04 March 2013

Patience is a Virtue

Third Sunday of Lent
            I recall a time when I was at Lansing Catholic high school, and there was a dance coming up that I was planning to attend.  And there was a particular girl I really wanted to take to the dance.  I sort of had a crush on this girl, without the sort of part.  And I remember really wanting to ask her to the dance.  But, being the analytical guy that I am, I also did not want to appear desperate and ask too early.  So I made myself a deal: I would ask this girl to the dance no more than a certain number of  days before the dance.  I day before, and I’m ready to ask.  There’s a part of me that just wants to ask on that day.  But the rational side of me reminds me that I don’t want to look desperate, and that I can wait just one more day.  I go through the final day, waiting for my opportunity to ask her to the dance when I have class with her after lunch.  I see her in class and say, “So, you got plans for the dance in a few weeks?”  “Yeah,” she says, “so-and-so (I don’t want to use real names, since some of you knew me in high school) just asked me yesterday.”  “Great!”  I said, trying to play off the fact that I felt stupid for waiting that extra day.  “I’m sure you’ll have a great time together.”
            Now, if this were a modern-day fable, we would probably guess that the moral of the story is not to be patient, because you can miss out on opportunities that you might otherwise have.  And there are certainly times when being pro-active is key. 
            But even though I didn’t get what I wanted, and it seemed to be because “he who hesitates is lost,” as the saying goes, I ended up having a great time at the dance with a different girl, and my patience (which I’m still not really known for) paid off.
            Patience is a virtue with which I think most people struggle.  It’s hard to be patient, whether with family members, co-workers, people on the road, etc.  Whenever I fly I don’t want to have to wait between my flights; I would rather just land, make it to my gate, and then take off as soon as I’m ready.  Technology hasn’t made patience any easier.  Anytime I want to know something, I just type in the question to Google on my iPhone, and get an answer.  Or, if I’m really impatient, I just ask Siri to find me the answer so I don’t have to waste time typing.
            And yet, our readings today focus us precisely on patience.  In our first reading, we hear about Moses being called by God to lead the Chosen People from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land.  What does that have to do with patience?  Well, by the time the Israelites left Egypt, it had been 430 years since Joseph and his family had fled the famine in Canaan and set up residence in Egypt.  That’s a long time!  And what does God say?  “‘I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry of complaint against their slave drivers, so I know well what they are suffering.’”  Now, our modern, impatient tendencies would probably lead us to say wonder what in the world took so long to find someone.  Why wait over four centuries to free the People that God had made His own?  To be honest, we don’t know why.  But God was patient, knowing that He would send Moses at just the right time to command that the Israelites go free, and that, when Pharaoh refused, God would manifest His power over all creation to convince the Egyptians to let the Israelites go.
            Or take the fig tree from the end of today’s Gospel.  Our modern, impatient tendencies would be to cut down the tree.  It’s had enough time to produce fruit, and it’s not, so don’t give it another chance to continue to waste precious water and nutrients in the ground.  Cut it down, and plant a new tree.  But the gardener asks for some patience, to give the tree one more year to produce fruit before it is cut down, and the orchard owner agrees.
            God is patient.  He is never in a rush to act.  And while we may complain about that, we should also give thanks for God’s patience, because it’s His patience that has allowed us time to repent.  Imagine if God were as impatient as us: how many times would he give us before He stopped allowing us to repent and turn back to Him?  And yet, each Lent, and even each time we come to Mass, we tell God that we are sorry for our lack of love for Him, and ask Him to give us another chance and more time.  God knows the fullness of time, and He knows when certain things need to happen.  Whether it was freeing the Israelites, sending us a Savior, the call of St. Paul, or any of the other aspects of Salvation History, God is patient and gives His People a chance to turn back to Him and choose life and holiness, not death and sin.
            If we are going to be like God, then we, too, need patience.  We need to be patient with others and not condemn or judge others so quickly.  We need to be patient with ourselves and realize that, while some conversions happen quickly, many happen slowly, over time, but are longer lasting.  We need to be patient with God and realize that His time is always the right time, even when we think something needs to happen sooner, or immediately.  God is not our Siri that we can make tell us the answers immediately.  God’s time is according to His own plan that often is above our understanding, and is always for the best. 
            God calls us today to pray for patience.  But, realize that, when we pray for it, God will give us opportunities to be patient, times and people that try our patience, so that we can grow in that virtue.  Don’t worry; be patient.