The Enemy of Patience
by Don Giuseppe, S.C.
The disciples of Jesus consider their actions as manifestations of God's
active presence. They act not to prove their power, but to show God's power
and mercy; they act not to redeem people but to reveal God's redemptive grace;
they act not to create a new world, but to open hearts, eyes and ears to
the same God who calls us, redeems us and renews us.
In our society, which labels worth with productivity, patient action is very
difficult. We tend to be so concerned with doing something worthwhile, making
changes, planning, organizing, structuring, and restructuring, that we often
seem to forget that it is not "we" who redeem, but God. To be busy, "where
the action is," and "on top of things" often seem to have become goals
themselves. We then have forgotten that our vocation is not to give visibility
to our activity but to God's compassion.
Action, as the way of a compassionate life, is a difficult discipline precisely
because we are so in need of recognition and acceptance. This need can easily
drive us to conform to the expectation that we will offer something "new."
In a society that is so focused on new encounters, so eager for new events,
and so hungry for new experiences, it is difficult not to be seduced into
impatient activism. Often, we are hardly aware of this seduction, especially
since what we are doing is so obviously "good and religious." But even setting
up a relief program, feeding the hungry, and assisting the sick could be
more an expression of our own needs than of God's call.
But let us not be too moralistic about it: We can never claim pure motives,
and it is better to act with and for those who suffer than to wait until
we have our own needs completely under control. However, it is important
to remain critical of our own productive tendencies. When our own needs begin
to dominate our actions, long range and long term services become difficult,
and we soon become exhausted, burned out, and even embittered by our efforts.
The most important resource for counteracting the constant temptation to
slip into activism is the knowledge that in Christ everything has been
accomplished. This knowledge should be understood not as an intellectual
insight, but as an understanding in faith. As long as we continue to act
as if the salvation of the world depends on us, we lack the faith by which
miracles can be received. In Christ, human suffering and pain have already
been accepted and suffered; in him our frail and broken humanity has been
reconciled. Our action, therefore, must be understood as a discipline by
which we make visible what has already been accomplished. Such action is
based on the faith that we walk on solid ground even when we are surrounded
by chaos, confusion, violence, and hatred.
A moving example of this was given by one of my classmates, Giuliano Tenconi.
We were in the seminary together for a few years before he left. Then, as
a lay missionary, he went to Uganda where he lived and worked for many years.
One day he witnessed a cruel tribal war which destroyed all that he and his
co-workers had built up. Many innocent people whom he dearly loved were
slaughtered in front of his eyes. Later he was able to say that all this
suffering had been accomplished in Christ and that reminder prevented a mental
and emotional breakdown. He married a local woman and had two children. His
deep understanding of God's saving act enabled him not to leave, but to remain
active in the midst of the unbelievable misery and to face the real situation
with open eyes and open ears. His actions were not simply an attempt to rebuild
and thus to overcome the evils he had seen, but a reminder to his people
that God is not a God of hatred and violence but a God of tenderness and
One day, as he prepared to make the round of the villages to visit the sick,
his jeep exploded killing all four members of the family. Maybe only those
who have suffered much will understand what it means that Christ suffered
our pains and accomplished our reconciliation on the cross.
When Blessed Louis Guanella built his first home in Como, Italy, he was praised
by some but was hated by many more others. The socialists disliked him and
fought his efforts with everything they had.
Father Guanella was reaching out to the poor who are easy prey to revolutionaries
and criminals. The poor are often exploited by the powerful for their goals
and ambition and used as fuel to increase disorder, destruction and subversive
Father Guanella helped the poor by praying with them and making them aware
that love, patience and understanding will help us to get closer to God,
not wars and revolutions. Jesus saved us with love not violence.
I remember a meeting with Mother Theresa in Hong Kong a few years ago. She
asked how our work in the missions was coming. "I don't really know." I said.
"After so much money spent and after so many years of work, I don't see any
changes and I don't see any difference." "Don Giuseppe," she replied decisively,
"we are here for fidelity, not for success."
I got my lesson then, but it's not easy to always live by it. What makes
it difficult sometimes is the work of the "enemy." Satan is at work in the
world and he has many allies at his service. Sometimes it becomes impossible
for the children of the light to ignore the children of darkness. Sometimes
it is necessary to confront them, with faith, hope and love, but the evil
must be confronted.
This can perhaps be left to the next issue. «»
(Credit: Giuseppe, Don. "Activism: The Enemy of Patience." Now
and at the Hour Oct. 2001: 29.)