“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land.” (Douay-Rheims Bible, Matthew Chapter 5, Verses 3-4, 2022)
As a young, hard-charging, triple-mohawked, rock and rolling Baptist, I found this verse difficult to comprehend. Then, as a less-young, hard-charging, high skin faded, 3-kiddo raising former paratrooper Catholic, I found this verse difficult to understand. And certainly, as an approaching middle-age, hard-charging, hard-parted low skin faded, 8-kiddo raising strength athlete and coach Catholic, I fairly recently found this verse difficult to comprehend.
I felt guilty about it, though. Our Lord is very cut and dry with the Beatitudes. So why couldn’t I understand it? Well, it turns out that I was putting too much stock in “hard-charging” and not enough stock in something I considered a weakness: meekness. And I finally learned all of this not on my knees before the Eucharist or Crucifix, but in my gym journal.
What does it truly mean to be meek?
Turning to the dictionary didn’t clear anything up. To be meek is to be “enduring injury with patience and without resentment…deficient in spirit and courage…(and) not violent or strong” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary, 2022). That certainly couldn’t be right. Obviously, Christ withstood grave injury – to the point of a humiliating death – and even prayed for his tormenters. But Jesus’ life was not thoroughly devoid of issuing violence, he was strong enough to endure the desert for 40 days, and his spirit and courage cannot be called into question. But could meekness simply refer to letting people hit you? No possible way.
Herein lies what I see as one of the biggest blessings Christ left us: the Magisterium (the teaching office) of the Catholic Church. Through the Catechism, we can sort through the chaff of the world and understand what has been handed down Apostolically through 20 centuries of faith.
The Catechism tells us in paragraph 716 that “the poor – those who (are) humble and meek – rely solely on their God’s mysterious plans (and) await (Christ’s) justice….” (Catechism of the Catholic Church – PART 1 SECTION 2 CHAPTER 3 ARTICLE 8, 2022) For, as the Psalmist says, “(t)he poor shall eat and shall be filled: and they shall praise the Lord that seek him: their hearts shall live for ever and ever.” (Douay-Rheims Bible, Psalms Chapter 21, Verse 27, 2022. Note that the Douay-Rheims Bible numbers the Psalms differently than most other translations. It is likely Psalm 22 in your Bible.) So being meek is more about relying on the Lord than being actually weak and actually poor, although I suspect being both makes it easier to be dependent on our Abba.
Is meekness controlled strength?
What, then, is a strong, financially stable, mentally well father to do? While I ask you to note that I do not claim to be all of those things, I want you to think about that. Are you truly all three? Most likely, you are not. And even if you are, an awfully hard lesson to learn as a man is to be open to the love of others, especially when that love is expressed through service. “Nah, man, I’ve got it,” might as well be tattooed on every man when he turns 18.
But the author of Genesis tells us that God made us to live in community. Most of those early communities were flawed and our modern communities sometimes seem to do more tearing about and breaking down than anything else. However, we are meant to love one another regardless of the imperfections we fail to see in ourselves but search out in others. And that love is an act of giving, and an act of receiving.
If you’ve ever had a freely given gift rejected, you’ll know what I’m talking about here. Refusing something presented with sincere love is essentially refusing the love. Being made in the image of God means that when we refuse love from someone, we are refusing God. For nothing Good, True and Beautiful can have any ultimate origin than God himself. So, humbling ourselves to accept help is an act of humbling ourselves before God, and it massages the heart to be more receptive to God’s love in other aspects of our lives.
How can a Catholic man be manly and meek?
Am I saying that we Catholic men are to be effeminate? Absolutely not. And, let’s be clear here: there is a stark difference between effemininity and femininity. The former is the stripping of the masculine, while the latter is simply the God-given aspects we all recognize in the females of our wondrous human race.
We are to be masculine. We are called to be strong. To be defenders. Providers. Also, the domestic priest of our own house. The head to lead the heart (which leads the head in its own way). But there needs to be a surrendering of the reins. Ultimately, this isn’t our show. It’s God’s. This isn’t our family. It’s God’s. This isn’t even our life. It’s God’s. From him who has been given much, much will be asked. If we are as strong as we are called to be (in resolve and physicality), then we can truly be meek. Christ had (still does have) all the power in the universe and then some. But when he was slapped in the face, he did nothing. And you have to believe that he was speaking from experience when he said we are to turn the other cheek.
When a fight is imminent and you decide that it is not worth killing for, so you step back, that is meekness. For some, meekness is shown when they let another parishioner handle a job – even when their pride is telling them they could do the job better, faster, holier, whatever-er. Others need to hit hard times to learn to be meek. When your pastor knocks on the door and gives you a bundle of gift cards at Christmas time and you can now buy presents for the kids, some men would refuse. The meek man knows that God has provided for you and your family, just like he does when you’ve had a good quarter at work.
But what does this have to do with the gym?
I’m a strong dude. Or at least, I was. I’ve had some setbacks. Some of them were setbacks most of us endured in 2020 and its ensuing chaos. But some were exacerbated by my own choices, injuries and happenstance. The new owners of the gym I rent time at, Val and Anthony, are a class ahead of me, strengthwise, but not embarrassingly so. And when they bought the gym, I started training with them. Then I realized how far I had slipped. I should have been able to hold my own with Anthony, but I usually could not, especially with the bench press and its accessories.
Training around it without letting on that I had gotten weaker didn’t work. When I chose to do exercises that most people in the gym didn’t ever do so that they would have no reference when seeing my weight, I ended up not being able to train properly. I tried to train at odd hours. But the result was I was getting weaker.
One day I was praying about something else while at work and I was struck with the idea that I needed to be meek to fix my problems in the gym. I needed to admit how far I had fallen and do the hard (and very public) work of rebuilding. Doing exactly that has been hard for me. It is a trial of a different kind of strength that I still have yet to master. It is easier in fraternity. So having people that know I am struggling and will call me on it is key.
None of this is dissimilar to meekness in spirit. Admitting to your wife that porn is an issue is hard, but I promise you no one will pray harder for you to overcome it. And God will provide the fortitude and courage you need. Admitting to your father-in-law that you don’t know how to fix the sink is ridiculously hard, but I promise you he very much would love to help. And God will provide the fatherly love and guidance you need. Allowing Yolonda Churchlady to run the Respect Life Committee without your interference can make you feel unmoored, but I promise you her heart is full. And God will qualify the called.
Father Almighty, you are God when we are lonely and God when we are triumphant, please hear our prayer. Let us sit before your Son in the Eucharist and send the Holy Spirit to nestle among our hearts. In this moment, teach us to abide in your everlasting love. Grant, Ancient of Days a sliver of created time to us and allow us, we pray, to learn to be more like your Son as we meditate on the meekness he calls us to. As always, we pray this to the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit. Amen.