Patience and Pentecost

Homily for the Solemnity of Pentecost, Year B.

Since the day I was ordained, I’ve probably heard a couple thousand confessions. And one of the most common sins I’ve heard confessed is impatience: Impatience with my spouse, my kids, my siblings, my coworkers, other drivers on the road, the person in front of me WHO TOOK 10 MINUTES TO MAKE THEIR CONFESSION. Impatience while waiting in line for confession is the like the bonus sin which you weren’t expecting to commit, but now you have to add to your list. All of us get impatient at times. To be entirely honest, I was impatient while trying to write this homily. That’s why I decided to preach on patience. Sometimes the Holy Spirit makes me wait until the last minute to give me a homily. And sure enough, on the very weekend we’re celebrating the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit made me wait. Typical Holy Spirit.

On the day of His ascension into heaven, Jesus told the apostles to wait in Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit. He didn’t tell them exactly when the Holy Spirit would arrive, just that He would come in a few days. I wonder, as the apostles waited for the Holy Spirit to come, if any of them got impatient. They had only had to wait three days for Jesus to rise from the dead. So, when three days came and went, and the Holy Spirit hadn’t arrived, how did they feel? How did they feel after the fourth or fifth day? Or the seventh or eighth? Finally, after the apostles spent nine days in upper room praying with Mary, on the tenth day, the Holy Spirit showed up. The Trinity, obviously, does not use Amazon Prime. The Trinity, obviously, is not familiar with same-day or even two-day shipping.

To be open to the Holy Spirit requires patience. The Holy Spirit operates on God’s time, not ours. And He works in mysterious and unexpected ways. He often speaks to us in the most unexpected places, at the most unexpected times, and through the most unexpected people. Sometimes His voice is as quiet as a gentle breeze, like when Jesus breathed on His apostles after the resurrection. Sometimes His voice is as loud as a strong driving wind as on the day of Pentecost. Regardless, the more we are willing to wait on the Holy Spirit, the more He’s able to give. Patient waiting increases our desire to receive which in turn increases our capacity to receive. When we’re impatient, we close ourselves off to the unexpected encounter with the Holy Spirit, because it is often when our patience is being tested, that the Holy Spirit is preparing to speak. When our toddler is having a tantrum, when our teenager is talking back to us, when our sibling is being annoying, when our spouse isn’t listening, when our coworker won’t return our email, when traffic is moving slowly—these are great opportunities to call on the Holy Spirit, and listen for His voice, for He is very near in these moments. The more patient we can be in these moments, the more open we will be to the Holy Spirit.

The challenge, of course, is to grow in patience. How do we do that? The first thing to do is to pray for patience. “Lord, give me patience, and give it to me right now.” We cannot be patient without God’s grace, so we need to ask for that grace. When someone is annoying us, we can pray, “Come, Holy Spirit.” When we are waiting on traffic to speed up or a coworker to return our email, we can recite a prayerful text from Scripture, like Psalm 62:5: “For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him.” Prayer is an indispensable means of growing in patience.

Similar to prayer, we can also meditate on God’s patience with us to help us grow in patience with others. If we pause and reflect on our lives, it’s amazing how patient God has been with us. We’ve fallen many times, and yet God continues to pick us back up time and again. If God has been so patient with us, there’s no reason we shouldn’t be patient with others. We can also meditate on Jesus’ patience during His suffering and death. Jesus was betrayed, slandered, mocked, spat upon, scourged, and crucified, and yet never lost His patience. He didn’t blow up at His accusers or push aide His torturers. He was patient unto death. What a powerful example for us to meditate on!

Besides prayer and meditation, there is the venerable practice of offering things up. My parents used to say this whenever my siblings and I were complaining about something trivial: “Offer it up!” One of the reasons why we get so impatient is we don’t see the purpose or meaning of the inconvenience or annoyance we’re experiencing. We see it as a waste of our time and energy; an obstacle to be removed from our path. When we offer up our small sufferings to God, when we unite them to Jesus’ suffering on the cross, they acquire a new meaning and purpose. We no longer see them as obstacles in our path, but the very path to our salvation and the salvation of others. When we see things in this light, in the light of eternity, the things which try our patience are no longer a waste of our time or energy.

The light of eternity also helps us put things in perspective. It helps us realize the importance of the word “yet.” Just because we don’t get something now, it doesn’t mean we’ll never get it. When we’re struggling to be patient, the word “yet” can help us keep our cool and maintain a proper perspective. The Holy Spirit hasn’t arrived…yet. My spouse isn’t listening to me…yet. My coworker hasn’t responded to my email…yet. Drivers from Illinois haven’t been banned in Wisconsin…yet. “Yet” is a powerful word for helping us grow in patience.

Though there are many other ways of growing in patience, a final means I’d like to mention is fasting. Fasting helps us grow in patience by giving us plenty of opportunities to practice patience. When people are really hungry, they tend to get hangry. And when people are hangry, they tend to get impatient. Just like with anything, growing in patience takes practice. And fasting can be a great way to practice.

My challenge to all of us this week is this: try some new way to grow in patience. Pray for patience. Meditate on God’s patience with you or on Jesus’ patience during His suffering and death. Try to offer your daily inconveniences and annoyances up for the salvation of souls. Think about your small sufferings in the light of eternity. Remember the word “yet” when your patience is being tested. Or pick a day to do some fasting. Try one of these things and see how more open you are to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit wants to speak to us this week. May we be patient enough to wait on Him and hear His voice. Amen.