In these first days of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, I have found myself remembering our dear Sister Mary Caroline. For the longest time it was she who managed the book bindery where the machines were run by postulants and novices. Sister Caroline, who was anything but mechanical in her inclinations (that was Sister Mary Guadalupe's specialty), had a way of introducing calm into the situation whenever a machine started making a strange “clink” or (worse yet) had begun spitting out damaged pages (or even entire books and magazines). In an awkward, loping gait that caused her apron to swing wildly from side to side, she would make her way to the troublesome machine, console the nervous operator (or apply a bandage, as needed), and repeat under her breath, “Patience and much mercy!” In her final years, this expression characterized her even more.
What words could be more fitting for these final days of preparation for Christmas in the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy? Patience—and much mercy!
God promised a Savior to Adam and Eve as far back as the Garden, but the impact of sin and the setback it had caused for humanity meant that God would have to restrain his fatherly impulse to rush to the rescue. God had to patiently prepare the human race to receive the “overflowing riches of his grace to us in Christ Jesus” (cf. Eph. 2:7). Every time the human race took another turn for the worse (and the Bible demonstrates that this was rather frequent!), he did not “give vent to blazing wrath” (Hos. 11:9), but called them back again with even more promises of salvation (see Hos. 14:2-10 for one example).
St Paul considered himself a foremost example of a person God had been immeasurably patient with. "I am the foremost of sinners; but I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience for an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (see 1 Tim. 1:15-16). In the converted persecutor, God's mercy is revealed as patience (and much mercy!).
Even in our human relationships, patience and mercy often go together. You might want to read Sister Theresa Aletheia article 5 Christmas Tips When Family Members Don't Go To Church. Sr. Theresa, a “revert” to the faith after ten years as an atheist, gives her suggestions for spending the coming holidays with loved ones who have left the Church. As much as we may desire to see them return to a vibrant sacramental life, we must demonstrate the patience (and mercy) that is an expression of respect for the person and for the mysterious ways in which God is even now drawing them to a fuller, richer sharing in his life. God is coming to all of us at Christmas in a new way, a way tailor-made for our present state of soul. He is coming with patience and much mercy.
What is the particular area in your life that most calls out for God's patience and mercy? Lift it up to him in prayer and confidence. Set your eyes on the patience and mercy of God toward you, and you will, without even trying, be an instrument of his patience and mercy toward others (even if not the particular “other” you intend!).
Sr. Anne Joan Flanagan, FSP