Homily for the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A.
There’s a word which appears both in our first reading and in our gospel. And that’s the word, “meek.” In our first reading from the Book of the Prophet Zechariah, Zechariah foretells that the coming Messiah will be a king who is also meek. And in our gospel, Jesus, the Messiah whom Zechariah foretold, speaks of Himself as being “meek of heart.” So what does it mean to be meek? What is meekness and why is it relevant for us today?
“Meekness,” although it rhymes with “weakness,” is actually a virtue. And a virtue is a perfection that something should have because of what it is. Because a knife, for example, is made for cutting, it should have the virtue of sharpness. Because a basketball has a particular purpose in the game of basketball, it should have certain virtues: It should be round, it should be fully inflated, it should be bouncy, it should be a particular size and weight. If we know what something is, we can know what virtues it should have. And that holds true for the human person as well.
So what is the human person? What are we? The human person is a radical union of body and soul that is made in God’s image and likeness. And there are two principal ways in which we are made in God’s image and likeness, and they have to do with two powers that God has given us as human beings. And those are the power of reason, which gives us the capacity to know the truth, and the power of free will, which gives us the capacity for love. Truth and love: This is what the human person is made for. And the virtues of the human person are meant to preserve, protect, and defend our capacity for truth and our capacity for love. And one of those virtues is the virtue of meekness.
Meekness is the virtue which moderates anger. We experience the emotion of anger as a response to a perceived injustice. And God has given us the emotion of anger so that we might be moved by it to restore justice where it has been lost. Anger is meant to move us to restore justice. So anger, in itself, is not a bad or sinful thing. God gave it to us for a reason. Just like an apple, anger is not bad in itself. But also just like an apple, anger can go bad, it can become rotten. And anger goes bad, anger is immoderate, anger is vicious and not virtuous, when it moves us not to restore justice, but to inflict a further injustice. Anger is meant to move us to restore justice, but when anger goes bad, when it becomes rotten, it can move us to inflict a further injustice. And to inflict injustice when we ourselves have been wronged, or when we see someone else having been wronged, is not to live according to truth and love. And meekness exists as a virtue to help us when we experience anger still to live according to truth and love.
I’d like to mention six different signs this morning that we are struggling with immoderate anger, with anger that has gone bad, which has become rotten. In Catholic moral theology these are called “the six daughters of wrath,” which would be a great name for a heavy metal band. The six daughters of wrath: these are six signs that we struggle with immoderate anger, that we have not yet acquired the virtue of meekness.
The first daughter of wrath, the first sign that we are struggling with immoderate anger, that we have not yet acquired the virtue of meekness, is what I’m going to call “magnifying.” And “magnifying” is when we constantly think about an injustice that has been done to us and we constantly think about the person who did it to us. And we think about the injustice and the perpetrator so constantly that in our minds the injustice becomes much graver than it was and the perpetrator far more evil than he or she was. We think about the evil that was done to us and the person who did it so often and so constantly that those things become blown out of proportion, they become magnified. We make mountains out of mole-hills. And when we do this, when we magnify the injustice that was done to us, and we make the perpetrator far more evil than they actually were, we are not living according to truth, which is what we were made for. So, if you struggle with this, it’s a good sign that you have not yet acquired the virtue of meekness.
The second daughter of wrath is what I’m going to call “mulling,” and it’s similar to “magnifying.” “Mulling” is when we constantly think of ways to have our revenge upon the person who wronged us. Maybe someone did something harmful to us, or said something hurtful, and then for the rest of the day or perhaps the rest of the week, we think about ways that we can get back at them. Maybe we can give them the silent treatment, or we can send them a nasty email, or we can ignore their texts or phone calls: We think of all these different ways that we can get back at them. Maybe we even think about hurting them physically, or destroying their possessions, or at least harming their good name. So if you find yourself, after having been wronged, mulling over these different ways of having your revenge on the person who has wronged you, it’s a good sign that you have not yet acquired the virtue of meekness.
The third daughter of wrath is “clamoring.” “Clamoring” is when we talk and rant uncontrollably in response to the injustice that was done to us. When someone has experienced an injustice, we should speak out. And we should speak the truth. We should offer compelling and clear arguments to make our point. But when we clamor, when we rant, we’re not really interested in the truth, we’re just spewing and vomiting words out of an emotional response. And that emotional response maybe quite justified, but our action in light of it (i.e. clamoring, ranting) does not restore justice but rather inflicts a further injustice. It’s not living according to truth. So if we find ourselves ranting either in our minds, or perhaps on social media, or to our relatives or friends, if we find ourselves struggling with clamoring, that’s a good indication that we have not yet acquired the virtue of meekness.
The fourth and fifth daughters of wrath are “cursing” and “blasphemy.” And those two are actually very similar. “Cursing” is when we use harsh and uncharitable language to characterize a person who has done an injustice to us. We call them very harsh and uncharitable names, we do not speak the truth about who they are, we mischaracterize them, we vilify them, we want to destroy their good name and reputation. And we do this sometimes in our minds and sometimes these words come out of our mouths. And we can do that to our neighbor, and that’s called “cursing,” and we can also do that to God. Sometimes we think God has done some grave injustice to us, and so we call God all sorts of harsh and terrible names. We accuse Him of all sorts of uncharitable things. And if we struggle with either cursing our neighbor or cursing God, which is “blasphemy,” it’s a good indication that we have not yet acquired the virtue of meekness.
The last and sixth daughter of wrath is “quarreling.” “Quarreling” is when we pick fights with those who have been unjust to us. And we pick fights with them not to restore justice but just to hurt them. We get in their face and we quarrel with them, we pick a fight with them just to arouse anger in them. And if we do this, if we quarrel with people, if we just try to pick fights with them to get a rise out of them, to get them to become angry, it’s a good indication that we have not yet acquired the virtue of meekness.
I offer these six daughters of wrath to you this morning as a kind of examination of conscience. And I’d encourage you to think about the ways in which you might struggle with the virtue of meekness. I know a lot of people have been struggling with anger during this time. And quite understandably: there is a great deal of injustice that we have seen as of late. But remember, anger is meant to move us to restore justice not to inflict a further injustice. And these six daughters of wrath are a good examination of conscience to see how we’re doing with that; to see if we’re really using our anger to restore justice or rather for inflicting further injustice.
So I’d encourage you to try to identify ways in your life in which you might be struggling with the virtue of meekness and bring that to our Lord today at Mass. In just a few minutes we will have the opportunity to receive the Holy Eucharist, to receive Jesus’ heart, a heart that He says is meek. And so bring your hearts that might be lacking in some amount of meekness—bring them to the Lord today at Mass. And ask the Lord to make your hearts like His; ask Him to make them as meek and humble as His is.