A Reflection for the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
There are many adjectives used by those of us who love our country and surely, no shortage of modifiers employed by those who loathe her. But neither friend nor foe has ever called these United States “meek.” It is not in the nature of a nation-state to be meek. We have certainly been the opposite, however, and from the very beginning of our nation’s history. Indeed, we invaded our neighbor Canada before our own independence had even been established.
What were our founding fathers thinking? Having embraced the liberalism of the Enlightenment, they could not conceive their vision to be limited, much less in error. If all people had inalienable rights, shouldn’t those rights be extended as far as possible?
French Catholics, as a Rhode Island pastor proclaimed in 1759, were children of the “scarlet whore, the mother of harlots.” If the British-American colonies opposed a tyrant, should they not also seek to free their neighbor to the north from tyranny? Rick Atkinson writes in The British are Coming (2019), his first volume of a revolutionary trilogy, “This would be the first, but hardly the last, American invasion of another land under the pretext of bettering life for the invaded.”
Though liberation is often won through violence, love can never conquer through compulsion. Love must always be meek.
The Americans had expected to be received as liberators. Quebec’s French Canadians, however, bet on the British Crown rather than the American colonies. The British monarch might indeed be Protestant, but, after decades of geopolitical strife, he also knew that he was accountable to Catholic France. The right to practice the faith was recognized in Canada. At the time of the American Revolution, eight of the 13 American colonies had established churches, and only two of them guaranteed freedom of religion.
On Sunday, Dec. 3, 1775, 800 Americans under the command of Colonel Benedict Arnold sailed from newly captured Montreal down the St. Lawrence River to Quebec City. Although they did indeed come to lift the American cordon around Quebec City, it was not British warships that defeated the Americans. It was smallpox.
“Insurrection in America coincided with a smallpox epidemic that would claim more than a hundred thousand lives across from the continent from 1775 to 1782,” Mr. Atkinson writes. The Americans accused the British commander, Major General Guy Carlton, of deliberately infecting their ranks. He continues:
Regardless of the cause, by late December smallpox was spreading among the Americans at an alarming rate. Arnold’s surgeon, Isaac Senter, was an inexperienced twenty-two-year-old who had not finished his apprenticeship; his failure to immediately isolate all smallpox patients proved lamentable.
By the time the Americans were forced to assault Quebec City, the disease had ensured that its defenders outnumbered them by a margin of two to one. Canada would not be joining the American colonies in revolt.
See, your king shall come to you;
a just savior is he,
meek, and riding on an ass,
on a colt, the foal of an ass (Zec 9:9).
What an odd king Zechariah prophesied! What sort of liberator comes in meekness? Yet Christ claims the adjective as well and rightly so.
Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light (Mt 11:28-30).
Though liberation is often won through violence, love can never conquer through compulsion. Love must always be meek. It must offer itself and abide. Love cannot seize. It ceases to be love the moment it tries to coerce.
Christ has chosen to liberate us by love, and love will not—cannot—compel.
Christ continues to offer himself to us. But not in power. He prophesied that the meek would inherit the earth. We will see. In the meantime, he meekly offers himself in a weak and sometimes woeful communion we call the church, in her Scriptures and sacraments. He has chosen to liberate us by love, and love will not—cannot—compel.
Though some may indeed not be able to wear them, how odd to invoke our rights and fear of government coercion when wearing face masks in public is proposed. Is focusing only upon our own health how we imitate the meekness of our Savior? Instead, should we not be invoking our patriotism, our love of country and of neighbor?