Sunday, December 12, 2010

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for the 3rd Week of Advent

Readings: Is 35:1-10; Jam 5:7-10; Mt 11:2-11

I’d like, first of all, to reflect on the difference between the first and second readings we just heard. They are very different in style and message. The first reading from the prophet Isaiah describes how perfect, how beautiful and how ideal will be the coming Day of the Lord. For the prophets of ancient Israel the Day of the Lord was that time in the future when God would set all things right and all problems and pains in this world would be wiped away. To emphasize this the prophet uses many vivid, poetic images to describe that Day; he appeals to people’s imaginations and hopes. That why we hear phrases like "the desert will exult," the parched land will bloom," "the eyes of the blind will be opened," "the deaf will hear." Or, like we heard last week, "the lion will lie down with the lamb." The prophet is trying to get a suffering people to think of and imagine a time when God will make all things right and beautiful.

How very different is the second reading from the Letter of James. This is not poetry; this is straightforward, moral advice: "Be patient until the coming of the Lord. ...You must be patient." The author of James says that it’s fine and wonderful to have a vision of the future, of what God is going to accomplish, but you have to be ready to wait for it. It comes in God’s own time, not ours. James sounds an awful lot like Dr. Phil on television who is continually telling people "the way it is and you need to accept it." James reminds his readers that the very same prophets who proposed all those wonderful images of the fulfilling Day of the Lord were themselves examples of patience.

We should think a little about patience. By and large we Americans do not have a reputation of being a very patient people. We have been conditioned for many years by modern media and business to take a more "got to have it now" attitude. We don’t like to wait for anything, anywhere. That’s too bad. The Christian tradition has long valued "patience" as a virtue, a character strength. Patience is the ability to continue moving forward in life even while dealing with a situation we don’t particularly like. Patience is not letting that adverse situation get us down, but still being able to go on cheerfully doing our best. Sr. Barbara Reid describes it: "Patience is doing everything we can, while at the same time, relying utterly on the divine provider." (America, Dec. 6, 2010, p. 31) If we ignore the virtue of patience, it’s our loss.

Patience is necessary for personal growth to take place. Personal growth involves the development of skills There are too many people who want to develop skills and abilities right now. That doesn’t happen; you don’t learn a skill overnight. Developing an ability requires persistent effort, trial and error, learning, trying again and lots of patience along the way. The same is true in matters of living our faith. Our practice of the faith is never going to be perfect, but we need to keep trying. To do that we needs lots of patience with ourselves along the way. One way we can learn how to develop patience—this is a suggestion of St. Augustine---is by growing a garden. You can’t rush plants into growing. You must patiently tend them....and wait. Gardening and patience go together.

Patience is also necessary for personal healing to take place. We know that’s true in cases of physical healing. You can’t rush back from an injury too quickly or you might wind up making the situation even worse. Sometimes we forget that a similar kind of patience is often required in emotional healing. When someone has hurt us deeply, and then says, "I’m sorry," often it’s going to take time and patience to let that sink in. It’s not that we don’t forgive the person, but it’s recognizing that it’s going to take time and patience to allow emotional healing to occur. That can’t be rushed.

In this Advent season we would all do well to take some time and examine how we practice the Christian virtue of patience.

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