The Practice of Patience

The Practice of Patience

Homily for Epiphany IV

January 30, 2022

The Practice of Patience

Homily for Sunday, January 30, 2022

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
1 Corinthians 13:1–13



Last month, in the weeks leading up to the anniversary of the storming of the Capitol last January 6, the New York Times Magazine ran an article by the freelancer Jon Mooallem in which he speaks of humans’ “almost unstoppable propensity to clump ourselves together into groups,” and to “[draw] a cozy circle around Us and a bright, flaming line between Us and Them.” Curiously, Mooallem begins his exploration about our tendency to divide into “Us” and “Them” by introducing one who refuses to belong to any group. Mooallem writes,

When I read about the Serbian hermit Panta Petrovic this summer, I liked him immediately—even as I understood that he, being a misanthropic hermit, would not like me back… Mr. Petrovic lives in a cave. Nearly 20 years ago, he became so aggrieved by society, so irritated by other people’s existence… that he left his job as a mechanical engineer, gave away his earnings and moved into a hole in the side of a mountain.

“In the city, there is always someone in your way,” Mr. Petrovic said. “You either argue with your wife, the neighbors, or the police.” But, “Here, nobody hassles me.” (Agence France-Presse, Aug 13, 2021)

His only companions [are] animals, and his closest one, a pig: “She means everything to me,” Mr. Petrovic said of the 440 pound sow, “I love her, and she listens to me.” (NY Times Magazine, Dec., 12, 2021)

Reading about Mr. Petrovic’s chosen life of isolation brings to mind words both from the Apostle Paul and also St. Thomas Aquinas, words that share the same wisdom as the ancient monastic dictum that hermits should become hermits only after years—decades, even—of living with others in community: From the Apostle Paul (writing in Romans chapter 12, verses 16 and 18), “Live in harmony with one another…. [and] if it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” And from Aquinas (his Summa, the second book, question 114, article 2, objection 1), “Every human being,” writes Aquinas, “is bound to live agreeably with those around him.”

While I know there is a place for hermits in God’s world, and while I know that hermits counterintuitively can become valuable members of society, I must say that—if Mr. Petrovic truly is of sound mind and is “more than happy” as Mooallem insists; and given what Mr. Petrovic said about his former wife, the neighbors and the police; and given that Mooallem is rather loose about what he means by “happy”—I have questions both for Mr. Petrovic and Mr. Mooallem. My questions would be informed by this morning’s epistle, in which Paul writes,

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

(By the way, Paul wrote these words not for married couples but for Christian community, the Church at Corinth.)

“Mr. Petrovic,” I might say, “Given your experience of living, first in town and then up on the mountain, I’m curious to hear how Paul’s words sound to you. What does patience look like to you? What do you make of Paul saying that love ‘does not insist on its own way’ or that love is not ‘irritable or resentful?’ Help me to understand.’” And “Mr. Mooallem,” I might say, “I wonder if you might say more about what you mean by ‘happy’ and why you think Mr. Petrovic might be it. And I wonder if you were to consider Mr. Petrovic through the lens, not of happiness, but of joy, which—to borrow again from Aquinas—goes beyond mere happiness and is rather an “expansion of the heart” and is capable of being experienced no matter the outward circumstance. I wonder, would you say that Mr. Petrovic has joy?”


And with Mr. Mooallem I might continue, “I ask because, as I understand it, learning to live together with those around us—learning to live in charity, or in Latin caritas, which in 1 Corinthians is translated ‘love’—learning to live together in love with those around us is a necessary pre-condition to experiencing joy. I would say that it is by learning to be more patient and kind; and less envious, boastful, arrogant or rude that we come to know love and through it open ourselves to the possibility of joy. I would say that it is by learning not to insist on our own way, and by learning not to become easily irritated or resentful that we come to know love and open ourselves to joy. I would say that it is by learning to rejoice in the truth, and by learning to discern when and under what conditions we might ‘bear all things, believe all things, hope all things and endure all things’ that we come to know love and through it joy. Learning to live together in love with those around us is a necessary pre-condition to experiencing joy.”

Were we at church today, we shortly would receive the Eucharist, a symbol of our living together in love. As it stands, we do have Annual Meeting. (I hope you will all stay!) And I hope that as we go into our meeting—and after the snow emergency lifts, as we return to the world around us—we might put into practice what Paul has shared about love. Maybe a realistic first step is to focus simply on Paul’s first words: “Love is patient,” Paul begins. To get us started on the practice of patience—and through it an experience of deeper love and joy—I will leave us with a quote from Pope Francis:

Being patient does not mean letting ourselves be constantly mistreated, tolerating physical aggression or allowing other people to use us. We encounter problems whenever we think that relationships or people ought to be perfect, or when we put ourselves at the center and expect things to turn out our way. Then everything makes us impatient, everything makes us react aggressively. Unless we cultivate patience, we will always find excuses for responding angrily. We will end up incapable of living together, antisocial, unable to control our impulses, and our families will become battlegrounds… Patience takes root when I recognize that other people also have a right to live in this world, just as they are. It does not matter if they hold me back, if they unsettle my plans, or annoy me by the way they act or think, or if they are not everything I want them to be. Love always has an aspect of deep compassion that leads to accepting the other person as part of this world, even when he or she acts differently than I would like. (Amoris Laetitia, 90)


Image Credit: Konstantin Kleine on Unsplash

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