The celebration of Labor Day this weekend reminds us of the blessing of being able to work, as well as to receive the benefits of the work of others. Whether it’s food in a grocery store, the attention given to us by our postal workers, hospitality in restaurants, retail services in department stores, IT assistance, or the vast array of other types of work, we live and thrive on the shoulders of our fellow workers.
This great interconnection among workers raises questions about work, remote work, our work ethic, and the virtues that we should nurture through our work.
Of all the virtues that good work can bring about, meekness is the one that is highlighted by the Lord Jesus in the Beatitudes.
Of itself, meekness is not a singular act, but a habit of virtue that we are called to develop in our souls. To use a musical example, meekness is not a single cantor, but the member of a choir who sometimes serves as the conductor, so that the selected piece can be played well and beautifully.
With this example in mind, meekness is a level-headed, clear understanding and acceptance of who we are and where we stand in relation to God, our world, and our neighbor. It shows us ourselves spiritually the way a mirror shows us ourselves physically.
But meekness doesn’t just show us ourselves, it helps us to accept it. It is a strength of mind, heart, and body that gives us the inner resolve to claim and accept this self-identity. Meekness shows us our sin when we’re in darkness, but also our dignity when we are feeling low or suffering humiliation. In either situation, meekness invites us to choose to live—in spite of internal or external adversity—a life of transparency and resignation.
Many times, meekness and strength are seen as opposing characteristics since the meek are usually mistreated by society. But paradoxically it is precisely meekness that gives us strength, though not strength as it is usually understood, such as in the one who has the most power, influence, or resources. Rather, meekness is a gentle strength within us. It gives us a poise that allows us to be at peace in our own skin while also empowering us to pour ourselves out in self-donation to others.
As demonstrated by the Blessed Virgin Mary in her beautiful canticle to God:
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; For he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”
Mary was in no position of power, and she admits this by referencing her “low estate.” This is that element of self-realization in meekness, knowing your place before God. But she also knew “all generations would call her blessed,” meaning she also knew of the great honor God was bestowing upon her, and she would carry that honor with a “gentle strength” that we know all too well as her spiritual children.
We know the Virgin Mary had no sin within her, but in our own lives, meekness provides the strength we need to overcome jealousy, wrath, envy, and the fluidity of our passions. It is the internal power that fortifies us to remain consistent with truth and goodness in the face of challenges and distress. In times of recklessness, when our actions are rash or foolish, meekness brings us back in order.
Additionally, the meek, in knowing their own sinfulness and the dangers of pride and wrath, are slow to violence and labor to settle affairs with gentle hands and tender hearts. They seek to understand their neighbors and are inclined to empathy and compassion.
Our willingness to be meek is an affirmation of our desire for happiness. How can anyone be happy if they’re not willing to acknowledge and accept who they are and where they stand before God and their neighbor?
No one living a lie or playing some demented game of denial can be happy. A person living in such darkness is stuck in their own make-believe world, while the fullness of the earth belongs to those who are meek.
On this Labor Day, we are reminded that the earth belongs to the meek because they know their role in society, seek to faithfully fulfill their part on God’s providence, work hard, desire to build up their neighbors, and recognize the larger plan and interconnection among us all.
Follow Father Jeffrey Kirby on Twitter: @fatherkirby