Blessed are the gentle-hearted
The first Beatitude, blessed are the humblehearted, forms the foundation for the other five “virtue Beatitudes.” The second virtue Beatitude is: Blessed are the gentle-hearted.
Gentle-heartedness follows from humble-heartedness. When I know my proper place and am therefore free to appreciate and affirm the invaluable goodness of my neighbor, I can afford to be gentle. By “gentle,” I do not mean the gentility of a superior patting an inferior on the head, but rather a fundamental recognition of the depth, uniqueness and transcendentality of another person emanating from their eyes, voice and mere presence. This vision of the other engenders a profound insight into my co-equality with them, which in turn engenders a deep insight into my co-responsibility with them for the common good.
I can always tell that things are going well on the “gentle-heartedness front” when I can take delight in people without diminishing them in relationship to me. I can enjoy their insight, love, zeal for the kingdom, courage, wisdom and faith as a grace, as God speaking to me through them.
As with humble-heartedness, gentle-heartedness begins with prayer. As I open my breviary and pray the Psalms, I find myself gradually becoming more comforted by the love of God. As I take delight in God, I become more aware of his deeper delight in me. I am convinced that this emotional bond of friendship is not self-induced, for it is not like reading poetry or good literature. It is God’s grace working through the truth of his love in psalms. They may not be the best poetry or may not have the most modern images, but they nevertheless express praise with the heart of a child filled with wonder.
There is something about the faith of the psalmist which enflames my heart with desire for the Lord who, in turn, infuses me with a sense of being beloved. When I am beloved by such a Lord, it is hard for me not to see the belovedness of others. It is this vision of belovedness that opens the door to delighting in them as coequals and coheirs in the mission of Christ and the kingdom of God. This is the source of the genuine gentle-heartedness which I believe Jesus was trying to incite in the Beatitudes. When it is combined with humbleheartedness (i.e., God and us in our proper places), it leads almost inevitably to love of neighbor.
Before proceeding to the third attitude, it might be helpful to look at the first two Beatitudes from the perspective of leadership. Some leaders may think, “I can’t afford to be humble-hearted and gentlehearted. It’s a tough world out there, and people are trying to take advantage of me and the company. If I am not tough, edgy and driven, I abdicate my responsibility to the shareholders and stakeholders of this company. Yet, I am a good Catholic/Christian, and so I would like to follow what seems to be a course of sanity in knowing my place and treating others with the coequal respect they deserve. I know!
I’ll be humble-hearted and gentle-hearted in my family, community and faith life, but will revert to contrary tendencies in the workplace.”
This attitude has certainly shot through my mind on more than one occasion. I have felt very protective of Gonzaga’s competitive position and the stakeholders who are dependent on a strong and thriving institution. However, as will be seen, this particular view of protectiveness is illusory.
Let us return to our definitions for a moment. Recall that humble-heartedness is knowing my place relative to God and others and that gentle-heartedness is seeing the coequal dignity of others in their “belovedness by God” and in their invaluable eternal soul. There is nothing in these definitions about having to be a wimp or a milk-toast. Frankly, Jesus was neither of these. He was rather firm with the scribes and Pharisees, a rather tough negotiator, very protective of not only his disciples, but of all those who were in need of help and justification (his stakeholders, so to speak).
Leadership is enhanced by the humble-heartedness which knows one’s place. When one tries to be messiah (instead of mere leader), people are neither pleased nor fooled. False messiahs tend to leave small, short-lived legacies with thousands of resentments and people problems in their wake. In contrast, those who have a sense of their co-responsibility with other human beings in building up the kingdom of God tend to leave profound, long-lasting legacies filled with an ethos of respect and even noble virtue. Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
The literature of leadership is replete with examples of military, business, civic, religious, educational and cultural leaders who, in brief moments of humility, left legacies for generations. It is also replete with examples of the opposite — the dashed plans of pride coming before the fall. Today’s leaders would be well-served to live by Jesus’ standard, and prayer is the one failsafe means to get there.
Fr. Robert Spitzer, SJ, is Legatus’ International Chaplain. He is president of Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., an internationally known author, speaker and consultant. His latest book, “Five Pillars of the Spiritual Life,” was published earlier this year.