By Most Reverend Joseph P. McFadden
Auxiliary Bishop of Philadelphia
As we enter into the second week of Advent, the Church continues to call us to embrace a spirit of watchful waiting and patience as we anticipate the second coming of Jesus Christ our King in all His glory at the end of time and at the same moment to prepare ourselves to celebrate the gift of His first coming as a man over 2,000 years ago.
One may wonder how we can possibly do either given the proclivity of our society to wait for nothing.
The idea that one must have patience or that one must wait is certainly foreign to the hectic pace of our modern day life. It is as though these things belong to a foreign culture or foreign entity that has no resonance with modern day life.
We are a people in a hurry. We need to have instantaneous answers to even the most perplexing problems that we may encounter in the course of a day. We abhor the idea that we might have to wait in line at the supermarket or the retail store. We get angry when a stop light in traffic takes too long to give us the right of way.
We simmer when we get to the bank to find a long line and a friendly teller that insists on greeting everyone instead of just getting the transaction completed so that the line moves fast. Wait? Wait? Are you serious?
Yes, the Church is serious when it asks us to slow down, to take a break, to step off the merry-go-round of life, so that we might be able to contemplate a deep truth about ourselves and the mystery of life itself. The Church knows that men and women have the capacity to speed up their lives so much that in many ways we have lost even an understanding of what life is really about.
We become so focused on ourselves and what we need to accomplish that we forget the very purpose and meaning of life. We become so engrossed in the things we need to do, the things we need to have and the places we have to go that we have no time to actually enjoy life, not to mention the people around us and the beautiful world that God has created for us.
As a consequence, many today have no understanding of the God Who is the author of all life and all time and who has revealed Himself through time as a “merciful and loving God slow to anger and rich in mercy and kindness.”(Exodus 34:6)
During Advent the Church encourages us to become patient. What this really means is to take time to allow God to unfold His plan of life for us so that we may embrace it with joy, wonder and awe. Being patient does not mean doing nothing. It means taking time to contemplate the deeper meaning of life and to see it in all its glory.
I share with you a little story that helped me learn this lesson many years ago. There was a physician who was well-respected in the medical community and a man of deep religious faith. He was the doctor for Cardinal Krol.
In his later years the Cardinal had many ailments and illnesses. This one day he became very ill and was rushed into the hospital. After initial evaluation he was put into intensive care. Throughout the day the nurses and doctors gave him all sorts of tests going late into the evening.
Finally his doctor came to the room to sit with me at the Cardinal’s bedside. The Cardinal was not conscious. We started to talk about his treatment. In the course of the conversation, the doctor asked me what I thought was the most aggressive thing a doctor could do in treating a patient. I said he could probably try some experimental drugs or treatment. He patiently said “no.”
The most aggressive treatment for a doctor is to do nothing but wait and observe the patient. The reason for this is that if the doctor moves too quickly he winds up treating a symptom and often not the disease.
He went on to explain the marvel of the human body and how God had given it the ability to often heal itself. As a doctor he saw his job as simply trying to help the human body do its job. Through patience and waiting the body would often reveal the answers a doctor needed to help the healing process.
The Church gives us this season to see the truth about life, about God and about all of creation. It calls us to contemplate the mystery of the Incarnation so that we may have eyes to see and appreciate the real accomplishment of our God when He comes in all His Glory.
The Church calls us to have the patience of the Blessed Mother whose feast day we will celebrate on Dec. 8. While God revealed to her that she was to be the mother of the Savior, she had to patiently wait for the unfolding of His plan.
She is still patiently keeping watch with us, for she knows that while our salvation has been accomplished in Jesus, God the Father is still waiting for men and women to embrace it. Lord fill us with patience!