First Advent Virtue: Patience

(Decembere 2, 2018)

Bottom line: Patience is essential to our relationship to God and to each other. Asking for that virtue I will bless the Advent Wreath and light the first of four candles.

As we begin Advent, we hear St Paul say, "May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we have for you, so as to strengthen your hearts..."

When we turn to God, he begins to strengthen us. Another word for strength is virtue. The word come from the Latin "virtus" which means "manliness." We want strong men and - I hasten to add, women of strength. That means men and women of virtue. Our Advent series will focus on four virtues.

The first Advent virtue is patience. Today's Scripture readings speak about patient waiting. I was particularly struck by the Psalm, "For you I wait all the day long." You have the image of a man standing in the temple - not too far from the Tabernacle, the Holy of Holies - waiting for the Lord to speak or inspire him. He will wait all day if necessary and, even if nothing happens, he will still consider it time well spent.

That kind of patience is not easy, but it is essential to our relationship with the Lord - and, for that matter, with each other. Patient waiting is sometimes the greatest service a person can perform. Soldiers know that. One of the slogans in the military is "hurry up and wait." A soldier has to be vigilant. It might involve some boredom, but is necessary to defend one's country.

I had the opportunity to talk with a doctor who works in the emergency room of a hospital. I asked her if her work is as exciting as the television programs. She said at times it is, but she added "we also have to do a lot of waiting, just standing by." I don't know about you, but I am glad that she and other people are willing to stand by. I am grateful for their patience.

The Lord tells us today that we must stand by and patiently wait for him. He warns against the impatience that leads to escapist behavior - like excessive drinking. He also warns against getting so caught up in immediate concerns that we fall into anxiety, which is a kind of free-floating fear. The key to avoiding both anxiety and escapism is vigilance, also known as patience.

An early Christian writer named Tertullian considered patience the most basic virtue. He wrote a classic essay on patience.* Tertullian begins by focusing on the patience of God and of Jesus. Then he describes how our first parents fell away from God because of their impatience. After analyzing the damage caused by impatience, Tertullian uses examples of biblical saints to inspire his readers to practice the virtue. It is a powerful essay, but it contains a sad irony. Tertullian wrote wonderfully about patience, but he had a terrible time practicing it. Toward the end of his life, he grew so impatient with the failings of the Church that he joined a sect he imagined would bring about a perfect church.

Like Tertullian, you and I can become discouraged with the Church. Before jumping ship, however, we need to step back and take a look at history. History teaches patience.

And you know, without patience we cannot properly love other people. Love requires that we listen patiently to that other person - and balance our own desires against the good of the other.

Over the years I have read a number of self-help books. Some people tell me I should ask for my money back. That might be, but I've noticed they almost always emphasize delayed gratification. So many people ruin their lives - and other peoples' lives - by grasping at some satisfaction before its time. The truth is that the Lord will satisfy all our legitimate desires, if we only have patience. Stand erect, Jesus says, lift your head. Like a solider be vigilant.

To grow in patience the Bible recommends fasting. During Advent we don't have specific fast days, but I invite you to select a day - maybe Tuesdays or Fridays - to fast. It may mean abstaining from some favorite food. Consider the Daniel Fast: no meat, dairy, eggs, fried foods, sweets or alcohol. Instead - fruit, vegetables, legumes, grains, seeds and nuts. Fasting is patience - delayed satisfaction.

Fasting is like going to a gym to build up strength. But even if you don't go to a gym, you still have other ways to get in shape. Ask God for patience and, don't worry, he will give you opportunities to exercise patient endurance.

I heard about a man who practiced patience in a small but potent way. When he went to Mass, he started parking his car in the furthest spot so visitors could get a closer space, especially in the rain. That small gesture started influencing other aspects of his life. A little delayed gratification can go a long way.

Patience, delayed gratification, is essential to our relationship to God and to each other. Asking for that virtue I will bless the Advent Wreath and light the first of four candles. Next Sunday we shall see a virtue closely related to patience. Don't worry. It's a much easier virtue. Ultimately as we shall see these four Sundays of Advent, virtue does not depend so much on our puny power, but a Higher Power. As St. Paul says, "May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we have for you, so as to strengthen your hearts..." Amen.


*Here's a quote: "She (patience) fortifies faith; is the pilot of peace; assists charity; establishes humility; waits long for repentance; sets her seal on confession; rules the flesh; preserves the spirit; bridles the tongue; restrains the hand; tramples temptations under foot; drives away scandals; gives their crowning grace to martyrdoms; consoles the poor; teaches the rich moderation; overstrains not the weak; exhausts not the strong; is the delight of the believer; invites the Gentile; commends the servant to his lord, and his lord to God; adorns the woman; makes the man approved; is loved in childhood, praised in youth, looked up to in age; is beauteous in either sex, in every time of life."

Spanish Version

From Archives (First Sunday of Advent - Year C):

2015: Are You Missing Out? Week 1: Jesus' Warning
2012: Victim or Free?
2009: Fulfill the Promise
2006: Patience
2003: Vigilance and Prayer
2000: Keeping Focused

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

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