When I was ten I fell about 20 feet from a tree in our back yard and smashed my wrist to pieces. I had to wear a cast all summer and fall. It drove me crazy to have to wear that thing: no swimming, no hunting, no games, no bike. My mother's answer to my getting very antsy about it was her classic, “Tommy, patience is a virtue.” I guess I didn't have any: patience, that is. The last line of today's gospel used to have a famous saying explicitly about patience: “In your patience you shall possess your souls.” It is an important saying in the history of spirituality. The present translation leaves me cold: “By your perseverance you will secure your lives.” What would Mom say about that!
The early Church needed patience. It was white hot with expectation of the Lord's imminent 2nd coming. St. Paul and St. Luke had to calm Christians down like in this morning's reading from 2nd Thessalonians where Paul tells them to get back to their day jobs and make an honest living. It will be a while before it all comes to an end. Saint Luke is writing at a time when the magnificent Temple of Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Roman army. It seemed like a sure sign of the end of the world. The Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles told them and us: hold your horses. The times of the Gentiles must be fulfilled, that is, the Gospel must be preached to all peoples and become their way of salvation, the way of living in a community of love towards God in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. In other words, be patient, beloved, until the coming of the Lord, as St. James says in his epistle.
Luke's Gospel has another saying about patience similar to “In your patience you will secure your souls.” It comes in the eighth chapter, “The seeds on the good ground, are they who in a good and perfect heart, hearing the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit in patience.” When the gospels talk about bringing forth fruit they are referring to deeds of love from hearts made loving: good and perfect by the infusion of God's love into them, as I said before, by Christ in the Holy Spirit. Patience is usually called upon in our lives because of the many hardships any one of us experiences even on a daily basis. For this reason St. Luke, alone among all the evangelists, inserts the word “daily” into the saying of Jesus about the cross. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Hardships are part of life, and the virtue of patience, which is an aspect of charity, helps us to bear with them. St. Thomas Aquinas says that Pope St. Gregory the Great described patience as the root and safeguard of all the virtues not because it is the greatest, but because it removes the obstacles to the other virtues, the greatest obstacle being our anger at things or people for not cooperating with our personal grand plan for the universe—O! How I suffer! A dear friend of my family who grew up with my little sister has MS. Her husband walked out on her because his wife's illness was too great a hardship for him to deal with. Love is imperfect when it does not include patience in the face of hardships. In St. Paul's classic description of love, patience comes first: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
Indeed, for all of us, whether married or religious or dedicated in the single life, it is usually our false perception of other people that is the greatest hardship calling for patience. In the case of the husband of my sister's friend, he was offered by God and by his wife the chance for self-transcendence and the perfection of the image of Christ in him, but he chose his false self and his imagined comfort—probably the story of my own life. Saint Benedict, who wrote the rule we follow, saw patience as one of the most important monastic virtues: first, because it is part of the imitation of God whose own patience, says St. Benedict and St. Paul, is leading us to repent; second, simply because it is a much needed virtue that has to be practiced daily, daily, daily in the community as we all rub up against a variety of characters that we did not choose to live with, God chose them. The worst character we run up against is, of course, our own miserable self.
Perhaps, if we can learn to be patient with ourselves, we will learn to be patient with others in the community—or with our wives, our children, our husbands, our boss, whatever, whomever. As St. Benedict writes in Chapter 72, “This is the good zeal which monks must foster with fervent love: They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other, supporting with the greatest patience one another's weaknesses of body or behavior.” Get that! “support with the greatest patience one another's weaknesses of body or behavior.”) St. Benedict, to encourage us amid the hardships of the life, tells us right off the bat about the reward of patience in the final verse of the Prologue: “Never swerving from his instructions, then, but faithfully observing his teaching in the monastery until death, we shall through patience share in the sufferings of Christ that we may deserve also to share in his kingdom. Amen” We will now have a sublime foretaste of his kingdom in this Eucharist and its graces of love and patience we share together. Photograph by Father Emmanuel. Sunday’s homily by Father Luke.