The Heart of the Gospel

Part 7

Bear patiently with those who do us ill

At first glance, the spiritual work of mercy Bear patiently with those who do us ill, does not seem like a "work" at all. The other spiritual and corporal works of mercy require that we do something — comfort, counsel, instruct, feed, visit, welcome, admonish, clothe, bury, pray.

If we look more closely, though, we discover something much deeper "at work." For bearing patiently with those who do us ill is not a matter of sullen resignation or embittered submission. To bear patiently with someone who injures us requires effort and self-abnegation. It is mercy at work with those from whom we might naturally withhold mercy. It is one of the most God-like of the works of mercy, precisely because it is what God is doing all the time.

The Old Testament gives numerous examples of God bearing patiently with His sinful people. Repeatedly they betrayed His trust, offended His majesty and disobeyed His commandments. What did God do? In justice, He could have annihilated them. Instead, time after time He rescued them....In the greatness of His love He relented. (Psalm 106: 43, 45) So often He held back His anger when He might have stirred up His rage. (Psalm 78:38) Even when God did punish His people for their sins, He did so as a merciful Father whose wrath was tempered with clemency (11th century hymn)

In the Incarnation of His Son, God gave us a living example, a "visual aid," so to speak, of patient forbearance. Throughout His earthly life, in the hidden years at Nazareth as well as during His public ministry, Jesus often had to bear with those who did Him ill — the disgruntled customer, the obdurate neighbor, the challenging Pharisee, His dull and often uncomprehending disciples. Always and everywhere, Jesus showed Himself patient and full of mercy, ready to respond to human miseries of every kind —including those that caused Him physical or spiritual "ill" — with forgiveness, equanimity and peace. Humanly speaking, His patience was tried: How long am I to be with you? Do you not yet understand? Have I been with you so long and still you do not know me? (Mark 9:19; Mark 8:21; John 14:9) Yet in Jesus, mercy always triumphed and reached out to others with the alms of patience and pardon.

For St. Clare of Assisi, the imitation of the patiently merciful Christ was an integral part of observing the holy Gospel. She readily admits that in order to respond to her vocation, it was necessary not to draw back from any deprivation, poverty, labor, trial, or scorn and contempt of the world (TESTAMENT OF ST. CLARE). She counseled her followers to have patience in trial and weakness (RULE OF ST. CLARE, 10) and to gladly endure whatever goes against you in order to more perfectly imitate Jesus. (Letter to Ermentrude)

Like many other saints, Clare of Assisi found that the key to this work of mercy is grateful remembrance of the wonderful patience of Christ. We do not know if she had read St. Aelred's treatise, "The Mirror of Love," but she surely succeeded in living out his counsel which says to prevent the fire of love from growing cold because of injuries received, let [us] keep the eyes of  [our] soul always fixed on the serene patience of [our] beloved Lord and Savior. Gazing upon Incarnate Mercy as He bore human ills enabled St. Clare to bring forth the fruit of mercy with patience. (cf. Luke 8:15) Meditate constantly on the mysteries of the Cross, would be her advice to us now as it was to her 13th century followers. Then we are equipped not only to bear ills and injuries patiently, but to do so in peace, knowing that patient love is one of the greatest gifts of God's mercy to the world.

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