(Second Sunday of Advent (B): This homily was given on December 5, 1999 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read 2 Peter 3: 8-15; Mark 1: 1-8.)

"The incredible, awesome patience of God."

Rev. Martin E. Pike, Jr. wrote this about an experience he once had at a restaurant:

Three minutes had passed since I had taken my seat at the counter. Waitresses passed me by; two cooks and a busboy took no notice of my presence. My ego was soothed only because the truck driver seated next to me was ignored as well. "Maybe this counter is off limits," I said to him. "Maybe they’re short of help," he responded.

"Maybe they don’t want our business," I said. "Maybe they’re taking care of those at the tables," was his reply. The hands on the clock continued to move. "Maybe they don’t like us," I insisted. "The air conditioning feels so good I don’t mind waiting," he said.

At this point a harried waitress stopped to tell us that the water had been cut off, and the dishwasher was not functioning. My nameless compatriot smiled and thanked the waitress and left. I did not like him.

Three times I had sought his support for my obnoxious attitude, but he had let me down. Only later did I realize that he had chosen to practice what I preach.

Whenever we struggle with patience (as Reverend Pike did in that restaurant, and as most of us do many times every day), it would be good to reflect on the incredible, awesome patience of God. Yes—as Reverend Pike finally realized--the anonymous truck driver exercised a great deal of patience that day in the crowded restaurant. How would we have done in similar circumstances? (Given my ravenous appetite, in all honesty I think I might have been like Reverend Pike!) And yet, as great as it was, the patience of that truck driver was incredibly small, compared to the patience of our heavenly Father. In fact, if we compared the truck driver’s patience to a single grain of sand, then we’d have to say that God’s patience is like the whole Sahara Desert!

To drive home this point, ask yourself this question this morning: If I were God, how patient would I be? If you were the Almighty (a scary thought, I know!) and you looked down from your heavenly throne, and you saw your creatures blaspheming your name constantly, using your name and the name of your Son as curse words, how patient would you be? If you saw your creatures misusing the talents and gifts which you gave them: for example, putting an image of your crucified Son in urine and calling it art; putting elephant dung and pornographic pictures next to an image of the woman you chose to be your Son’s mother, and calling that art; making movies like "Dogma" which viciously slander the Church your only-begotten Son founded—if you looked down from heaven and saw this type of activity going on all over the world, how patient would you be? If you saw your beloved sons and daughters holding grudges against relatives and friends, slandering each other, hating each other, cheating each other, killing each other, how patient would you be? If you saw people whom you created in your image and likeness misusing their precious gift of sexuality through every type of perversion imaginable--from pornography to artificial contraception to pre-marital sex, and marketing it all over the world, how patient would you be? If you created the souls of millions and millions of babies, and those babies were brutally murdered in the womb by doctors who are supposed to defend life and preserve it, how patient would you be? If you saw your creatures selling the body parts of aborted babies to get rich (something which is becoming a big business now in our country), how patient would you be? If you saw your children doing all these things, in spite of the fact that you have given them everything they need to know the truth and live it, how patient would you be?

"Not very, Fr. Ray." That’s exactly right. And if we think otherwise, then we obviously don’t know ourselves very well. The fact is, God is far, far more patient than we can even imagine—which is good news for us and for the world!

Why do I mention this today? Because this is St. Peter’s message to us in our second reading. This passage--which we heard a few moments ago--is taken from the third chapter of his second letter. He says there, "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." Why is the Lord so unbelievably patient? According to what St. Peter tells us in this text, it’s because the Lord is infinitely merciful. The Lord wants all of us to be saved, and so he patiently gives us every opportunity to repent and change our lives. As Peter says later on in verse 15 of this chapter, "Our Lord’s patience is directed toward salvation." And so it’s not a coincidence that St. Paul—a good friend of St. Peter—wrote the following when he was speaking about his own conversion: (This is from his first letter to Timothy, chapter two): "You can depend on this as worthy of full acceptance: that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I myself am the worst. But on that very account I was dealt with mercifully, so that in me, as an extreme case, Jesus Christ might display all his patience, and that I might become an example to those who would later have faith in him and gain everlasting life."

The very same St. Paul tells us in Romans 15: 5 that God is "the source of all patience." From what I’ve said thus far, that fact should be crystal clear. But the follow-up question to all this is: Will it ever run out? Yes, the Lord’s patience is infinite, but, if we’re in the state of mortal sin, will there ever come a moment when our access to this infinite fount of patience will be stopped? The answer, of course, is yes. Simply put, the Lord’s patience will run out for us, whenever time runs out for us. Which is precisely why St. Peter begins to talk about the day of the Lord immediately after he gives us this insight about God’s patience. He says, "The day of the Lord will come like a thief" (reminding us that we do not know the moment of our death: the moment when our access to God’s patience will come to an end); and then he exhorts us to holiness, saying "be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace."

I suppose you could say that the only difference between the saints and the damned is that the saints were wise enough to take advantage of God’s great patience. They didn’t allow it to go to waste. When they needed to repent, they did; when they needed to go to Confession, they didn’t put it off.

Is it a coincidence that this reading from 2 Peter is followed by this text from Mark’s Gospel which tells us about John the Baptist and his ministry? No way. Those who were baptized in the Jordan River by John as they confessed their sins were men and women who were trying to take advantage of the superabundant patience of Almighty God. While they had time, they reached out in repentance to their heavenly Father. That same patient, merciful Lord waits for us to do the very same thing during this season of Advent.

 

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