instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Thursday, March 11, 2004

The greatest of these is charity

Just a few scattered thoughts prompted by the talk given Tuesday night by Fr. Reginald Whitt, OP, from the text:
Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. [Col. 3:12-14]
First, I learned that it is markedly unsatisfying to listen to an exhortation on the Christian virtue of patience while your children are climbing on top of you in the front pew and asking if they can go back to the vestibule and have another cookie. Talk of forbearing suffered wrongs really takes the spice out of plotting dreadful punishments.

Fr. Whitt also spoke of meekness, the virtue that moderates anger. Note that it moderates anger. It doesn't smother anger, or replace anger, or ignore anger, or uproot the capacity for anger; all of these things are immoderate, probably impossible, and certainly not Christian virtues.

When Jesus said, "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart," He didn't add, "except when I'm arguing with Pharisees or driving out moneychangers." Even then He was meek, moderating the anger that the Messiah of the Lord felt toward those who would distort the Lord's teaching and defile His Temple.

Obviously, Christian meekness isn't the secular meekness of passivity and inoffensiveness. To be meek is to be gentle, not limp, in the face of provocation. In fact, it can (and probably should) cause us to be provocative ourselves, perhaps even to give offense. Again, meekness only moderates our anger, and if our anger is justified it is not alway virtuous to fail to act on that anger.

Fr. Whitt used a notable turn-of-phrase along these lines: Kindness and humility together compose a Christian temperament by which we live together as Christians. I thought that was interesting: if you are kind and humble, you have the right temperament to put on true Christian love, the bond of perfection; if not, not. We say it takes all kinds to make the Kingdom; maybe we should say the Kingdom takes from all kinds and makes their temperaments suitable.

Finally (for this post, not in the talk), Fr. Whitt argued against a carrot-and-stick understanding of the prayer, "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us." Forgiveness that is conditional, he said, isn't forgiveness. God doesn't say, "I'll forgive you if you forgive these others," which is more of a taunt than an expression of mercy. Rather, our failure to forgive is one of the things we need to be forgiven, and only the forgiving can receive the forgiveness God bestows on everyone.