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Catholic News Service


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    IN A NUTSHELL

    Patience may be hard to define, but it pleads for careful attention during the church's current Year of Mercy. What is implied by the spiritual work of mercy that calls Christ's followers to "bear patiently those who do us ill"?

    Patience does not give up easily on others or refuse to hear them out. Instead, patience expresses ongoing hope in others, even when something they do is disruptive for us.

    In the spiritual work of mercy that tells us to "bear wrongs patiently," we have the opportunity to live out Jesus' behavior toward others, even those who wrong us.

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    MIDST

    On being patiently merciful to those who do us ill

    By David Gibson

    Catholic News Service

    We know patient people when we see them. Yet patience is rather difficult to define in a precise way. After all, two people known for their patience may have greatly different personalities.

    It can be said that patient people are not always in attack mode, nor do they make it a goal to win every debatable point in a discussion. Notably, too, they do not expect others close to them to act and think just as they do.

    Patience may be hard to define, but it pleads for careful attention during the church's current Year of Mercy. What is implied by the spiritual work of mercy that calls Christ's followers to "bear patiently those who do us ill"?

    I have three questions. First, who does us ill? Second, what does patience look like in action? Finally, how is patience merciful?

    The troubles, or ills, that stand ordinary life on its head arrive in many forms. Perhaps a family member makes a big decision that we would not make -- a consequential decision that definitely will complicate matters for us.

    Or maybe trouble arrives in the form of unexpected developments no one really invited but that will require hours of work on our parts, despite already overloaded schedules.

    Or maybe a family member forgets to pay a bill on time, thus adding a financial penalty to an already unwelcome expense.

    Not all the "ills" of life result from ill will. Still, they can prove disheartening and even rather sickening.

    Often people react somewhat automatically to those who do them ill -- shouting angrily at them or, conversely, giving them the "silent treatment." Reactions like these, however, only serve to highlight just how demanding true patience can be.

    Patience, as Pope Francis once wrote, is God-like. God "always invites us to take a step forward." Yet God is "understanding" and "willing to wait."

    Patience does not give up easily on others or refuse to hear them out. Instead, patience expresses ongoing hope in others, even when something they do is disruptive for us. So patience is merciful.

    Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa drew a compelling picture of mercy, as well as patience, at work in a marriage when he delivered the Good Friday homily in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome this March. Father Cantalamessa is the official preacher of the papal household.

    First, he noted that vengeance is mercy's opposite. But "we need to demythologize vengeance," he said. For, contemporary society frequently extols it, even placing those who practice vengeance on a pedestal.

    "A large number of the stories we see on the screen and in video games are stories of revenge, passed off at times as the victory of a good hero," he said.

    Father Cantalamessa observed that "half, if not more, of the suffering in the world (apart from natural disasters and illnesses) comes from the desire for revenge, whether in personal relationships or between states and nations."

    Then turning attention to marriage, he affirmed that "only one thing" can "save the world: mercy!" This encompasses "the mercy of God for human beings and the mercy of human beings for each other."

    "In particular," he said, mercy "can save the most precious and fragile thing in the world at this time, marriage and the family."

    People marry "because of love," he observed. But over time, "the limitations of each spouse emerge, and problems with health, finance and children arise. A routine sets in" that lessens joy.

    What saves "a marriage from going downhill without any hope of coming back up again is mercy," Father Cantalamessa insisted. By this he meant mercy "understood in the biblical sense."

    He referred, therefore, to "spouses acting with 'compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience,'" qualities of Christian life that St. Paul listed in his Letter to the Colossians (3:12).

    Note the appearance of patience in that list by St. Paul. When patience is discussed among Christians, it tends not to stand alone but to be paired with other terms like the ones Paul chose -- terms that help to flesh out its meaning.

    You might say, then, that patience is known by the company it keeps. Thus, according to St. Paul, patience travels in the company of mercy, compassion and kindness, for example.

    Consider also the company patience keeps in St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians. "Love is patient, love is kind," he writes. It seems safe to conclude that he believes patience is lovingly kind.

    St. Paul goes on to say that love "does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury" (13:4-5).

    Whenever I witness truly patient people, I have the sense that they possess a quiet, clear strength and are not at all passive.

    If they do not go to the wall over every ill that makes itself known to them, they nonetheless exhibit a strong sense of themselves and appear to know just what kind of people they want to be.

    (Gibson served on Catholic News Service's editorial staff for 37 years.)

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    STORIES

    Bearing wrongs patiently: Start with the cross

    By Mike Nelson

    Catholic News Service

    Ever been wronged before? By a family member? A colleague? The government? Your favorite baseball team?

    What did you do? Or throw? Who did you yell at? For how long? Did the word "patience" enter your mind at any time?

    Did you know that "bearing wrongs patiently" is a spiritual work of mercy designed to relieve suffering, within ourselves as much as within anyone else? Isn't that the reason we say, "Offer it up"?

    I did not grow up Catholic, so when I heard people say, "Offer it up," I had no idea what they meant, except that it had the ring of something rather unpleasant.

    And it kind of does: it means turning the suffering inflicted upon you -- whatever the suffering was, however it happened and whoever inflicted it -- into a sacrifice to God.

    Sacrifice? Yes, it's very unpleasant in our culture. But consider this: No one was wronged in this world more than our Jesus, who bore the worst kind of "wrong" on the cross at Calvary with patience, dignity and a willingness to forgive, in hopes that all mankind might be redeemed.

    Unfair? Yes. Undeserved? Of course. But that's the sort of thinking the prophet Ezekiel addresses, quite pointedly, in a way that calls us to a deeper understanding of what God and suffering and fairness are all about:

    "The house of Israel says, 'The Lord's way is not fair!' Is it my way that is not fair, house of Israel? Is it not your ways that are not fair?" (Ez 18:29).

    That is why, in the midst of our suffering, we are told, "Offer it up." Don't stew about it, don't seek to "get even," just let it go. Right?

    Well, easier said than done, but most of us who call ourselves adults have learned that we're not going to get anywhere stewing about the wrongs we've suffered.

    We're going to drive ourselves nuts seeking proper revenge (which, in our hearts, we know is less than Christ-like), and we will likely function much better in life if we, indeed, "just let go" of our suffering.

    St. Peter -- who knew plenty of suffering (Christ's and his own) -- speaks of this when he writes:

    "Whoever is made to suffer as a Christian should not be ashamed but glorify God because of the name. For it is time for the judgment to begin with the household of God; if it begins with us, how will it end for those who fail to obey the gospel of God?" (1 Pt 4:16-17).

    In that regard, I am doubly fortunate. Number one, I learned in my childhood that I am no good at revenge, either in taking retaliatory action against the offending party or in thinking dark thoughts against that person.

    Each time I so much as think, "Hah, serves you right!" at the misfortune of one who has hurt me, my stomach turns. God, I tell myself, finds the darndest ways to speak to us.

    Second, I am married to a woman who in her lifetime has borne a litany of wrongs and hurts (a few inflicted by her loving but occasionally muddled husband). Some of those wrongs have come as a result of her work, and they inflicted pain and suffering on her and, by extension, on those who love her.

    What did she do when she was wronged? She took a deep breath. She withheld her desire to lash back, in word or deed. She took time to pray, she took time to ask God for direction and clarity on how to move forward.

    And yes, she did move forward, with grace, dignity and a willingness to forgive, mindful that God knew her heart and would bring her through her suffering stronger than ever.

    St. Peter would be proud. So would Ezekiel. And Jesus. I know I am.

    (Nelson, a freelance writer, is former editor of The Tidings, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.)

    END

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    BIBLE

    Being Christ-like in bearing wrongs patiently

    By Daniel S. Mulhall

    Catholic News Service

    When Christians participate in a work of mercy they do so in imitation of Christ, who in his lifetime either performed the work himself or taught the importance of doing so. In the spiritual work of mercy that tells us to "bear wrongs patiently," we have the opportunity to live out Jesus' behavior toward others, even those who wrong us.

    During his passion, Jesus experienced a variety of foul treatment. He was stripped naked in public, ridiculed and forced to wear a crown of thorns that were embedded into his head. Some people spat on him, buffeted him about the head and abused him in many other ways.

    The final indignity was being forced to carry his cross through the streets of Jerusalem where he was mocked by the crowds that recently had chanted his name in honor. And then he dealt with the indignity of being crucified although he was guilty of no crime.

    Throughout all of this abuse, Jesus remained silent. He did not complain about how he had been treated. He did not whine or complain that he had gotten a rotten deal, and neither did he become indignant and blame someone else for his troubles.

    Yes, he did ask to be spared of the suffering during his prayer in the garden: "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me" but he ended the prayer accepting what the Father had willed for him: "yet, not as I will, but as you will" (Mt 26:39.)

    In his suffering Jesus was seen to fulfill the teaching about the suffering servant that is found in the Book of Isaiah. This servant of God (Is 50:6) gave his "back to those who beat me" and willingly offered his "cheeks to those who tore out my beard. My face I did not hide from insults and spitting."

    Like the suffering servant, Jesus "did not refuse, did not turn away" because "the Lord God opened my ear" (Is 50:5).

    Bearing wrongs patiently is not an easy thing to do for anyone, not even Jesus. He was only able to do so because of his confidence in God, which was rooted in a deep and rich life of prayer.

    As Isaiah 50:7 explains it, "The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; Therefore I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame."

    If we are to bear wrongs patiently we must take on the same attitude that Jesus had, as St. Paul prescribes in Philippians 2:5-11. We must be willing to swallow our pride and allow ourselves to be humiliated for his sake.

    Like Jesus, we are called to empty ourselves of all vanity and take on "the form of a slave" for the glory of God. To do this, we must "put on the Lord Jesus Christ," as encouraged in Romans 13:14. We cannot do it any other way.

    (Mulhall is a catechist who lives in Laurel, Maryland.)

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    FOOD FOR THOUGHT

    A September 2011 blog for the Midwest Capuchin Franciscan Vocations about the works of mercy says it seems easier to handle mishaps in life when they happen randomly, accidentally. But mishaps are not so easy to handle when someone wrongs us on purpose.

    Yet history shows us the greatest of prophets dealt with being wronged and they dealt with those wrongs patiently.

    "No one, of course, better or more literally embodied bearing wrongs patiently that Jesus himself, particularly in his passion and death," the blog says.

    And his case shows us an important lesson: "It is important to remember, however, that while the Lord endured one of the worst injustices imaginable -- the condemnation and execution of an innocent man -- he also ultimately triumphed."

    Think of it as a "quiet form of resistance" the Capuchins said. "Hatred and fear would be no match for love and mercy."

    While some would think of this quiet response as weak, "bearing those things, especially with God's help and the help of those he puts in our lives, can also strengthen us. Bearing them patiently also gives us the time to pray for guidance, to consider our options and to make the decisions that will help us."

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About Faith Alive
Faith Alive is a service from Catholic News Service (CNS). CNS, the oldest and largest religious news service in the world, is a leading source of news for Catholic print and electronic media across the globe. With bureaus in Washington and Rome, as well as a global correspondent network, CNS since 1920 has set the standard in Catholic journalism.

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