Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli
The Greek philosopher Aristotle once said, “Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.” The most influential person in the scientific revolution, Sir Isaac Newton, confirmed this when he remarked, “If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been due more to patient attention than to any other talent.” The English author Chaucer praised patience as the “conquering virtue.” However, in our fast-paced society, patience is not a readily practiced virtue.
Technology has increased the speed on the information highway. But, at the same time, it has diminished our patience. Researchers report that most of us will not wait more than a few seconds to download a video. Many prefer the pleasure that comes from winning a fast-moving video game in place of the joy that comes from leisurely reading a book. So accustomed are we becoming to same-day delivery services and smartphones that can summon a ride on the spot that we are increasingly less patient.
Modern technology is indeed a mixed blessing. We can quickly amass facts. But this is not the same as acquiring knowledge. Even in our personal relationships, modern technology both helps and hinders. With lightning speed, we can connect with someone around the globe. But, this instant connection may, at times, impede us from communicating with someone seated with us at the same table.
Unfortunately, because of the desire for instant gratification, it becomes all too easy to dismiss patience as an outdated virtue. Patience appears merely as a technique to manage our frustrations when we do not get what we want when we want it. Patience seems to be a way to inhibit our pleasure and to put our aspirations on hold. But, this is far from the truth.
Patience is not passive. Patience frees us of frustration. It regulates our emotions and gives reason the space to think, to evaluate and to make clear judgments. Without patience, we readily throw things away and discard relationships. As Fulton Sheen once said, “Patience is power. Patience is not an absence of action; rather it is timing. It waits on the right time to act, for the right principles and in the right way.”
So important is patience in our Christian life that the Church gives us an entire liturgical season to train us in it. God has already made the down payment on the final coming of his kingdom. He has sent his Son in the flesh, born of Mary in Bethlehem. One day will be the end of history. Then, Christ will return in glory and usher in the Kingdom of God in all its glory. But, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, when Christ will come again. So we must wait - patiently wait.
During Advent, the Church parades before us people who patiently wait for God to fulfill his promises. Elizabeth waits for the birth of John the Baptist. Mary and Joseph wait for the birth of Jesus. Simeon and Anna stay close to the Temple in Jerusalem, patiently waiting for the Messiah. The Magi wait, searching the heavens to reveal the birth of Wisdom. Like them, each Advent, we wait for Christ to come.
With eyes stretched to the end of time, we patiently await Christ’s coming at the end of our life and on the last day. But, he has already come into history. He has already entered our lives. Patience, quietly not rushing from one activity to another, actually trains our hearts to see Christ already present to us. And, so to help us value this great gift of Christ’s presence, the Church gives us Advent as the school of patience.