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According to this account, Anna and Joachim are infertile but pray for a child. They receive the promise of a child who will advance God’s plan of salvation for the world. Such a story, like many biblical counterparts, stresses the special presence of God in Mary’s life from the beginning. Saint Augustine connects Mary’s birth with Jesus’ saving work. He tells the Earth to rejoice and shine forth in the light of her birth. “She is the flower of the field from whom bloomed the precious Lily of the Valley. Through her birth, the nature inherited from our first parents is changed.” The Opening Prayer at Mass speaks of the birth of Mary’s Son as the “Dawn of our Salvation”, and asks for an increase of peace in our world and in our hearts.
Peace is possible only when we are gentle and meek. This year in which the whole Church celebrated the 400th anniversary of the death of St. Francis de Sales, I thought of not only reflecting with you on the “Gentleness and Meekness” of this Saint, which we have all certainly heard about, but to also see, how we can be mitators of these two qualities which is very much needed, not just in today’s society, but in our own personal lives as well. “Learn from me, I am meek and humble of heart” (Matthew 11:29) are at the very heart of the Spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, because they make our hearts beat in rhythm with the heart of Jesus. Throughout all of his writings, in his life and teaching, the Saint emphasized and reemphasized the two virtues of humility and gentleness. They were for him the two virtues that make us most closely resemble and live Jesus. He firmly believed that: “Our Lord based his whole teaching on these words.” His well-known saying, “humility perfects us with respect to God and gentleness with regard to our neighbour” reveals the interrelatedness of these virtues and their great importance. Francis not only taught gentleness and worked arduously and ceaselessly to instil it in others, he lived it to an extraordinary degree. As he said himself, it took him 20 years to conquer his quick temper, but no one ever suspected he had such a problem, so overflowing with good nature and kindness was his usual manner of acting. His perennial meekness and sunny disposition won for him the title of “Gentleman Saint.”
Biblical Understanding of Gentleness and Meekness
Scriptures give us many examples of God being gentle with his people, restraining his strength for the weak…tending his flock like a shepherd: gathering the lambs in his arms, carrying them close to his heart, gently leading them that are young (Isaiah 40:10-11).
By patience a ruler can be persuaded and a gentle tongue can break a bone. (Proverbs 25:15). “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5) Clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience (Colossians 3:12). As Apostles of Christ, we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her children (Thessalonians 2:5-7).
Gentleness is not weakness or cowardice. Gentleness is not passiveness or inactivity. When you think of gentleness you might think of a gentle animal, one that’s tame and placid and easily led. Biblical gentleness is not about being tame, compliant or docile. It’s not about weakness, cowardice, or inactivity. Gentleness is strength. Unlike the movies where problems are solved with guns and ammunitions, we are challenged to be patient, gentle, kind and considerate in solving our problems. Gentleness is strength, but strength under control, disciplined strength, “restrained strength”. It is choosing not to use violence or power or force or weapons or any other means to bring others under control. It is strength that brings harmony. Gentleness is strength, but disciplined strength for the
benefit of others, for the good of the family, community and society. It is concern for others, especially the weak and the vulnerable. It is putting our agenda on hold to meet the needs of others. Gentleness calls forth self-discipline, self-restraint, self-control, other-centeredness and real humility!