter how trivial, and those are connected to our ego and self-love.
“We lose self-control, thus lack meekness. In anger, we are unable to recognize God’s will.”
A woman or man blessed with the virtue of meekness has eliminated self-love, animosity, selfish indignation. Such a person might hate the actions of other people and groups of people but will not despise the people themselves – people we must increasingly consider our neighbors in this ever-shrinking world.
Make no mistake, I believe in righteous anger.
“If, on a rare occasion, it is necessary to speak with some severity in order to make a grievous crime felt, we should always, at the conclusion of the rebuke, add some kind words,” St. Alponsus Liguori said. “We must heal wounds, as the Samaritan did, with wine and oil. But as oil floats above all other liquors, so meekness should predominate in all our actions.”
I don’t think we see a lot of righteous anger from Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Trump, not to mention the caldrons of indignation that are boiling throughout our nation.
Meekness prevents angry feelings from turning into the kind of force and aggression that triggers the return of force and aggression from the opposition. “Meekness makes a man master of himself,” St. Thomas Aquinas said. And it gives a man the opportunity to master the hearts of others.
Sure, we could say that Jesus failed to do that. The living embodiment of the virtue of meekness, Jesus wasn’t able to master the hearts of the decidedly less-than-meek men in power and ended up on a cross between a couple of thieves. But we clearly know that his virtues weren’t crucified on that Good Friday. The meek and humble heart of the Word Incarnate was raised from the dead, thus conquering the angry, aggressive Hebrew and Roman leaders. His meekness and humility live on.
“Blessed are the meek,” Jesus taught, “for they will inherit the land.”
That land could be the promised paradise of heaven. That land could be our own hearts and the hearts of others. That land, for a politician, could be their desired elected office.
Alas, too many Americans have labeled the Establishment Clause as an order to “separate church and state” in a most unintended way. Politicians can hide behind a lack of a well-formed consciences by saying they can’t support religious issues. But the men who penned that Clause had consciences formed by the Christian virtues of zeal, fortitude, prudence, courage, justice and, yes, meekness.
“Our Lord teaches His ways to the meek,” Father Gabriel wrote, “because only one who has silenced all resentments and feelings of anger is ready to be instructed by God, to listen to His voice and to follow it.”
America, regarding this virtue, I think it’s high time we all look in the mirror.