Reflections on Life
By Melvin Arrington
All throughout Scripture we read about the need for and the benefits of patience, the fourth Fruit of the Spirit. The frequent references extolling longsuffering and endurance suggest that these qualities were lacking as much in the ancient world as they are in our own time.
In his classic Way to Inner Peace, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen offers penetrating insights into this elusive but essential virtue. He notes that patience is not an absence of action; rather it’s timing, waiting on “the right time to act, for the right principles and in the right way.” He calls it “submissive waiting: a frame of mind which is willing to wait because it knows it thus serves God and his holy purposes.” And he adds “a person who believes in nothing beyond this world is very impatient, because he has only a limited time in which to satisfy his wants.” In conclusion Sheen believes “the more materialistic a civilization is, the more it is in a hurry.”
Some people seem to be in a hurry all the time, and they don’t want to slow down for anything or anybody. In fact, they would probably view waiting as a waste of time. When I was young and immature that was more or less my perspective. Back then, I didn’t realize that, paradoxically, it’s possible to accomplish a lot by not doing anything. For example, when we find ourselves in a holding pattern – standing in line, sitting in a doctor’s office, or on the phone “on hold” hoping to be able to speak to a “real person” – we’ve actually been granted extra time for prayer and reflection. In these situations we should be still and listen because God is probably trying to tell us something.
After all, being busy, in a hurry, rushing here and there can lead to serious consequences, such as anxiety. Perhaps those things are outward signs of an inner turmoil that’s already present. Either way, we all know how harmful anxiety can be physically, psychologically and spiritually. Anyone suffering from this malady should obviously seek medical help, but also invoke divine assistance. We should never underestimate the power of prayer.
The Psalmist must have had prayer in mind when he wrote, “Wait for the Lord, take courage; be stouthearted!” (27:14) When we pray, we want an answer immediately; we don’t want any delays. But as the parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18) shows, our petitions should not be of the one-and-done variety. Rather, we must “pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17), and pray confidently, knowing that the Lord hears and answers every prayer – yes, every single prayer! Sometimes the answer is “yes,” and other times it’s “no.” And more often than we realize the answer is “Hold on. It’s not time yet.”
According to the old saying, “the early bird gets the worm,” but for those who are impatient the pertinent adage is “good things come to those who wait.” If we do this, one of the things we’ll discover is that God’s clock keeps perfect time. When something is supposed to happen right away, and it doesn’t, some of us may become irritable; others may begin to worry; a few may even succumb to anxiety. But God’s schedule is not necessarily the same as ours. His timetable always overrides our own. He’s in charge and He has a plan for us, so we need to trust His timing and allow His will to unfold. Those guided by patience have a view to the big picture. They know they’re in for the long haul. And they know that good things do indeed come to those who wait.
And so, we see that patience has connections to each of the theological virtues, faith, hope and love. It takes faith to yield to the workings of the Holy Spirit in our lives rather than attempt to accomplish all things on our own. It takes hope to anticipate the good things God has in store for us without becoming restless. And, of course, there’s love. I Corinthians 13 tells us that love is patient; love bears all things.
Patience is forbearance; it enables us to endure suffering. Bearing wrongs patiently is one of the spiritual works of mercy (CCC 2447). My whole life I’ve heard people refer to “the patience of Job,” but after reading his story in the Old Testament I came away with the impression that in some ways he didn’t seem patient at all. Job complained and he questioned God about his predicament; however, he did remain faithful and he persevered. And it’s important to note that in the end he was rewarded.
So that has to be the lesson for us as we continue to go about our daily lives as best we can, given the restrictions of the corona pandemic. How long can God’s people endure being away from the Mass and the Eucharist? How long? As long as it takes. Because we know there’s a prize reserved for the stouthearted, those who persevere, those who wait for the Lord.
(Melvin Arrington is a Professor Emeritus of Modern Languages for the University of Mississippi and a member of St. John Oxford.)