Last Sunday was anything but a day of rest for me. From start to finish, it tested my patience. I left the rectory at my usual time in order to arrive at church for the 9:00 a.m. Liturgy. When I got out of my car to enter the church building I realized I had left my keys at the rectory. Upon returning to the rectory I set off the security alarm. I had to spend about 15 minutes on the phone with ADT Security Services in order to convince them that neither I nor the alarm system were engaged in nefarious activities.
When I arrived at church (for the second time that morning), I learned the Deacon Jack was sick, and wouldn’t be able to preach for Fr. Jose. We managed to get through the 9:00 a.m. Liturgy, but no Sacristan showed up to organize the 11:00 a.m. Liturgy. After all the confusion of the morning had concluded I went out for brunch; every automobile driver was engrossed in a cell phone call, and unwittingly trying to commit vehicular homicide.
By the end of the day I had survived multiple close calls from scrutiny by the ADT Customer Service Department to bloodthirsty compulsive conversationalists. Then, I read the Scriptures for this Sunday. The author of the Letter to the Ephesians wrote, “I urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace.” (Eph 4:1-3) I wondered aloud whether this was really possible.
I find humility, gentleness and patience easy enough to muster when I’m prepared for a situation I know will require such virtues. When I make visits to the hospital or a nursing home or hospice, gentleness and patience seem like the natural response to the situation of a person in pain or distress. Presiding at Liturgy, hearing confessions or performing baptisms or marriages seem to elicit humility, as those are such easily perceptible experiences of God’s love for God’s People.
However, the minor details of daily living are another matter entirely. Leaving the rectory, going to Sunday Mass or getting a meal are routine matters; they shouldn’t be complicated. When those kinds of routine activities turn into complicated, challenging, time-consuming projects I find that humility, gentleness and patience are in short supply.
Nonetheless, the author of the Letter to the Ephesians tells us to live “with all humility and gentleness, with patience.” (Ephesians 4:2) Humility, in the Scriptures, refers to the attitude appropriate to a person who knows themselves to be created by God who loves all of creation. Gentleness refers to God’s own merciful love for sinners – always inviting us to repentance, and always accepting the strays who return to his flock. Patience refers to Jesus’ willingness to suffer indignity and death for the sake of human nature.
These virtues are more than the sort of polite behavior that people can exhibit when they make an effort; these are virtues that imitate God’s mercy and justice. How does one go about practicing such lofty and demanding virtues? The author of the Letter to the Ephesians didn’t leave us to figure this out on our own. The Letter says that these divinely inspired virtues are expressions, and consequences, of the call (vocation), we have received from the Lord. (Ephesians 4:1) Each of us is called to a way of life that reflects God’s solicitous care for creation.
Most Catholics are reluctant to volunteer themselves to serve as lay ministers at Liturgy or Extraordinary Eucharistic Ministers to the sick. At the same time, most Catholics find exemplary courage when they are “volun-told” to engage in ministries such as those. A call to service, made by someone in authority, brings with it a sense of competency because one has been chosen by another. A call to service always comes with a sense of consolation because, regardless of the magnitude of the task, one knows oneself not to be alone in the endeavor.
God calls each of us to the highest virtue and the most important vocation, namely, to imitate God’s own mercy and justice. Last Sunday, having survived a series of routine activities that turned into severe tests, I reflected on God’s call. In the Gospel, Jesus called Philip to feed a vast crowd. (John 6:5) Philip didn’t seem to be equal to the task; he had yet to learn that the call from God always contains within itself the virtue necessary to fulfill the call.
Each of us individually, and all of us as a Church community, are called to the highest virtue and the most important vocation. We’re deluding ourselves if we feel prepared for the call we have received. At the same time, we have failed to trust in God if we turn away from the task. God calls us, and gives us the strength to fulfill the call; for our part, we need only to respond.