It shouldn’t be any surprise to the spiritually inclined to learn that one of Christ’s most powerful teachings is also one of his most maligned. The great admonition to “turn the other cheek” doesn’t sit well with the self-centered, egotistical society we live in. There is also a tendency for people to interpret this admonition literally, almost as though it were boxing advice, and miss the underlying point. If I were to summarise the underlying message, it would be something like this: “When you see others acting badly, don’t let it concern you, and never be tempted to react. Rather, with all humility, let it inspire you to act better yourself.” Or if we make it a tad more practical still: “When someone acts inappropriately towards you, don’t argue with them or tell them how inappropriate they have been. Rather, humbly show them by your superior conduct.”
Acts of great virtue are inspiring to all people, regardless of religious conviction. The following example from a truly virtuous man, Fr. Willie Doyle, SJ, is a perfect demonstration of the true meaning of Christ’s words. The story comes from the lovely, inspiring and sadly long out of print book Merry in God by an anonymous author:
“I recall one memorable scene. It is a common occurrence in Clongowes for one cricket club to challenge another. The consequences for the loser are serious, since the beaten side is liable to confiscation of its bats, pads, in fact all its good gear, and to get in exchange the battered property of its rival. This is the material aspect of the result, but there is a more important element at stake, the loss or gain, namely, of prestige. In the instance to which I refer, the game was keenly contested and feeling ran high. The junior club won eventually by a narrow margin. Whereupon the beaten side declared that the victors had ‘doctored’ the score. Immediately there was uproar, and quiet was restored only when someone proposed that Fr. Doyle should be called in to arbitrate. He gave the case against the defeated eleven. This verdict so exasperated one of the boys that he called Fr. Doyle a ‘damn cheat!’ This outburst cleared the atmosphere and produced a sudden calm, as nobody knew what would follow this amazing piece of impudence. But Fr. Doyle did nothing. Two or three days passed, and the culprit, who was prepared to take a flogging and hate his Prefect to the end of his days, began to grow sorry for his conduct when he saw that no move was being made against him. At last he apologised, offering to accept punishment, but Fr. Doyle only laughed good humouredly, and gave him biscuits and lemonade and a few pieces of sound advice. Fr. Doyle won a fast friend and a most loyal supporter, but his self-control under the circumstances needed character.”
Most of us would have argued with the boy by telling him how inappropriate he’d been – and have activated his defenses by doing so. Instead, Fr. Doyle activated his admiration by humbly failing to defend himself.
If you’ve found Christ’s words impractical or difficult to imitate, consider imitating this wonderful example instead.