The grace of endurance

Published on 14 Nov 2019
A man with head bowed in prayer.
Peter Gallagher SJ reflects on the readings for Sunday. 

Your endurance will win you your lives [1]. Go on quietly working [2].  Stay awake, praying at all times [3].

The scripture encourages us in endurance and perseverance. We pray therefore for the constant gladness of being devoted to God [4].   Jesus calls us to constancy in our prayerful service and in our joy. If we can live in this way, the sun of righteousness will shine out with healing in its rays [5].  The warmth of God’s love will strengthen us against the troubles which might come when we hear of wars and revolutions [6].  The same love will galvanize us into action when timidity or lack of energy hold us back [7].  The Lord’s care of us will also give us eloquence and wisdom [8] and steer us away from condemnation [9].  Endurance and constancy are virtues in themselves and also framing qualities which can inhabit all the other virtues. The courageous person is likely to be constantly courageous.  Kind people tend to be enduringly kind.  Constancy is far from being mere stubbornness: it endows our best moments with steadiness and enlarges their influence and allows them to shape our character.  The enduring Christian is sufficiently flexible, spontaneous and adaptable but is also steadfast in faith, hope and charity and in being good.

Jesus warns that the Jerusalem Temple despite its spiritual importance and beauty will be torn down [10]. The Lord foretells the destruction of the Temple.   It is part of his revealing to us who he is that he gives us to understand that he is himself the beautiful temple which will be destroyed.  He also teaches us to understand that we, the Church, are also his body, destined for trouble and mistreatment. We share in the beauty of the body of Christ which is its holiness and goodness.  The temple of the Holy Spirit that we are can seem however to fall into ruin.  The qualities which Jesus shares with us can be damaged [11].  We can lose sight of the gifts which God has given us.  However endurance in our lived acknowledgement of his authority over us will be part of how he saves us. For the Lord comes to rule the earth. He will rule the world with justice, and the peoples with fairness [12].  Everything else can be taken away but our attachment to God in Christ is constant.

Constancy is to be found first in God and then in the creatures who are made in his image.  God is always the same: reliable, trustworthy and enduring. He is not just a safe pair of hands or sound in a crisis.  It is of his nature to be the same, to be faithful and not to give up. The changelessness of the almighty is not at odds with his attentive love or with his oversight of us in all our variety.  His trustworthiness and the tenderness of his care of us in our vicissitudes have as their context the unchanging simplicity of the divine nature.   God’s goodness is the source of what is good in us and the divine goodness is constant. Our endurance therefore is not mere dogged persistence but a living fidelity to Christ who is all the time revealing to us his Father and helping us to understand and imitate his goodness. 

Sometimes we blush at the absence of constancy in ourselves.  We regret our lack of endurance and our unreliability.  In our faith we can seem quite fickle, blowing hot and cold. We profess one thing and do another.  We make resolutions and do not keep them.  We are so inconstant as often to seem to give up at the first breath of opposition or difficulty.  Our virtues, such as they are, can seem a lot less than goodness we have been shown because they lack constancy.  We are kind occasionally. We show courage from time to time. Nevertheless we have been created in the image of a God who is enduringly the same.  Among the graces he lovingly confers on us is enough of the constancy which we need not only to endure but to flourish. He helps us not simply to grit our teeth but to smile amid the difficulties.

The grace of endurance comes to us through the body of Christ.  The Lord’s body was vilely treated. He was killed.  With the Resurrection, however, came a glory which cannot be extinguished and which Jesus shares with us. The Lord’s rising is the reason for our constancy and the energy for our endurance.  Christ has triumphed over everything, even death, and he draws us into his victory.  The body of Christ which is the Church can disappoint us with its wounds and weakness.  However this frail vessel also endures.  The constancy of the Word made flesh can be hard to see sometimes in ourselves and in our community.  Yet the sins, failures and humiliations of us the members do not stifle the command to endure or exhaust the grace conferred for that endurance.  We seek the constancy of a body which God has lifted up.  There is much adaptability and responsiveness in this perseverance. Our life of prayer, our engagement in the sacraments, our work in the service of others and our defence of truth and justice are signs of our membership of Christ.  These ways of being can exhibit a steadfastness of which he is the source.  The Church is constantly at prayer because the Son is always in communication with the Father through the Spirit.  The Mass is enduringly offered because the Lord’s sacrifice is once for all. The work of God in the world is constantly driven forward by divine communication and self-giving which promote truth and goodness, justice and peace and holiness and virtue.

We are all of us, however delinquent or however inert, caught up in the energetic constancy, the vigorous endurance of Jesus himself.  Christ endures to the end.  Christian endurance is therefore not just an idea we have of ourselves, reassuring or flattering.  The constancy of each one is tested.  There are different tests. Our experience is very different.  However into each life comes some trouble and an invitation to allow the steadiness of Jesus to show itself in our life and in our endurance.  With his loving and joyful help we can do what is required. At the end of everything, when all else is taken away, it is our faith that we can be saved, redeemed, welcomed into paradise by the One who has through all the ages constantly awaited us.

[1] Luke 21.19
[2] 2 Thessalonians 3.12
[3]  Luke 21.36
[4]  Roman Missal, collect for the 33rd Sunday
[5] Malachi 3.20
[6] Luke 21.9
[7] 2 Thessalonians 3.10
[8] Luke 21.15
[9] Malachi 3.19
[10] Luke 21.6
[11] Luke 21.18
[12] Psalm 97.8-9

 

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