Lenten Reflections: Patience

We should rejoice that through our unique flaws, God is teaching us the lesson of patience.

Jesus Preaching by Tissot

Patience is one of the “little virtues.” We may never be called upon to practice heroic virtues, such as martyrdom. However, daily we have innumerable opportunities to practice patience. Some individuals seem to possess patience as an integral part of their natural temperament. Others are easily agitated and readily lose patience, both with others and with themselves. Sometimes mothers of small children consider themselves impatient. I find mothers to be among the most patient people I know.

Examples of Patience
Chastened by his own sin and forgiven by God, King David learned to be forgiving. He was patient with the sins of his firstborn, Amnon, and his son Absalom, and also with the actions of Shimei of the clan of Saul. Amnon violated Absalom’s sister, Tamar, and then rejected her. David was angry over the affair, but he did not allow this to spark resentment toward Amnon. Then, Absalom had Amnon murdered and fled. David sought to reconcile with Absalom. Two years later, Absalom prostrated himself before King David, who then kissed him.

Despite David’s patience and loving forgiveness, Absalom employed underhanded means to steal away the loyalty of David’s subjects, having himself crowned king at Hebron.  Realizing the danger, David fled with his soldiers and servants. As he was approaching Bahurim, Shimei threw stones at the king and his soldiers, cursing him.  One of the officers wanted to cut off Shimei’s head, but David prevented him, saying: “the Lord told him to do this.” David added: “Perhaps the Lord will look upon my affliction and make it up to me with benefits for the curses he is muttering this day” (2 Sm:13-16).

When Jesus was in the Temple, he spoke about the chaos, persecution, and death that would come to his disciples. “When you hear about wars and insurrections,” he admonishes them, “do not become disturbed. These things are bound to come … There will be earthquakes, plagues and famines in various places … Before all this happens,” Jesus warns, “they will manhandle and persecute you, and place you on trial.”  He adds, “Even relatives and friends will hand you over to be put to death.” Jesus promises the persecuted will receive words of wisdom to confound their adversaries.  He continues: “All will hate you because of me, yet not a hair on your head will be harmed.  By patient endurance you will save your life” (Lk 21:5-19).

The author of Hebrews recalls the time these early Christians endured great suffering: public insult and trial, imprisonment and confiscation of goods. He urged them to persevere, writing: “You need patience to do God’s will and receive what he has promised” (10:36).

St. Francis de Sales told us not to limit our patience to this or that kind of injury. We should be patient in all circumstances that God sends to us. Some sufferings, such as being wounded in battle, or taken prisoner of war, or persecuted because of one’s beliefs are deemed honorable by society. However, a truly patient person bears up patiently in tribulations, great and small, be they accompanied by ignominy, or ones that bring honor. To be despised, criticized, and accused by evil men is a slight thing to a courageous man, but to be denounced and treated badly by good men, or by our own friends or relations, is the test of true virtue.

De Sales admired the patience and meekness of St. Charles Borromeo. He suffered for a long time from public criticism by an important preacher of a strictly reformed order—suffering more from this man than from all the attacks made against him by other persons. The attacks by good men and women are harder to bear. De Sales himself was criticized from the pulpit by a member of a strict Franciscan order for his book, Introduction to the Devout Life. He bore this criticism very patiently.

Patience with Self
Often, we focus on gentleness and patience toward others, while we fail to be patient with ourselves. Perhaps, we fret over our imperfections. Surely, when we commit a fault or sin, we should be sorry, but we must do so gently and patiently. There is a danger we may slip into a gloomy mood, and even feel bitter toward ourselves. Such behavior may generate self-anger, setting into motion a terrible agitation. This is like pouring salt into a wound. We must never forget there are only two perfect persons in this world: Jesus and Mary. Everyone else is imperfect. We should humbly admit our imperfections, asking God for the grace to improve. We, too, can easily slip into pride and excessive self-love. Perhaps, God permits these imperfections to keep us humble.

What is the best way to overcome our faults and failings? We must proceed in a calm, patient, and firm manner. Violence begets more violence. An impatient self-correction may cause more harm than the original failing. Patience sows seeds of peace of soul.

Correction of Others
Jesus reminds us to remove the plank from our own eye before we condemn the speck in our neighbor’s eye. A person may be upset over a small failure in another, yet laugh off serious, sinful behavior in himself.

Thus, we are not to judge. But, charity demands that we give fraternal or sororal correction in serious matters. Some have the duty to correct, such as a parent or guardian. Experience teaches us that a gentle, patient rebuke of a student or friend is more effective than a harsh correction. It is better to give a private correction than to embarrass another in public. Public rebuke easily wounds self-esteem, making the person defensive. Compassion is a more effective remedy than an impatient rebuke.

David realized God was patient with him, and forgave his serious transgressions, which led to a conversion of heart for him. He became more patient with himself, and in time, more compassionate dealing with the serious failings of others. How often God forgives us, and remains patient with our sinful behavior and shortcomings! Too often, we are blind in our own concern. We must ask him to remove our blindness, forgive us, and enable us to patiently forgive others. When it comes to imperfections in adults, people may change very little. We must learn to patiently accept them as they are.

The Cracked Pot
In India, a servant went to the community well each day with two pots slung over his shoulders on a bamboo pole. One pot had a crack in it, and the other was perfect. On the way home, the cracked pot always lost half of its contents. This situation continued for a long time. The cracked pot felt ashamed of its imperfection, and the failure to perfectly accomplish its task left the pot feeling miserable.

One day, the cracked pot spoke to the servant as he waited his turn at the well, saying: “I’m ashamed of my imperfection, and I apologize. I don’t understand why you are so patient. Why don’t you just throw me away?” The servant was surprised and asked: “Why do you feel this way?”  “Well,” the cracked pot replied, “I can only accomplish half the task compared to the perfect pot.”

On the way home, the water bearer spoke gently and patiently to the cracked pot. The servant walked slowly up a long hill in the bright sun, so the cracked point could notice all the beautiful flowers, which improved the pot’s mood. As they descended the hill, the servant asked, “Have you noticed there are flowers on your side of the road, and none on the side of the perfect pot? I planted seeds on both sides of the path. I knew about your flaw, and took advantage of it. You have watered your side for two years, and I have been able to decorate the Master’s table with beautiful flowers. Without your being the way you are, I would never have been able to place beautiful flowers on his table.”

God is patient with our imperfections, and, I think, like the cracked pot, he manages to transform them to grace the world with beauty. We should rejoice that through our unique flaws, God is teaching us the lesson of patience.

Rev. William J. Nessel, OSFS About Rev. William J. Nessel, OSFS

Rev. William J. Nessel, OSFS, has an AB in Philosophy, an MA in Politics, and a JCD from Catholic University of America, and an MDiv from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia. He has published over 50 articles in various journals, including several in the Homiletic & Pastoral Review.


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