by † S. Mary Charles McGough
Exodus 3:1-8, 13-15
1 Cor. 10:1-6, 10-12
Today’s scripture readings all seem to deal with the virtue of PATIENCE. Both God’s and ours.
We first hear about Moses who was afraid to look at God but needed to ask some questions for his people. “Who can I tell them you are?” he asked. And God answered, “Tell them I AM WHO AM sent me to you.” Scholars all agree these are mysterious words from a faithful, patient God.
In 1st Corinthians we are told of those Israelites who spent such a long, dry time in the desert, passing under a cloud and through the sea. Some of them, because of their impatience, never reached their destination. There are lessons to be learned here!
But Luke’s Gospel seems to hold the clearest messages for me. First, he warns us not to try to figure out who are the biggest sinners – who deserve the most punishment – but to patiently reform ourselves first. God didn’t push over the tower of Siloam to punish certain people. The tower fell because the bricks were crumbling!
Luke goes on to tell us about the patient gardener who doesn’t give up. Patience might seem to be the main focus of this parable of the withered fig tree, but it seems important to note that God is challenging us to practice an active sort of patience. We belong to an age demanding immediate satisfaction, and when reading this parable may hear only the admonition to “wait another year”. But the most important advice, it would seem, is to dig the crusted, hardened soil, loosening the roots, nourishing them, moistening them, and only then to be patient and wait. Thomas Keating says that Jesus, in this parable, affirms that “The Kingdom of God is right where you are with your bundle of difficulties, your sense of getting nowhere and waiting in prayer.” One of our best models of patient waiting is Job, sitting in the sun beside the withering castor tree, having that memorable dialogue with God. This seemed a good idea, so using Job as my model, I asked God some questions:
Sr. Mary Charles:
Dear God, during Lent we often pray, “We adore You, O Christ, and we bless You, because by Your holy cross You have redeemed the world.” But the world seems so unredeemed! Everything takes so long! Here we are in the safety of the monastery while the world seems to be spinning out of control…war, violence, abuse…even in your church. Are we to do nothing…just be patient?
No, My power can be channeled through you if you bring food into the world. Don’t forget that you are you make up what is wanting in the passion of Christ.
Each of you, in some way, large or small…everyone counts. No one’s life plot is too small to be part of the world’s redemption. But if saints are not present, there is no clear channel of My presence. The leaven of saints, the “ten just ones” are enough the keep the world from self-destruction. Be patient. Care for the soil in your own small life-plot. Most likely you can’t go to Iraq, Afghanistan, or Haiti, but you can work patiently to bring an end to your own personal battles. Loosen the soil. Look within your own heart to make sure it holds no violence or abuse. Work on the peace that you profess as a Benedictine. Be gentle. Quit grumbling. Smile more. Sow laughter and joy. Dispel fear with kindness. Sign a truce to any unforgiveness in your own heart. Be patient, then, and wait.
Sr. Mary Charles:
But then, God, what about corruption and greed? We in this land of plenty should be caring for the world’s hungry. Big multinational corporations are taking over. How can we be patient and just stand by?
Keep loosening the hard soil. You can be very much involved by the way you live. Always speak truth to power…do not equivocate. Do your best to live simply and to not get trapped in materialism and consumerism Be patient and keep challenging yourself and tending carefully to your own small plot of soil.
Sr. Mary Charles:
But then there’s abortion, euthanasia, drug abuse, capital punishment. Respect for You as the author of life seems to be disappearing. Writing letters and joining demonstrations doesn’t seem to be doing much.
Moisten the soil. Make sure that all your actions are life-giving: Encourage the despondent…affirm and build one another up…pray for those on death row and for the humanization of the penal system. Befriend the elderly and visit the sick. Encourage young and single parents…care as best you can for your own health. All this will bring life.
Sr. Mary Charles:
And then God, there’s the problem here in the monastery with diminishment. When will we see new growth? It is taking so long? How many more community discussions and surveys? How long O God?
You must continue to moisten and nourish the soil with acts of kindness, offering yourselves to serve one another, listening compassionately, greeting sincerely, do good reading, take quality time for prayer. My love is not normally going to change your situation by some great miracle. It is you own dear selves I am trying to change, so that all who see you can exclaim, “See how they love one another!” New life will come from this.
Before it went on too long, I brought our conversation to an end. I came away convinced though, that no matter how bleak or broken our lives or our world, we are invited and challenged to be patient and to live with a faith-filled thrust toward NEW LIFE.