I had a little epiphany while I was teaching today and thought it needed to be shared. I know I’ve been neglecting the blog for quite a while, but perhaps Lent is a good time to pick it up again. My students have been encouraging me to write more, and it’s good for the soul!
Today I was discussing Dante’s Purgatorio with my Medieval Lit. class, specifically the canto in which Dante meets the souls in Purgatory who are being purified of the sin of Wrath (Anger). He uses Mary’s gentle words to Jesus when she finds Him in the temple as a child as an example of Meekness, the opposing virtue that serves as a “remedy” to Wrath. My students were confused about what Meekness was, exactly, and about how something so seemingly passive could qualify as a virtue, so we worked through it together. Our conversation went something like this:
Me: “When we were reading the Inferno, we talked about Wrath, and we described it as a sinful or selfish way that we respond to certain situations. When is it that we usually give in to Wrath?”
Students: “When my emotions are out of control.” When things don’t go the way I want them to.” (And my favorite answer:) “When my will isn’t done.”
Me: “Right. So, if Wrath is the sinful way to respond to a moment when I don’t get my way, then Meekness is the opposite of that. Something happens that upsets me, and I could get angry, but I choose to respond differently.”
Student: “So, how is that a virtue?”
Me: “Because when I am practicing Meekness I say: my will is being contradicted, but I’m not going to be hurtful because of it. I will still be charitable and think of others instead of being selfish.”
Student: “What about this example of the finding of Jesus in the temple? How is that an example of Meekness?”
Me: “Mary had every reason to be angry with Jesus in that moment, but she chose to speak to Him not with an attitude of anger, but rather one of gentleness and love.”
[Confused expressions—so I tried to elaborate.]
Me: “Mary and Joseph were distraught when they were separated from Jesus. They loved Him more than anyone and anything else in the world, and after searching for days, they thought He might be lost to them forever. They probably thought they had failed to accomplish God’s will, that they had failed in their vocation as parents. Then when they found Jesus in the temple, they may have even been tempted to think that He was inconsiderate, that He had forgotten about them, that they were the furthest thing from His mind during such a painful time for them. Was that true? Had Jesus forgotten them?”
Students: “No, of course not.”
Me: “But if they thought He had, they might have been tempted to be angry with Him—and that’s the point, you guys. Any time we feel tempted to be angry at God, it’s because we’re giving in to a lie: the lie that He’s forgotten us, that we’re the furthest thing from His mind—which is never, ever true.”
Any time we feel tempted to be angry at God, it’s because we’re giving in to a lie: the lie that He’s forgotten us, that we’re the furthest thing from His mind—which is never, ever true.
That thought had truly never occurred to me until it came out of my mouth, and it was just what I needed to hear. I guess my students needed to hear it, too.