To say #IamVincent means to live a life of virtue. Actually, it means to live a life of five essential virtues. The third is Meekness: the virtue of gentleness.
It is interesting to note that “Wikipedia” speaks of gentleness as a virtue of former ages but is nevertheless found in those persons who have preserved the tradition of noble simplicity and generous candor. For quite some time gentleness has characterized the members of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society and in their Rule they are encouraged to foster this gentleness which is defined as friendly assurance and invincible goodwill, which mean kindness, sweetness and patience in our relationship with others (Rule 2.5.1). Therefore, we should not be surprised that the dictionary defines gentleness as a pleasing, kind quality that is revealed in conversation and in relationships with people. It is that virtue that is found in those people with whom we find it easy to converse. It will often be associated with courtesy, friendliness, cordiality, simplicity or meekness.
This virtue of gentleness is proper to Jesus and in fact is the object of one of the eight beatitudes: blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5) and thus is presented as a virtue that is essential for all Christians. In a very comforting and hopeful scene, Jesus presents himself as gentle and humble of heart (Matthew 11:29). This virtue enabled Jesus to reach out toward the infirm, the poor, sinners and publicans and to restore them to wholeness. This virtue was present in all of Jesus’ relationships and people felt consoled and comforted (Luke 24:31-34).
Vincent de Paul, who was impressed by the gentleness and cordiality of Francis de Sales, insisted on the practice of this virtue. Vincent, therefore, exhorted his followers to reflect on the examples of Jesus Christ and to imitate his meekness and his approachability. He reminded them of the importance of an affable, loving and accepting disposition in order to be effective missionaries. Vincent was also realistic and at the same time warned his followers that this virtue had to be accompanied with respect and firmness.
Frederic Ozanam, a man of conviction, revealed himself as an affable, well-educated and respectful person when relating with others. He was gifted in his ability to establish relationships with others … a gift that was manifested in the unity that was maintained among the Founders of the Society as well as in the charitable and friendly visits to the homes of the poor and the infirm.
In light of such witness it becomes easy to recognize gentleness as that virtue which inclines a person to treat others respectfully, to say and to do that which fosters the dignity of the human person. Saint Thomas Aquinas studied this virtue and has passed on to us the following reflections:
- Gentleness can be understood as being synonymous with friendliness;
- One must know how to combine the practice of this virtue with that of righteousness;
- Gentleness is related to justice and both virtues (gentleness and justice) are intended to enhance the relationships among people;
- One must avoid that which is contrary to gentleness: anger, rudeness, disorderliness and selfishness;
- Saint Thomas warned that meekness could degenerate into two vices: severity and exaggerated praise.
The Rule is mindful of these realities when it speaks about friendly assurance and invincible goodwill. We must remember that Vincentians must present themselves as trustworthy persons, as men and women who will guard people’s trust, who are open to dialogue and communication, who reach out to others and value friendship. Furthermore, good will is indispensable: one is not overcome by discouragement or frustration but remains firm in doing that which is right and good. Therefore, we can understand that gentleness is an essential Vincentian virtue. If we want to follow Jesus Christ and imitate the manner in which he lived his life, if we want approach those persons who are in need and serve them in a chartable manner, then, gentleness is indispensable and this gentleness must also be accompanied by friendliness, kindness, approachability, understanding, acceptance.
What means can be used in order to cultivate and grow in this virtue of gentleness?
- In relationships be mindful of the need to treat others in a respectful manner;
- Speak simply and candidly;
- Learn to control one’s anger and impulses;
- Avoid making judgments about others;
- Be willing to do a favor for others whenever requested and possible;
- Cultivate the habit of asking forgiveness and giving forgiveness;
- Encourage those things that will build up the community;
- Learn to accept setbacks with courage and with a good spirit.
Gentleness is a virtue of former times because virtue does not belong to time but is a characteristic of the human person. Gentleness is a virtue of those Vincentians who want to practice that noble simplicity, who want to live and cultivate that friendly assurance and invincible goodwill which is spoken about in the Rule, who aspire to holiness by reaching out to and serving those who are poor and most in need. This virtue is most necessary if we want to create a more human world, a world inhabited by more loving men and women!
Translated: Charles T. Plock, CM