Something charming Pope Francis has been doing his first week as Pope is celebrating daily mass in the chapel at Casa Santa Marta, the Vatican guest residence where he has been living since the start of the conclave. He’s invited all the Vatican workers – the janitors, the groundskeepers, the secretaries – to attend. The Pope as parish priest, almost.
During Tuesday’s homily the Pope preached the patience of the Lord, drawing his lesson from the Gospel passage where Judas, who had been embezzling from the disciples, complains that the money spent on costly perfume to anoint Jesus’ feet is a waste of money that would have been better spent on the poor.
Astonishing cheek! Yet how does Jesus respond?
Not by exposing this unmitigated gall. Pope Francis notes, “Jesus did not say: 'You are a thief.’” He was, rather, “patient with Judas, trying to draw him closer through patience, his love.”
The Holy Father went on to note it would be good to meditate on God’s patience with us during Holy Week and thus become grateful for it: "How much patience he has with us! We do so many things, but He is patient.”
What is this patience of God? Is God patient with us in the manner that we are “patient” – grudgingly polite with people who are actually getting on our nerves? Is Judgment, like revenge, a dish best served cold? Is God simply biding his time with us?
Look it up in a text on spiritual theology and you’d find patience is both a virtue and one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
Considered as a virtue, it is an element of the cardinal virtue fortitude. Also called longsuffering, fortitude enables us to bear physical and moral trials without becoming sad or dejected.
If we are not patient, we cannot have joy: which is the reverse of the way we tend to think of it, right? (I think I would be happy if OTHERS would not try my patience so.)
Considered as a fruit of the Holy Spirit, patience is what helps us rejoice in the midst of suffering.
It has a specific reason for being. Scripture says, “the Lord does not delay His promise as some regard ‘delay,’ but He is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
The purpose of patience then is holding off condemnation in the hopes of repentance and salvation.
Chapter 12 of Wisdom speaks of God's patience with pagan peoples guilty of truly monstrous crimes including cannibalism and infanticide. He punished them, yes – but he also gave them time to repent. Israel learned from this mercy: “you taught your people, by these deeds, that those who are just must be kind; and you gave your children good ground for hope that you would permit repentance for their sins."
To cite a third example, St. Paul writes to Timothy that Christians mustn’t be eager to see God punish people, but wait patiently for the full harvest to be gathered in:
“We must wait for the harvest, but not like those servants who could hardly be restrained, gripping the sickle, as if anxious to see the faces of the wicked on Judgment Day. Instead, we must wait as men who make their own God's desire that "all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4).
It’s not up to us to go around telling God whom he should smite, in other words. On the contrary, we’re meant to adopt God’s attitude as our own. Perhaps that is why the great hymn of love in Corinthians 13 lists patience as the first quality of charity. Love is patient –it desires the other to be saved--before it is anything else.
We see in these passages what Pope Francis wants us to note: that God is patient not in the sense of “putting up with us,” or of waiting it out until Judgment Day. His patience is long-suffering and mercy.
The Lord is patient: with Judas and with us, because he wants every one of us to be in heaven with Him. It is this great, evangelizing, merciful – and patient—heart of God that we appeal to this Holy Week.