Exodus 17: 8-13; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:2; Psalm 121; Luke 18:1-8
There is a Christian spiritual virtue that, I think, is undervalued and ignored in our fast paced, short attention span culture. As a member of the first TV generation, I struggle myself with the subliminal idea that all problems can be solved in 60 or 30 minutes, (less commercial interruptions). That virtue is long-suffering – which does not mean exactly what it sounds like. Long-suffering is the virtue of patience in adversity, sticking it out over the haul when things aren’t working out the way we had hoped or planned. Long-suffering is an attitude of trust in God, and a humble acknowledgement that we don’t know as much as we think we do and that we don’t always know what is best for us. The woman in the parable who scared the corrupt judge into settling in her favor had the right idea, but, no matter how long or how persistently we pray, we cannot change God’s mind, God has known from the beginning of creation, if not before, how each and every one of our prayers would be answered. However, WE may need, for our own spiritual growth and discipline to persist in prayer, to keep asking, to learn patience, humility, resignation and a healthy respect for God’s sovereignty.
Long-suffering comes into play in our daily life as well. When I first read these lessons, earlier in the week, I was struck by how personally timely they were. Dealing with Taoiseach Ivan’s health problems is teaching me long-suffering, accepting that it is going to be a lengthy process, with many set-backs and disappointments. We all have, in our lives, people or situations that call for this virtue, that stretch our natural abilities to the breaking point, causing us either to give up, or to, finally, depend upon God’s strength, wisdom and love. We, also, like Moses, need to learn to lean upon our friends, our fellow workers in God, our brothers and sisters in Christ. If we, the Church, cannot reach out to one another in need, then we have failed in our mission. I have spoken before about a pastor I knew many years ago, whose wife of 30 years had, out of the blue from his perspective, asked for a divorce. He lamented to me, and a few other members of the ministerial association, that he wished he could stand in the pulpit and pour his broken heart out to his congregation, but knew that he could not, that it wouldn’t be appropriate. That was one of the saddest things I had ever heard. That church had failed, failed at being the Body of Christ, failed at being a community.
Long-suffering also needs to be practiced in our work in the world, in our evangelism. St. Paul writes to Timothy, who he is teaching how to be a Bishop, “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is coming to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingly power, I charge you to preach the word, to stay with this task whether convenient or inconvenient – correcting, reproving, appealing – constantly teaching and never losing patience.” Never losing patience – that is long-suffering. And we need to have it with ourselves, with others, with our mission, and, in a sense, with God. We have to patiently wait for God to move and act in his own time, and in his own way. When we are trying to share with someone, our faith, our journey, our Lord, we must wait upon their time, they may not be ready or willing to hear us, or, they may not be ready or willing to hear US. For whatever reason, we may not be the right person to lead them to faith, or we are not the right person right now. We must be patient and trust that God is holding that person in his hands, and that at the right time, the right person will be there. This can be painful when we see someone we care about being self-destructive, but we cannot force anyone to the Truth, we can and should continue to pray for them, to be available, to be loving, and kind, but not enabling, not compromising our faith for their good opinion, or for peace. That is where the suffering in long-suffering comes in, we suffer, as Christ suffers when he sees those he loves turn away and fall into sin and darkness, we suffer, but we do not give up, even if, like Christ, we are rejected, and the person leaves and wants nothing to do with us, we continue to pray for them and love them. Only God knows how our prayers may touch them over time and distance, but just be assured that they do, and that God cares for them infinitely more than we can.
Long-suffering is the virtue of blooming where we are planted, of playing the hand we are dealt, without complaining, without repining; cheerfully, patiently, joyously, expectantly waiting for God to act.
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