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On Patience by Fr. George W. Rutler


June 1, 2014
by Fr. George W. Rutler

The child in the backseat asks “Are we there yet?” and the Psalmist pleads “Usquequo, Domine?—How long, O Lord?” (Psalm 13). Patience is a difficult virtue. As we prepare to observe the seventieth anniversary of the Normandy Invasion, we know that only those who were alive then can describe the excruciating months and days of waiting for what the President called the “poignant hour.”

Our Lord was patient with his apostles: “Have I been with you so long, Philip, and do you still not understand?” (John 14:9). In the days between his Ascension and Pentecost, he enjoined his followers to be patient: “And being assembled together with them, he commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father” (Acts 1:4).

Patience is waiting without complaint. After the Resurrection, those who had been great complainers early on no longer murmured, but filled the days with great rejoicing, singing and praying in anticipation of the unspecified day (“not many days” was all the Master said) when the Holy Spirit would give birth to the Church. Pentecost was the fiftieth day after the Feast of the First Fruits (Leviticus 23:15-16). Christ had risen on that feast, becoming the fruition of salvation history. The Holy Spirit came down on Pentecost—a Jewish feast that celebrated the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai, for now the letter of that Law would be fulfilled by the Spirit who gives life to the Law.

The date of Pentecost was calculated from the first Sabbath after Passover, and thus Pentecost followed not fifty but forty-nine days later, and the ten days of waiting following the Ascension were actually nine. In the Levitical system, however, the ninth day marks the conclusion of a feast and the start of a new day lived in consequence of waiting for it. So “Novenas” are nine days of prayers in anticipation of the tenth day.

The “relativity” of natural time is harder to understand than the relativity of moral time. For instance, one hour of pain seems much longer than one hour of pleasure, and the years of waiting for marriage are not as nerve-racking as the few minutes before the wedding. In each instance, the exercise of patience ceases to be a burden, knowing that the anticipated outcome will be realized. St. Peter was an impatient man until the Resurrection, and then he embraced the truth of eternity when he embraced the Risen Lord, and that made all the difference. He came to understand that “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years are as one day” (2 Peter 3:8).

So patience is based on trust, and trust changes endurance into joy: “For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay” (Habakkuk 2:3).



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