The Secret Place:
The Gift of Godliness and the Beatitude of Meekness
Come to me, all you that labour, and are burdened, and I will refresh you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls.” (Mt. 11: 28-29).
We have come to understand that the first Gift of the Holy Spirit, Fear of the Lord, is a singular grace of God by which the soul turns away from self and comes to rest in Christ and His saving Truth. Jesus says:
“Come to me, all you that labour, and are burdened, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek and humble of heart. For my yoke is sweet and my burden light.” (Mt 11:28-30).
Having taken upon itself the yoke (Fear of the Lord) of God, the soul begins to learn of God. Moreover, it begins to learn Who God is. Its first lesson is astonishing. God’s nature, and the depths of the “Spirit of Godliness” which is the second Gift of the Holy Spirit, is meekness; and the soul comes to live a life of godliness to the extent that it learns this lesson of meekness.
If we seriously meditate on the life of Christ as given to us in the Gospels, this certainly makes complete sense. The Cross is meekness incarnate. Jesus Christ, Infinite God, suffers infinite pain, subjection, and humiliation in obedience to His Father and in love for sinners. Such love is indeed infinite, incomprehensible meekness. Certainly the most profound description of this meekness and self-abnegation of Our Lord is to be found in Isaias 53, in that passage which is commonly referred to as the prophesy concerning the Suffering Servant:
“Despised, and the most abject of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with infirmity: and his look was as it were hidden and despised, whereupon we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows: and we have thought him as it were a leper, and as one struck by God and afflicted. But he was wounded for our iniquities, he was bruised for our sins: the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his bruises we are healed.
“All we like sheep have gone astray, every one hath turned aside into his own way: and the Lord hath lain on him the iniquity of us all.
“He was offered because it was his own will, and he opened not his mouth: he shall be led as a sheep to the slaughter, and shall be dumb as a lamb before his shearer, and he shall not open his mouth,” (Isaias 53:3-7).
If this passage offers us a deeply moving description of Our Lord’s meekness during His Passion, it also encapsulates its opposite in one penetrating and horrifying phrase: “every one hath turned aside into his own way.” There are, therefore, two ways offered to every man. The first, the Way of Christ, is the path of singleness of will, and meek surrender to God and self-sacrificing love for others. The second, always offered to us by Satan and by our own fallen nature, is the way of the world which seeks to grasp onto the gifts of God (and all creation is His “gifts”) and “turn them aside into one’s own way.” Choice of this second path, even if made by one who is a member of Christ’s Church and possesses the integrity of the Catholic Faith, makes such a person an enemy of God: “You ask and receive not; because you ask amiss: that you may consume it on your concupiscences….Whosoever therefore will be a friend of this world, becometh an enemy of God.” (James 4:3-4).
The most terrifying power man possesses is his freedom and inclination to consume every single gift of God in his own lusts (concupiscences), not even excluding God’s gift of Himself. The reader has most likely had the experience of viewing a preacher or speaker loudly and vehemently heralding his faith in Jesus Christ, and feeling intuitively that there is something phony and deeply un-Christ-like in that proclamation. Man, in other words, possesses the power to turn even God aside “into his own way” – that “way” which is the way of the world and the path to spiritual death. The reasons for such concupiscence and self-deceit may be many: fame, money, spiritual and intellectual conceit and false security, lust. In all such cases, the result is the same: the “pocketing” of God and His gifts, and the failure to surrender and learn of Christ Who is meek and humble of heart. The most common sin and deadly peril of Christians is this turning of God aside into the desires and conceits of one’s own heart and mind. The only escape and remedy for this sin is to take Christ’s yoke upon us, and learn from Him how we may acquire this virtue of meekness. God has provided for us a “secret place” – as it were, a “school of the heart” – wherein we may truly learn and imbibe this meekness of Christ.
The Secret Place
When I converted, the priest asked what Old Testament reading I would like to have read at the Mass. I picked Psalm 26: 4-8 (Douay):
“One thing I have asked of the Lord, this will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life. That I may see the delight of the Lord, and may visit his temple. For he hath hidden me in his tabernacle; in the day of evils, he hath protected me in the secret place of his tabernacle. He hath exalted me upon a rock: and now he hath lifted up my head above my enemies.
“I have gone around, and have offered up in his tabernacle a sacrifice of jubilation: I will sing, and recite a psalm to the Lord. Hear, O lord, my voice, with which I have cried to thee: have mercy on me and hear me. My heart hath said to thee: My face hath sought thee: thy face, O Lord, will I still seek.”
This psalm is now more lightsome than ever. In light of the current crisis, almost every word seems redolent with renewed meaning. And praying the Rosary, according to the method suggested in the article The Rosary: The Way of Perfection, has become for me the key which unlocks the secret place of his tabernacle – the Way into the Immaculate Heart of Mary, which is our Refuge in these days of evil. It is here where we must “come to” Jesus in these times of deprivation and persecution.
And what is it that we find when we come to Jesus? Again, Our Lord could not have been more specific in His answer:
“Come to me, all you that labour, and are burdened, and I will refresh you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls.” (Mt. 11: 28-29).
As explained in the above mentioned article, it is within Mary’s Immaculate Heart that we may receive Jesus in Spiritual Communion with the recitation of every single Hail Mary. It is here where we may come to possess that humility and meekness which will prevent us from embracing any of the extremes which now tempt us in this time of crisis. It is here where we may come to understand that humility which will prevent us from departing from the Heart of Jesus by sinning against the Holy Spirit through either presumption or despair.
First, in regard to despair:
In this time of spiritual deprivation and persecution, it is a tragic delusion to despair in any way. It would be especially tragic to despair over not being able to receive Jesus sacramentally in Holy Communion.
In the Summa Theologica, Pt. III, Q.3 St. Thomas asks the question: “Whether the Eucharist is necessary for salvation?” His answer is clear: the sacrament itself is not necessary for salvation, but the reality it contains (the unity of the Mystical Body) is absolutely essential for salvation. He simply states: “the reality of the sacrament [the Eucharist] is the unity of the mystical body without which there can be no salvation. (III Q.3, A.3).” He quotes St. Paul’s words, “For we, being many, are one bread, one body, all that partake of one bread “(I Cor. 10:17), and he further comments, “from this it is clear that the Eucharist is the sacrament of the Church’s unity (A.2).” The logical consequence of all this is beautifully delineated in the following passage:
“As St. Augustine says [commenting upon John 6:54, wherein Jesus declares, “Except you eat of the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you.”], ‘This food and this drink, namely, of His flesh and blood, He would have us understand the fellowship of His body and members, which is the Church in His predestinated and called, and justified, and glorified, His holy and believing ones.’ Hence, as he says in his epistle to Boniface: ‘No one should entertain the slightest doubt, that then every one of the faithful becomes a partaker of the body and blood of Christ, when in Baptism he is made a member of Christ’s body, nor is he deprived of his share in that body and chalice even though he depart from this world in the unity of Christ’s body, before he eats that bread and drinks of that chalice’.”
We might therefore conjecture that this time of deprivation in which we cannot assist at Holy Mass and receive Jesus in sacramental communion is a Gift of God’s Providence designed for the deeper penetration of Jesus into our hearts and souls. If such a statement at first sounds absurd, we ask the reader to meditate on the following:
Each of us, if we are in the state of grace and friendship with God, receives the fullness of Christ when we receive sacramental communion. A Saint does not receive more of Jesus than a comparably very worldly person who is much more immersed in indifference and venial sins (but who is not in mortal sin, and therefore still possesses sanctifying grace). The difference between two such persons does not consist in how much of Jesus they receive, but in the extent to which they allow Jesus to penetrate into the depths of their hearts and minds. And the extent to which Jesus is able to penetrate into our hearts is especially dependent upon our desire for Him. Jesus said, “I come to cast fire on the earth: and what will I, but that it be kindled?” (Luke 12: 49). He declared, “the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away.” (Mt. 11: 12). And finally, Our Lord spoke the following to His apostles before the first Eucharist: “With desire I have desired to eat this pasch with you, before I suffer.” (Luke 22:15). The degree of unity and love effected between Christ and the human heart is the fruit of the passion of desire exchanged between God and man. The Passion of Christ’s love is always infinite, while the passion of man is almost infinitely variable in its “mixture of impurity” with the world. And just as Christ’s Passion was made perfect in suffering, man’s love and passion for Christ is often only reawakened and purified through intense suffering. Such may indeed be seen as God’s love expressed through our present chastisement:
“But if you be without chastisement, whereof all are made partakers, then are you bastards, and not sons.”
“Now all chastisement for the present indeed seemeth not to bring with it joy, but sorrow: but afterwards it will yield, to them that are exercised by it, the most peaceable fruit of justice. Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and made straight steps with your feet: that no one halting, may go out of the way; but rather be healed.” (Hebrews 12: 8, 11-13).
To be “exercised” by chastisement is to learn where we have gone wrong. In this, the second Beatitude, Jesus invites us to “learn” through His meekness. We therefore need to explore the Gospels to understand the nature of this meekness.
The Anatomy of Meekness
What does Christ mean when He states that He is meek and humble of heart? We should first make clear what He did not mean. Such meekness and humility certainly cannot be identified with any kind of weakness or timidity – physical, mental, or spiritual. Christ fasted for forty days. He endured all the agonies of His Passion in loving obedience to His Father. He was fearless in confronting demons, including the intellectual and spiritual conceits of Satan himself. He boldly and with great mental authority demonstrated the truths of the Gospel to His enemies. He drove the money-changers out of the Temple. He was vehement, authoritative and assertive in everything that had to do with defending and teaching the ways and truths of God.
So wherein was Christ meek? In everything that had to do with His own human will: “He was offered because it was his own will, and he opened not his mouth.” (Isaias 53:7). Everything involving His own personal humanity on this earth was turned into an oblation, a sacrifice in love for the Father and in love of man: “there is no beauty in him nor comeliness: and we have seen him, and there was no sightliness, that we should be desirous of him.” At the supreme moment of the Passion of Christ, His love knew no return. Mankind, for whom He suffered, was not desirous of either His suffering or His love. There was no immediate reward, no “turning aside into one’s own way.” There was no other way than the will of God.
There are two forms of meekness which Christ practiced, and which we are therefore to imitate: meekness towards God, and meekness towards man. Certainly the clearest scriptural account of the first occurred during His Agony in the Garden when He said, “Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me. Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou will.” (Mt 26:39). Jesus’ human nature and will, suffering total repulsion at the thought and foreknowledge of the agony which He was to endure on the Cross, yet humbled Himself in total meekness and submission to the Will of the Father.
There are many passages in the Gospel which teach us to imitate this meekness towards God. Possibly the most penetrating is to be found among those parables which deal with what it means to be a true servant of God:
“And the apostles said to the Lord: Increase our faith. And the Lord said: If you had faith like to a mustard seed, you might say to this mulberry tree, Be thou rooted up, and be thou transplanted into the sea: and it would obey you.
“But which of you having a servant ploughing, or feeding cattle, will say to him, when he is come from the field: Immediately go, sit down to meat: And will not rather say to him: Make ready my supper, and gird thyself, and serve me, whilst I eat and drink, and afterwards thou shalt eat and drink?
“Doth he thank that servant, for doing the things which he commanded him? I think not. So you also, when you shall have done all things that are commanded you, say: We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which we ought to do.” (Luke 17:5-10).
The above passage begins with a request addressed from the apostles to Our Lord: “Increase our faith.” Our Lord’s reply may be summed up as follows: If you wish to increase your faith, increase your work for God without seeking any reward. Such will increase your faith and expand your piety because it will deepen the willful sacrifice of yourself to God and His Ways. It is this meekness, neither expecting nor demanding any return for one’s love, which both prevents the mind and heart from “consuming” God, and establishes the soul in the true rest and peace of Jesus Christ.
The second form of meekness which Christ practiced was that which was exercised towards man. The Passion is, of course, the supreme example of this form of meekness. Christ was kissed by His betrayer, judged, struck repeatedly, mockingly crowned with thorns, scourged, spat upon, crucified – all at the hands of those towards whom He had shown Infinite Love. He did all this in meekness, silence, prayer, resignation, and without calling upon the legions of angels which were instantly available for His defense.
The Gospel contains many passages in which Jesus gives specific instructions for the living of this virtue of meekness among our fellow men. However, we need look no further than the very same chapter of the Gospel which contains the Beatitudes:
“You have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you not to resist evil: but if one strike thee on thy right cheek, turn to him also the other: And if a man will contend with thee in judgment, and take away thy coat, let go thy cloak also unto him. And whosoever will force thee one mile, go with him other two. Give to him that asketh of thee and from him that would borrow of thee turn not away. You have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thy enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you.” (Mt 5:38-44).
In these lines we are again faced with words of Our Lord which are often quoted, but rarely taken literally and with the seriousness which Jesus seems to intend. They are nothing more or less than precise descriptions of actions and attitudes which Christ demands of us, and which are duplications of His own self-immolations during His Passion. Let us look at the above passage line by line: Christ did not resist evil; when given blows upon His face He did not resist, and simply turned the other cheek; He allowed them to strip Him of His garments; He allowed them to force Him on the interminable walk to Golgotha while carrying His cross; and finally, He prayed to his Father for forgiveness for those who had subjected Him to this suffering and death.
If we believe that Christ demands anything less of us than His own self-sacrificing meekness, we are sorely mistaken; for this same Chapter 5 of St. Matthew’s Gospel ends with Christ’s command to us: “Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt 5:48).
It may at first seem strange to us that the reward offered to those who live the Beatitude of Meekness is that “they shall possess the land”: “Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land” (Mt. 5: 4). For the Israelites, this word “land” was redolent with meaning. It immediately called forth God’s original command given to Abraham:
“Go forth out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and out of thy father’s house, and come into the land which I shall shew thee. And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and magnify thy name, and thou shalt be blessed. I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curse thee, and in Thee shall all the kindred of the earth be blessed.” (Gen 12:1-3).
All the promises of God scattered over the pages and prophecies of the Old Testament, and deeply imbedded in the suffering hearts of the Jewish people: that God would be a Father to His people; that He would come to dwell with them and in them; that He would right all wrongs and end all sufferings; that He would reign with them in an everlasting kingdom – all these and more were contained in the Jewish concept of the Promised Land. And when Christ the Messiah did come and showed them that this Land – this “nation” – was something ultimately to be attained by meekness rather than aggressions, plowshare rather than sword, mercy rather than pharisaical righteousness, they killed Him. They simply refused to understand that the Land promised by this, the second Beatitude, is not the earthly nation of Israel, but rather the kingdom of God which is to be found within the human heart truly united with God: “For lo, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17: 21).
It is the human heart which is the “land” wherein Jesus Christ takes up residence in the truth and power of the Holy Spirit. As such, this “dwelling of God with man” also places us in direct inheritance of the very Heart of Jesus Christ and His merciful love of all human souls. To possess the Land is therefore to enter into a whole new world of community with all men. It shatters competition, aggression, and self-seeking. It has the effect of creating an intense desire for the salvation of souls, a longing founded upon a vision of man which now sees both intense suffering and hope where before it only found fault. Though the soul under the influence of such a gift may indeed experience increased sorrow and pain in love of God and sorrow for sin, it at the same time finds rest simply because it now rests in God’s love rather than in its own self-seeking. There is no greater sweetness than this: to have surrendered one’s soul in meekness to Christ: “For my yoke is sweet and my burden light.”
For the soul that has set its heart upon God above all things, there remains only one true pleasure left upon this earth: love of the brethren and the thirst for souls. Among the early converts to Christianity this love and this passion simply dissolved all competitiveness, all desire for individual accumulation:
“And all they that believed, were together, and had all things in common Their possessions and goods they sold, and divided them to all, according as every one had need. And continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they took their meat with gladness and simplicity of heart; Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord increased daily together such as should be saved.” (Acts 2:44-47).
“And the Lord increased daily together such as should be saved.” The massive conversions of early peoples to the Christian Faith were largely due to the love and meekness which these people witnessed in Christians living in community with one another. In what is called His priestly prayer at the First Eucharist, Christ prayed:
“And not for them (the Apostles) only do I pray, but for them also who through their word shall believe in me; That they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” (John 17:20-21)
The primary reason why the rest of the world has not converted to Christ and to His Catholic Church is that His supernatural meekness and love are not visible in His Body the Church. Catholics are, and have been for a long time, living in ways which far more represent the conceits, ambitions, greed and competitiveness of the world rather than the meekness and single-minded love of Christ. Even as early as the third century (250 A.D.), St. Cyprian could write:
“But amongst us, that unity of mind has weakened in proportion as the generosity of our charity has crumbled away. In those days [the very early days of the Church], they would sell their houses and estates and lay up to themselves treasure in heaven by giving the money to the Apostles for distribution to those in need. But now, we do not even give tithes on our patrimony, and whereas Our Lord tells us to sell, we buy instead and accumulate. To such an extent have our people lost their old steadfastness in belief. That is why Our Lord says in His Gospel, with an eye on our times: ‘The Son of man, when He cometh, shall He find, think you, faith on earth?’”
There is a very deep and extraordinary relationship between charity and meekness. True charity is a surrender, in meekness, of one’s very substance. For the soul that has surrendered to God in perfect charity and abnegation of self, there remains only one true pleasure left upon this earth: love of the brethren and the thirst for souls. Among the early converts to Christianity this love and this passion simply dissolved all competitiveness, all desire for individual accumulation:
What, after all, did the early Christians surrender when they sold their land and possessions, “and divided them to all?” They surrendered much of what we treasure as our individuality and independence; they surrendered any security for themselves and, possibly even more difficult for us to accept, for their children – except that security which was derived from their trust in Christ and in His Mystical Body the Church. Do we see how such meekness, trust, and singular love enabled 12 men to convert whole nations to Christ? In contrast to pagan society, Christian community shown forth as a heaven on earth.
There is a principle of the spiritual life which has been validated repeatedly in the history of peoples and nations: that the failures of Catholics are the seeds of heresy. The particular heresy which well might be seen to be the bitter fruit of Catholic failure to live the Beatitude of Meekness is Communism (and its continued thinly-veiled continuance and dominance now under the guises of globalism, socialism, and messianic democracy). Ironically, the passage which we have quoted from the Book of Acts is often touted by Communists as an example of an early form of communistic living. In reality, it is the very opposite. The community of early Christians founded their unity and trust upon God. Atheistic Communism, socialism, or secularism claims the death of God, and a unity founded solely upon human pride and invention. Christians voluntarily offered themselves and their properties to the Church; Communism confiscates private property for the State, and denies freedom to the individual person. At the same time, however, Communism’s errors do point an accusing finger at Catholics.
The triumphs of Marxism and secularism were the fruit of the death of true Christian community, and the continued growth of economic and political systems based on unbridled competition, aggression, and exploitation. Communism is the spiritual descendent of the Renaissance (including the prostitution of Catholics to its ideals and practices) and its liberation of economics, and especially finance, from the demands of the spirit and the teaching of the Church. Millions have been seduced and oppressed by Communism because of their desire to be free of such sophisticated savagery as is modern capitalism. Communism murdered (outside of war) approximately 150 million people in the 20th century. Nor is it by any means to be considered dead. And even if it were, the same deadly and murderous hunger will only reappear under another name, another philosophy, until Christians are able to show the world what it means to be in communion with Christ and one another.
Unquestionably, when we consider the formation of true Christian community, we are now faced with what might seem insurmountable obstacles. The early Christians came and laid their money and properties at the feet of the apostles. This was not some sort of democratic commune, but rather the gift of themselves, their families, and their possessions to Christ through His Church. We might well doubt at the present moment in history whether we could find bishops willing, reliable, and orthodox enough to exercise such authority and paternity. On the other hand, if we harken back to the principle taught by St. Gregory the Great that “Divine justice provides shepherds according to the just deserts of the faithful”, we might also conjecture that God is waiting for us to bring our desires and aspirations into accord with the Gospel so that he might then justly provide these needed shepherds. Nor are we sure exactly how this early Church actually fulfilled this community living. The Book of Acts speaks of them as “breaking bread from house to house”, which surely means that families had their own dwellings and necessary privacy. What is essential in the whole thing is the spirit of generosity and charity which truly “held all things in common” in Christ’s Mystical Body the Church. We must not misuse the fact that the vow of poverty is a voluntary act taken by religious, and that this evangelical counsel is not at all necessary for salvation. The command of the Gospel is that all persons are called to give themselves entirely to Christ, and that poverty of spirit and meekness is necessary for all.
Nor does God have to work now in the same manner as He did in the early Church. Times and circumstance change, but Christ is always present and active to provide a way to His Heart through the deceits and evils of this world, no matter how dense and overwhelming such evils may seem. As the Psalmist declares, “He will guide the meek in judgment: he will teach the meek his ways”. (Ps. 24: 9 –Douay).
We can see, for instance, things growing out of our own home-schooling communities which, imperfect though they may be, truly express the demands of Christian community, and extending beyond the immediate family. Young people who have graduated from high school can actually be seen working together in trades, and are establishing their own families while cooperating with one another in many of the various aspects of daily life which we have mentioned. No Christian who knows the circumstances of Christ’s birth should have to be told that God can begin great things in very unlikely places and under very unusual circumstances. The pre-requisite for true Christian community is not necessarily any particular exterior form, but the interior disposition of soul which truly does seek God in holy simplicity, meekness, and poverty of spirit. What is most important is that we become like the prophet Daniel who is repeatedly called a “man of desires” by God, and who from the depths of his exile in Babylon, prayed:
“For we, O Lord, are diminished more than any nation, and are brought low in all the earth this day for our sins…. And now we follow thee with all our heart, and we fear thee, and seek thy face. Put us not to confusion, but deal with us according to thy meekness, and according to the multitude of thy mercies.” (Dan 3:33, 41-42).
Please Pray every Rosary for the Purification of the Church.