Blessed Clement Hofbauer, a Moravian religious and priest who was born in 1751, was pastor at St. Benno’s Church in Warsaw, Poland. Once he saw a homeless boy on the street and he brought him to the rectory, cleaned him up, fed him and catechized him. Little by little he started bringing more boys to the rectory. When the number of boys grew too large for the rectory, he opened the Child Jesus Refuge for his homeless boys.
To keep the boys fed and clothed, he had to beg constantly. On one occasion, while he was begging, he went into a pub and started asking for donations from the people there. One of the patrons scornfully spat beer into Hofbauer’s face. Wiping off the beer, he said: “that was for me, now what do you have for my boys?”
The man was so astounded by his response that he gave Blessed Clement all the money he had and days later went to his parish and made a general confession.
This anecdote in the life of Blessed Clement can help us to understand the meaning of meekness of heart and the good we can do to others if we practice this virtue. Meekness is the moral virtue that belongs to the virtue of temperance and helps us to control our irascible appetite or power, that is to say, our anger.
The irascible appetite, which is something good in itself, is aroused precisely to overcome the obstacle, which is why it is something good and necessary. It does not make sense to try to get rid of our irascible.
The problem is that due to original sin, this appetite is disordered and makes us react in a bad way in front of something bad. It makes us overcome the obstacle in a disordered way: for example, hating the person who does something against us instead of hating the action while loving the person. This is the reason we need to take control of it, or order it and use it when it is necessary, like Jesus did when He cleansed the Temple by driving out the money changers and animal sellers, and not to use it when it is not necessary, like Jesus did during His passion.
Meekness, like all the virtues, is a strength that supposes a passion, in this case the passion of anger (irascible) and supposes a strength superior to that passion. Therefore, meekness is a power that is able to dominate anger and use it at the right moment and in the right way. Both aspects are necessary, as it is not virtuous for one to use it in the right moment but not in the right way or vice versa.
St. James in his letter teaches the importance of this virtue and says that meekness and gentleness are signs and fruit of authentic wisdom. That is exactly what Blessed Clement transmitted with his reaction to this man. In order to be meek, we need to work on this virtue in our spiritual life. It is not just a matter of wanting to be meek, but we also need to ask God for that grace and second His grace with our spiritual work.