A couple of days ago, I baptized a beautiful, little baby boy. He was a couple of months old. His cousins all wanted to hold him. I noticed that his daddy gave good instructions to his little cousins before they were allowed to hold him. They were told, “Be gentle with him.” Each soul is fragile like a tiny, infant baby. Even the seemingly rough and tough person who ends up in prison, when you look deep in their heart, is a delicate, wounded soul. Needless to say, each soul needs to be handled with much gentleness.
This week, we are praying for the gentleness in priests, for priests are often with people who are at their most vulnerable time of their lives--death of a loved one, marriage conflicts, and personal crisis. At such times, we need more than ever priests who take to heart Jesus’ instruction, "Learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly of heart.” We also hear from Prophet Isaiah about Jesus, “A bruised reed he will not break.”
To be gentle means that the priest must recognize the vulnerabilities of the other and the ways in which his arrogance or ego can threaten those weaknesses, even when he bears no malice to the other. Take the example from today’s Gospel. Did you notice how the mighty Archangel Gabriel approached the young teenager Mary? Although Archangel Gabriel was powerful and mighty, he protected the littleness and weakness of Mary from the danger implied by his own bigness and power. When he spoke to Mary, “Hail full of grace,” his tone was not that of forceful urging to submit to God’s will, but a gentle invitation in which the Almighty God gave the lowly, human girl plenty of freedom to choose.
A priest is considered an expert in spiritual matters. It’s really important that he is gentle in his approach. Consider for example, the computer expert, who knows exactly what silly mistakes someone is making and could put him in his place with a well-chosen sneer or two. The computer expert, if he is not to overwhelm and
demoralize the inexperienced user, must instruct him gently. How much more does the priest pose a kind of threat to those who may not have the theological background! These truths strike much more closely to the heart of a person’s self-understanding. Those who may have just started to turn their lives toward Jesus may find themselves embarrassed and foolish when a priest takes a condescending approach with them or belittles them to a point that they do not even understand their own deepest commitments. Such persons are likely to abandon the pursuit of deeper understanding, seeing it at best as an irrelevancy and at worst as a calculated attempt at the priest’s self-aggrandizement. Since priests ultimately strive to bring others to an encounter with Christ that results in conversion of life, the truths they teach touch the center of their hearers’ ways of life. Those who are not already committed to these truths quite reasonably perceive them as a threat to their self-identity. That sense of danger prompts almost impenetrable defenses.
We must pray that priests have a devotion to the Sacred Heart, for Jesus’ heart contains the key to cultivating this necessary virtue. Gentleness comes from growing in union with the Heart of Jesus, as they love, trust, and imitate him more.