A Message to Graduates: Blessed are the Meek?

Dear friend,

I recently had the privilege of delivering the commencement address at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmittsburg, Maryland, just about an hour’s drive from Catholic Relief Services’ world headquarters in Baltimore. I’d like to share just a bit of what I told the graduates.

I told them that I believed that the most misunderstood of the beatitudes uttered by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount is, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” We usually nod at that “meek” term, give it deference and then pass on. We can go with the blessings Christ bestowed on the merciful and the pure of heart and the peacemakers. But the meek? Inheriting the earth? Come on.

I think we feel that unease because we misunderstand the passage. In general parlance, we think the opposite of meek is strong. “Meekness” to me can be defined as a type of humble patience. I suggested that the opposite of meek is not strong, but arrogant. And, boy, does arrogance get us in trouble. This whole financial crisis that might be making graduates a bit nervous about their next step came directly from the arrogance of many in the financial sector who thought they had it all figured out. Are they going to inherit the earth? It doesn’t look that way.

To me, being meek means approaching a problem, not with a certainty that we know the answer—which will often take us down the wrong path—but wondering what it is that we can learn that will lead us to the right solution. I suggested that it takes courage to be humble enough to recognize that we don’t know the answer and patient enough to take time to listen to what it could be.

There is no lack of strength in humble patience. It means approaching other people with an attitude of “What can I do to serve you? To help you?” There’s nothing weak about that. It’s the right formula for a business. Adopt it and you make money because your customers will be happy.

“What can I do to serve you?” That should be the financial leaders’ mantra. Adopting it will put them in the right relationship not just with their customers, their co-workers and their employees, but more importantly with their friends, with their spouses, with their children and with God.

It’s what we try to do at Catholic Relief Services. You may think that everyone involved in humanitarian aid is a pure-of-heart, meek peacemaker, but there is plenty of arrogance in my world. People sit in Washington or London or Geneva and think they know exactly what the poor of Chad or Ethiopia or Indonesia need. They are well meaning, but their plans invariably fail.

You have a much better chance of success if you approach people in their towns and villages and homes and ask, “What can we do to serve you?”

That’s what CRS is doing right now in Haiti, where we are involved in one of the biggest recovery efforts in our history. We are adopting an attitude of service to others, others who are desperately in need of life-sustaining assistance, others who tell us they need better shelter, jobs and sanitation. We are being of service to young girls and women who need protection. And we are striving to be of service to the many Americans who so generously gave us funds to be of help in Haiti. Many have longstanding relationships with priests and nuns, orphanages, schools, or hospitals and want us to rebuild these institutions.

At CRS, we often talk about solidarity with the people of the world, with the poor. Those we serve are not just statistics; they are quite literally our brothers and sisters. If you feel that solidarity, really feel it, you can’t be arrogant. It demands that you be meek. In Haiti, that means we need to humbly listen to the people affected by the earthquake and hear of their dreams and aspirations for their future. It means we will walk side by side in a journey with the Haitian people.

So I asked the graduates to be strong and determined—but meek.

Best wishes to all graduates. A happy Father’s Day to all you dads. And as always, thank you for your continued support and for your prayers.

Ken Hackett

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8 Responses to “A Message to Graduates: Blessed are the Meek?”

  1. Guy Cesare Says:

    It may be helpful, in understanding this beattitude, to know a number of Gospel commentaries in talking about the root Greek words (“hoi praeis”) speak of a special form of strenght.

    Eventually, one gets to the point in these commentaries that while often translated as “mild,” it’s recognized that this English word loses a great deal of possible context, meaning, and power of the message that the Gospel author was trying to offer. The Greek language, rather, could be referring to the power, under control that is more like that of domesticated stallion.

    The horse and the symbol of the horse were powerful in the Greek world because, once tamed, the horse could dramatically amplify the work of a human. Thus, to be “meek” in this way, would be to have strength under control. To be meek is to have the power to help, but that power is under the control of a will and compass, in the fabric of the beattitudes, to do the best thing. Thus, I feel an extension of Mr Hackett’s remarks would be to be strong but to listen well first and then act, with power, to do the most good, as a stallion that hears the will of its Master.

  2. Rev. Ken Praybyla Says:

    In preaching and counseling I often tell others that three very importnat questions are: How can I help? What can I do for you?
    What do you need form me? This offer respect to the other person and allows you to focus on the person’s need. I does not mean that you respond to that person’s need but you will know what that need is. Perhaps another option can be found.

  3. alma kesling Says:

    You are SO right, and right on with this message. So many more need to hear this. “What can I do to help you,” should be asked many more times than it is.

  4. louis higgs Says:

    The approach is fine, but often they do not know what they need and perhaps would not be in the situation they are if they had known prior to whatever tragic event has occurred. My point is that meekness does not only imply listening.

  5. takesure mupfurutsa Says:

    It is true,Mr Ken Hacket that ,meekness is not weakness.It is a process that involves active listening,a form of humbleness and the ability to absorb the forces around an individual.All these require one to be surrounded by the Holly spirit so that you will be able to perceive how others need your services.When we look back without forecasting in the future,every individual,family or organisation faced challenges of some sort.If we are blessed enough realize that it calls for unified efforts to bring results in every circumstance or situation.I am here to complement the wonderful work being done by CRS.Let us join hands with CRS and exalt the name of God through service.Give glory to God.

  6. Gerald V. Todd Says:

    Beautiful comments! Guy, may I borrow yours in toto? I was ready to add my understanding, but yours says it all.

    Pope Benedict’s encyclical Caritas in veritate was explicit in the application of subsidiarity and solidarity: “The principle of subsidiarity must remain closely linked to the principle of solidarity and vice versa, since the former without the latter gives way to social privatism, while the latter without the former gives way to paternalist social assistance that is demeaning to those in need.”

    The gross misapplication of social justice over equal justice has put the Church in a deep dilemma, especially with regard to illegal immigration. This seems like a good place to hash it out among reasonable people.

  7. Kimberly S Lewis Says:

    I’m so glad he teaches this, the meekness that Jesus described is perhaps the ultimate in strength. The patience and fortitude that Jesus had shown us. He IS the Messiah, and as HE said, if I asked, the Angels would help me. The Messiah refused to use his powers to help himself and trusted in God. For example: when Moses hit the rock with his staff and God said that he did not remember to keep him holy, so he would not see the promised land. What Jesus did was a tremendous gift to us. Especially, if we take into consideration that in Jesus day people thought they could be Gods, the Romans, Egyptians, Babylonians, etc. People really get this scripture wrong and it is nice that it is being taught correctly.

  8. claudio martinez Says:

    i loved your message also comment reflection true meekness is strength under control listening to the needs of others and valueing them and doing something to alleviete needit could be just beingopen and willing .

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