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2nd Lenten Sermon of Father Cantalamessa

3/19/2007 - 5:45 AM PST

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"Blessed Are the Meek, For They Shall Inherit the Land"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 19, 2007 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of the Lenten sermon delivered Friday by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa in the presence of Benedict XVI and officials of the Roman Curia. The Pontifical Household preacher delivered the reflection in the Mater Redemptoris Chapel of the Apostolic Palace.

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1. Who are the meek?

The beatitude on which we wish to meditate today lends itself to an important observation. It says: "Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the land." Now, in another passage of the same Gospel, Jesus exclaims: "Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart" (Matthew 11:29). We conclude from this that the beatitudes are not a nice ethical program traced by the master for his followers; they are a self-portrait of Jesus! Jesus is the one who is truly poor, meek, pure of heart, persecuted for the sake of justice.

Here is the limitation of Gandhi's interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount, which he so much admired. For Gandhi the whole sermon might have just as well been considered apart from the historical person of Christ. "It does not matter to me," he once said, "if someone demonstrated that the man Jesus never lived and that what we read in the Gospels is nothing more than a production of the author's imagination. The Sermon on the Mount will always remain true in my eyes."[1]

On the contrary, it is the person and life of Christ that make of the beatitudes and the whole Sermon on the Mount something more than a beautiful ethical utopia; they make of them an historical reality, from which everyone can draw strength through mystical union with the person of the Savior. They do not merely belong to the order of duties but to the order of grace.

To see who the meek whom Jesus proclaims "blessed" are, it would be helpful to briefly review the various terms with which the word "meek" ("praeis") is rendered in modern translations: "meek" ("miti") and "mild" ("mansueti"). The latter is also the word used in the Spanish translations, "los mansos," the mild. In French the word is translated with "doux," literally "the sweet," those who have the virtue of sweetness. (There is no specific word in French for "meekness"; in the "Dictionnaire de spiritualité," this virtue is treated in the entry "douceur," that is, "sweetness.")

In German, different translations alternate. Luther translated the term with "Sanftmütigen," that is, "meek," "sweet"; in the ecumenical translation of the Bible, the "Einheits Bibel," the meek are those who do not act violently -- "die Keine Gewalt anwenden -- thus the non-violent; some authors accentuate the objective and sociological dimension and translate "praeis" with "machtlosen," "the weak," "those without power." English usually renders "praeis" with "the gentle," introducing the nuance of niceness and courtesy into the beatitude.

Each of these translations highlights a true but partial component of the beatitude. If we want to get an idea of the original richness of the Gospel term it is necessary to keep all the elements together and to not isolate any. Two regular associations, in the Bible and in ancient Christian exhortation, help us to grasp the "full meaning" of meekness: one is the linking of meekness and humility and the other is the linking of meekness and patience; the one highlights the interior dispositions from which meekness flows, the other the attitudes that meekness causes us to have toward our neighbor: affability, sweetness, kindness. These are the same traits that the Apostle emphasizes when speaking about charity: "Charity is patient, it is kind, it is not disrespectful, it is not angry." (1 Corinthians 13:4-5).

2. Jesus, the meek

If the beatitudes are a self-portrait of Christ, the first thing to do in commenting on them is to see how they were lived by him. The Gospels are from beginning to end a demonstration of the meekness of Christ in its dual aspect of humility and patience. Jesus himself, we pointed out, proposes himself as the model of meekness. Matthew applies to Jesus the saying of the Servant of God in Isaiah: "He will no wrangle or cry out, he will not break a bruised reed nor quench a smoldering wick" (cf. Mark 12:19-20). His entrance into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey is seen as an example of a "meek" king who refuses all ideas of violence and war (cf. Matthew 21:4).

The maximum proof of Christ's meekness is in his passion. There is no wrath, there are no threats: "When he was reviled he did not revile in return, when he suffered, he did not threaten" (1 Peter 2:23). This trait of the person of Christ was so stamped in the memory of his disciples that Paul, wanting to swear by something dear and sacred in his second letter to the Corinthians writes: "I entreat you by the meekness ("prautes") and the ...

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