A Little Patience for Lent

I am one of the most impatient people I know. I used to have a small cushion hanging from my office door knob that said, “Lord, grant me patience. And please hurry!” I hate being impatient. I am impatient with my lack of progress remedying this flaw, which of course only makes it worse.

Sometimes the rhythm of life’s vexations almost seems to suggest a malevolent intelligence. Little coincidences of catastrophe. What now! I want to cry. Unbelievable is one of my favorite words. How is that possible? I so often wonder. I can’t do anything right. God must really hate me. I should have stayed in bed.

Later, under the cooler light of reflection, I realize that those seemingly malicious little coincidences might neither be coincidental nor malicious. My eyes begin to see, my ears to hear. Is that you, Lord? Ah, I’m sorry about that nasty thing I said. I’ll try to do better. I know I failed you once again. Forgive me.

Lately, the rather eclectic scope of my reading has found me stumbling across the subject of patience with disturbing regularity. I can only shake my head. Coincidence? No, I truly believe the Holy Spirit speaks to us and guides us in ways such as these. In fact He speaks to us more often, probably, than most of us know. He speaks to us not only though the media but through voices of others, through our random thoughts and through the ordinary events of life…for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. We just have to pay attention. Our entire existence can be a dialogue with God. “I think I’m getting the lecture,” I told my wife over dinner the other night, the lecture on patience. The very next morning I opened my copy of Padre Pio’s Spiritual Direction for Every Day[1] to the daily entry, and the first sentence read, “You can be certain, my dear, that what most assures us of perfection is the virtue of patience.” His counsel was particularly relevant to me, because he went on to advise that we have to be even more patient with ourselves than with others. Learning to endure our own imperfections is part of our spiritual growth, even as we try to correct them.

So what does this have to do with Lent? Everything. Impatience in its essence means something isn’t going our way. Impatience is resistance to God’s will, it is rebellion. Our will or God’s? So when we think about giving up something for Lent, what is more important than giving up our own will? Or more difficult? This isn’t just for Lent, it’s for life. Patience isn’t just penitential, it is surrender. It is living in complete conformity with God’s will, no matter how difficult. As Christians that really is our ultimate goal. Oh, so much more could (and will) be said about patience, penance and God’s will, but I want to keep these posts short. No one has time to read a tome. But I can’t resist appending the following seeds for reflection:

Penance is defined as conversion, as doing things God’s way instead of our own. When God’s way conflicts with ours, we choose His plans. He will let us know His plans when we embark on a penitential life.[2]

Patience is essentially a religious disposition of the soul by which in our sufferings and afflictions we bow our head in joyful submission to the will of our heavenly Father, Who thus enables us to prove our love for Him. I was dumb and opened not my mouth, says the psalmist, because thou hast done it (Ps. Xxxviii).[3]

There is no better remedy, then, than patience and denial of self, and an abiding in the will of God.[4]

“YE have need of patience, that, after ye have done the Will of God, ye might receive the promise,” says Saint Paul; and the Saviour said, “In your patience possess ye your souls.” The greatest happiness of any one is “to possess his soul;” and the more perfect our patience, the more fully we do so possess our souls.[5]

And take heart. The more patience God requires of us, the more He loves us:

For whom the LORD loves he reproves, as a father, the son he favors.[6]

He has not tested us with fire, as he did them, to try their hearts, nor is he taking vengeance on us. But the Lord chastises those who are close to him in order to admonish them.[7]

Lastly, the paraphrased version of St. Theresa’s bookmark is one of my favorites:

Let nothing trouble thee,

Let nothing affright thee.

All things pass away.

God never changes.

Patience obtains everything.

God alone suffices!


[1] Padre Pio’s Spiritual Direction for Every Day, Gianluigi Pasquale, Ed.; Marsh Daigle-Williamson, Trans.; Servant Books (2011).

[2] Handbook of the Confraternity of Penitents, Postulant: Lesson 11, p. 172; Pub. Confraternity of Penitents (2010).

[3] Blessed Sacrament Prayerbook, p. 574.

[4] Kempis, Thomas A; Aloysius Croft; Harold Bolton (2007-01-22). The Imitation of Christ (Dover Thrift Editions) (Kindle Locations 955-956). The Portable Library. Kindle Edition.

[5] Francis of Sales, Saint (2009-06-09). Introduction to the Devout Life – Enhanced Version (Kindle Locations 1598-1602). Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Kindle Edition.

[6] Proverbs 3:12. Authors, Various; United States Catholic Conference of Bishops (2011-06-06). New American Bible Revised Edition (Kindle Locations 77138-77140). Fairbrother. Kindle Edition.

[7] Judith 8:27. Authors, Various; United States Catholic Conference of Bishops (2011-06-06). New American Bible Revised Edition (Kindle Locations 52196-52197). Fairbrother. Kindle Edition.


Am I Ready for Lent?

Am I ready for Lent? I am going to give up sweets. Is that enough? Even though I am 61, I am going to fast. Is that enough? I am going to try to give up other little things along the way like an occasional morning coffee and in general be less self-indulgent. Is that enough? I am going to try to complain less. Is that enough? I am going to go to church tomorrow morning and get the ashes for the first time in years. Is that enough?

Of course it isn’t. What good is that if I continue to commit the same old sins? What good is that if I do not seek true contrition for those sins? What good is that if I do not examine my conscience more fully every night and seek the grace to see myself just as God sees me? What good is that if I do not spend more time in prayer? What good is that if I do not try to pray with greater devotion? What good is that if I ignore the sacrament of penance? What good is that if I do not seek a greater understanding of penance? What good is that if I do not use Lent to undertake a new plan of Christian living the year round?

In the next forty days I am going to resort to a book with the prodigious title Considerations and Devout Meditations for Every Day During the Holy Season of Lent, authored by an unknown Jesuit. This book is easily obtainable in electronic form at Sancte Pater, Saints Books for Peace and Google Books. There is some heady language in the first meditation for Ash Wednesday, which I will quote in part:

I am not a man if I obey my passions; I am not a Christian if I do not combat with and overcome my passions; I am not a true penitent if I do not mortify my passions. Since my body is polluted by sin it ought to be purified by pain; and since it has part in the pleasures of the soul, it ought to glory in sharing its sorrows….

How do I know my sins are forgiven? How do I know the pain which my offenses merit is remitted? How do I know God will not punish me in my body? How do I know that he will not chastise me in my soul?…

If I spare myself, God will not spare me; if I love myself, God will not love me; if I hate myself, God will not hate me; if I punish myself God will not punish me; if I excuse nothing in myself, God will pardon all; if I excuse all things in myself, God will pardon nothing; if I am indulgent to myself, God will be severe; if I am austere and harsh with myself, God will be merciful.

Oh Christian soul! make your body a living and dying victim; mortify your passions, your senses, and your desires; mortify yourself at all times and in all places; mortify yourself with zeal, mortify yourself with discretion.

Ouch. It hurts just to read this. I get the idea that Lent meant something to this good father that it has never meant to me. Whether I agree with all these words or whether I completely accept this vision of Lent, I am certainly going to reflect upon it for many days to come.