Sunday, May 03, 2020

“Oh Lord, give me patience!”

(Fourth Sunday of Easter (A):  This homily was given on May 3, 2020 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Psalm 23:1-6; 1 Peter 2: 20-25; John 10:1-10.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fourth Sunday of Easter 2020]

“Oh Lord, give me patience.”  Besides the Our Father, that just might be the world's most frequently uttered prayer.  “O Lord, give me patience—PLEASE give me patience!”  How often have you said those words?  If you're like me, quite often!
Now traditionally Job is held up to us as a model of this elusive virtue.  People commonly speak of “the patience of Job.”  St. James talks about Job's “perseverance” in chapter 5 of his letter.  (James 5:11)  But if you read Job’s story carefully in the Old Testament, you see that his patience, although it was great, was far from perfect.  Which is quite understandable.  After all, he lost his children, his property and his health in less than 24 hours!  All he had left were Mrs. Job, who kept telling him to curse God and die, and three so-called friends, who kept telling him how bad he was!  I call that a nag and three windbags!  No wonder he got a little testy after a while!

Actually it's Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior who is our model of perfect patience.  St. Peter tells us as much in today's second reading, which is taken from the second chapter of his first letter.  (Peter, of course, would have known a lot about the patience of Jesus, because the Lord was very patient with him on many occasions.)  Peter writes:
If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps.  He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.  When he was insulted, he returned no insult; when he suffered, he did not threaten; instead, he handed himself over to the one who judges justly.

St. Thomas Aquinas once said that great patience is demonstrated in two ways: when a person suffers great evils patiently, or when he suffers something that he could avoid but chooses not to.  This leads St. Thomas to conclude that the patience of Jesus on the Cross was the greatest patience ever shown.  Because on the Cross Jesus willingly took upon himself the greatest of evils—the sin of the entire human race!—even though he could have avoided doing so.  As he said to Peter in the garden of Gethsemane on the night before he was crucified: “Do you not suppose that I can call on my Father to provide at a moment's notice more than twelve legions of angels?”  (Matthew 26:53)  In other words, "Peter, don't you realize that I could easily get out of this if I really wanted to?"

Because Jesus is God, he's not only our great model of patience; he's also the source of the patience that we need in our lives.  I would say that most Christians intuitively recognize that fact, which is why they utter that prayer so often: “O Lord—O Jesus—give me patience!”  But here's the amazing irony of it all: everyone wants more patience, but nobody wants to find out if they actually have it!  Everyone prays for more of it, but no one really wants to find out if their prayer is ever answered!  That's because there's only one way to find out if you have more patience now than you did yesterday; there's only one way to find out if God answers your prayer for the gift by giving you more of it: it's got to be tested!  I suppose you could say that patience is like knowledge and strength.  How do you determine if you have more knowledge at the end of a course than you did on the first day of class?  You take a test.  How do you know if you're physically stronger today than you were a week ago?  If you work out in the gym, there's only one way to find that out: you test your strength.  You put more weight on the bar and you try to lift it.  And so it is with patience.  We can pray for more patience 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year—we will never know if we actually have more of it, unless it somehow gets tested.  And of course, no one in their right mind wants to have their patience put to the test!  That's why I said that everyone prays for the virtue, but no one really wants to find out if their prayer is answered. 

Perhaps, on a practical level, we should approach the matter in a different way.  Perhaps, when we pray for more patience, we shouldn't wait for the test to come.  Maybe we should simply trust that God has answered our prayer the moment we've said it.  Scripture would certainly support us in doing this, because, as Jesus himself tells us in Matthew 21:22, “Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith you will receive.”  So, when we say, “O Lord, give me patience,” we should trust that we have it; we should believe that God has been true to his word and given us the gift.   And this little practice carries with it a definite bonus.  You see, if we trust God in this way, we will probably be much more confident and optimistic whenever our patience does get tested.  Because instead of getting upset at the test and wondering when God will finally give us what we're asking him for, we will look upon the test as an opportunity—an opportunity to put into practice the gift of patience that the Lord has already given us.   

Easier said than done?  Perhaps.  But why not give it a try?  After all, what have we got to lose?  Except our impatience!