We just have one reading from the Book of Malachi, and it comes from the final verses of the last chapter. It could be described as a warning about the Day of Judgment. Malachi is encouraging the people to be upright and faithful to the Lord, knowing the great temptation they face. As the people look around, they see the good person suffer and the evil person succeed. They feel like mourners at a funeral. Why do the proud and arrogant seem to prosper, or those who practice immorality do well in life? Why do those whose behavior is contrary to the law of God get away with that kind of behavior; nothing bad happens to them. What is the point, then, in trying to live a good life?
Times and people do not seem to change very much; what Malachi describes is still true in our own time. We, too, can be easily tempted to go the way of those who seek the good life and get carried away by the materialism, consumerism and individualism that wash over us day after day. We, too, can feel like mourners at a funeral with a sadness in our heart because we too experience that the greedy and pushy people enjoy the "good life" and the ones who try to do good get pushed away. What is the point, then, in trying to live a good life?
I don’t think we like the answer to the question. We need patience! As desirable as patience may be, it is not easy to develop. For instance, developing patience is difficult because it goes against human nature. We aren’t born patient, are we? When a baby wakes up in the middle of the night and is hungry, or its diaper is wet, it doesn’t lie there and think, "I know Mom and Dad are tired. So I’ll just wait until a more convenient time to let them know that I need something to eat or my diaper changed." Also, patience is difficult to develop because it’s contrary to our culture. We don’t live in a relaxed culture. We live in the fast lane surrounded by fast food stops, want a 10-minute oil change, enjoy our microwaves and quickly email our latest photos.
The definition of patience that I like is, "Patience is a calm endurance based on the certain knowledge that God is in control." It might not look like God is in control today. We say to ourselves, why hasn’t God intervened? Why doesn’t God send a lightning bolt? Why doesn’t God knock that evil person off the face of the earth? Why doesn’t God intervene when injustice seems to run rampant? For one reason, God is patient with us and wants everybody to be saved. Every day that God waits is just one more day for people to come into the Kingdom.
The story is told of a young Christian who went to an older Christian for help. "Will you please pray for me that I may be more patient?" he asked. So they knelt together and the old man began to pray. "Lord, send this young man tribulation in the morning; send this young man tribulation in the afternoon; send this young man…" At that point the young Christian blurted out, "No, no, I didn’t ask you to pray for tribulation. I wanted you to pray for patience." "Ah," responded the wise old Christian, "it’s through tribulation that we learn patience." As I said, "patience" is not the reply we want, but it is the answer of Malachi in the first reading and Jesus in today’s parable.
Fr. Don Webber, C.P., is the Provincial Superior and resides in Chicago, Illinois.