"Learn from me, I am meek and humble of heart" (Mathew 11:29).  St. Francis de Sales interprets this as the call of Jesus to have a heart gentle (meek) towards our neighbor and humble towards God.

“Often recall to mind that Our Lord saved us by his suffering and endurance. In the same way, we must work out our salvation by sufferings, trials, bearing insults, conflicts and trouble with as much gentleness as possible.” (IDL.  III, 3)

Gentleness towards ourselves makes us moderate in our emotions and feelings toward ourselves; regulate all violent, impetuous and passionate thoughts. Gentleness must permeate our whole being, interior and exterior. He who is able to preserve gentleness among pains and weakness and peace among troubles and a multiplicity of affairs is almost perfect’ (Letter of April 8, 1608, AE XIV. P. 2)

When beginning to feel angry, he (Francis) would swallow, remain an instant without speaking and then begin to smile gently and speak with calm (Lajeunie, Vol. 2, p.132)

"Nothing is so strong as gentleness - nothing so loving and gentle as strength", says Francis. Gentleness is not weakness.  Gentleness flows from inner strength  and peace.

St. Paul asks the Corinthians (1 Cor. 4:21) “What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a whip or in love and gentle spirit?” Paul appeals to them by the meekness and gentleness of Christ.  For Francis as it is for Paul the weapons with which we fight are not weapons of the world.  Paul appealed to the Colossians, "Clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience" (Colossians 3:12).

Paul treated people with gentleness. He cared for them like a mother for her children. “As Apostles of Christ, we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her children (! Thessalonians 2:5-7). Writing to Timothy, Paul says that one of the tasks of an elder is to oppose false teaching, but this should be done with gentleness in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to the knowledge of truth (2 Timothy 2:25-26).

Webster’s Collegiate dictionary  uses many words to describe the word “gentle”: honorable, distinguished, kind, amiable, docile, free from harshness or violence, soft, delicate, moderate and so on.

To be gentle is often seen as being weak, mild, submissive, subservient, lacking courage, ineffective, passive, etc.  If that is so, who wants to be gentle?!!! Such gentleness is not seen as a virtue. Most people would prefer to be like the boy whose mother kept calling him “My little lamb” and he finally, said, “Mother, I don’t want to be your little lamb. I want to be your little tiger”. We want to think of ourselves as being courageous and strong….gentleness is not appealing. We want to be conquerors and gentleness sounds too much like surrender and who wants to surrender……..we want to keep fighting…we want to conquer!

Gentleness is not weakness or cowardice. Gentleness is not passiveness or inactivity. When you think of gentleness you might think of a gentle animal, one that’s tame and placid and easily led. Biblical gentleness is not about being tame, compliant or docile. It’s not about weakness, cowardice, or inactivity.

Gentleness is hard to define because it involves lots of other qualities like compassion, wisdom, patience, humility, love, and respect and so on.

Gentleness is strength. “By patience a ruler can be persuaded and a gentle tongue can break a bone.” (Proverbs 25:15). Unlike the movies where problems are solved with guns and ammunitions, we are challenged to be patient, gentle, kind and considerate in solving our problems. Gentleness is strength, but strength under control, disciplined strength, “restrained strength”. It is choosing not to use violence or power or force or weapons or any other means to bring others under control. It is strength that brings harmony.

Gentleness is strength, but disciplined strength for the benefit of others, for the good of the family, community and society. It is concern for others, especially the weak and the vulnerable. It is putting our agenda on hold to meet the needs of others. Gentleness calls forth self-discipline, self-restraint, self-control, other-centeredness and real humility!

A story tells of a corporal at Valley Forge who was directing three men as they tried to lift a log into place. It was too heavy, but the corporal commanded again and again, “All right, men, one, two, three, lift!” A man in an overcoat came by and said to the corporal, ‘Why don’t you help them?” The corporal pulled himself up to full height and replied, “Sir, I am a corporal.” Without a word the man stepped over and with his help the log went easily into place. The man was George Washington.

Gentleness includes true humility that does not consider itself too good or too exalted for humble tasks.

Scriptures give us many examples of God being gentle with his people, restraining his strength for the weak…tending his flock like a shepherd: gathering the lambs in his arms, carrying them close to his heart, gently leading them that are young (Isaiah 40:10-11).

Gentleness results from my experience of God's Love for me as I am.  When I am sure of God's acceptance and Love, I can afford to be gentle because when God himself considers me worthwhile, there is no further need to assert myself or compete with others and prove my worth. 

The certainty of God's love for me frees me from self-concern and self-absorption. I can afford to be gentle. 

Fr. Gus Tharappel, msfs 

IDL - Introduction to a Devout Life