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Patience, another word for love

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Gospel Commentary Nov. 17, 21:5-19

Wouldn’t it be great if it were possible to learn to play an instrument, or to acquire fluency in a foreign language, just by taking one single lesson? Imagine if it were possible to drop 10 pounds by skipping just one dessert, or become physically fit by doing just a few jumping jacks. Wouldn’t it be great if we could have the character of a saint just by being virtuous for one single day?

We cannot, of course. The indispensable price of achieving anything worth having is the virtue of perseverance. Perseverance is that virtue by which we hold fast to a good purpose, keeping the goal steadily in view, despite delays, fatigue, or temptations to indifference. It is a virtue specifically counseled by Christ, and spiritually speaking, is one of the most difficult to practice.

In the very last line of the Gospel this week, after Jesus warns his apostles about the many hardships they must expect for being his disciples, he tells them, “By your perseverance, you will secure your lives” (Lk 21:19). The literal translation of the original Greek text of St. Luke says, “By your patient endurance, you will acquire your soul.” Perseverance is rightly understood as the virtue of “patient endurance,” and there are three areas of life in which we need to exercise it — with others, with ourselves and with God.

First, we must strive to be patient with others. Father Mike Schmitz of Ascension Press once said in a reflection that we tend to treat other people the same way we treat our cars. When something is wrong with our car, we try to fix it. If we can't fix it, we replace it. If we can't replace it, we simply ignore it. That might work well with cars, but not with other people. In our relationships, patient endurance of the character flaws of others is an essential part of life. It might help to think that others do not have “character flaws,” but rather “delightful idiosyncrasies.” It may help to remember that other people patiently endure our “delightful idiosyncrasies” as well.

Secondly, we must strive to be patient with ourselves. If we’re at all thoughtful, it doesn’t take us long to discover that we lack the power to overcome our sins and faults by sheer force of will. We lack the ability to lift ourselves up to sanctity by our own bootstraps. Growth in virtue takes humility, surrender to divine grace, and time. St. Francis de Sales once said that the surest cure for our faults is the slowest cure, and that those very sins that gallop into our lives on horseback always leave on foot. We must put forth all the effort we have, of course, but without losing heart. As St. Pio of Pietrelcina once put it, “Hate your faults, but hate them calmly.”

Lastly, we need to be patient with God. Have you ever read the headlines of the news and wondered why God doesn’t simply fix everything wrong with the world at this very moment? If you ever doubt God’s power, wisdom or strength, take a few minutes to meditate on the terrible events of Good Friday and Holy Saturday. When Jesus was handed over to his enemies, as he carried his cross and died, as he was placed in a stone-cold tomb, it must have seemed to his followers that all hope was lost. Yet at every moment, God’s power was unmatched, his will was sovereign and his providence was perfect, despite every appearance to the contrary. In our own times of darkness, the sufferings of Christ teach us everything we need to know. Impatience with God is actually a sin against faith.

Perseverance certainly is not the greatest of all virtues, but it makes possible the acquisition of every other good. St. Paul once told the Corinthians that patience is another word for love. That alone is why we must strive to live it.

Fr. Hudgins is pastor of St. Jude Church in Fredericksburg.

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019