By Your Patience You Will Gain Your Soul
“By your patience, you will gain your soul” (Luke 21:19).
Death to self: this is why we come to church. We are not here to get a spiritual high or to be comforted. We are here to nail our ego to the cross.
Our Lord gave us this parable:
“A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell on the path and was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered for lack of moisture. Some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it. Some fell into good soil, and when it grew, it produced a hundredfold” (Luke 8:4-8).
Jesus Christ broke down this parable for his disciples. He described the various ways people lose their salvation. The gospel is clear on this matter. We cannot take our faith for granted. Up until our very last breath, we have the ability to lose God and everything. St. Paul hammers this in his epistle to the Hebrews. There are Christians who “have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God,” who, in the end, can lose everything and “fall away” (6:4-6).
What happens? Temptations overcome us. When we think of temptations, we usually imagine the “big sins” like fornication or murder. Most of the time, it is the good things that tempt us away from God. We get busy raising our children, a career consumes all our energy, or we just get wrapped up in day to day things. Sometimes we lack roots. We get excited about the gospel, but we lose our focus. One thing after another tugs at our attention like wind tossing waves out at sea. At other times still, we lose our soul because of the thorns in our life. Our food, television shows, and all our comforts and gadgets choke our spiritual drive. Death comes at last, and there is not any more time. All this is summed up in Christ’s parable of the Sower in the Field.
It sounds rather bleak, but Christ also gives the way out.
“As for that in the good soil, these are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance.”
We are saved by patience.
St. Gregory used to tell this story. There was once a poor man who begged beneath the portico at his church. His name was Servulus. He was born paralyzed and could not even sit up or raise his hand to feed himself. His mother and brother took care of him. He begged, and with the alms given him, ate the very least needed, and distributed the rest to his family and the poor. He could not read, but he managed to by some manuscripts with holy scripture. Whenever an educated person passed by, he seized the opportunity, and begged the man to read to him his scriptures. Even in all his suffering, he was continually grateful. He smiled, and sang hymns all day and night. Finally, while dying, he asked people to recite the psalms for him. Then it happened. Just before passing away, he told them to hush, “Be silent. Can you not hear what glorious praises are resounding from heaven?” His face lit up, literally glowing in light, and a heavenly fragrance surrounded him. A monk who often cared for him described how that fragrance continued to surround the beggar, and they smelled it everywhere until the last moment when they shut his tomb.
St. Gregory praised this soul! “Behold, in what manner he departed this life, who while in it bore his afflictions with patience!”
“Rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).
The American dream makes us think we are here to be happy. We are here to become holy. “Buy,” “Shop,” “Be Happy” — is that not what the advertisements say? This message has sunk into our hearts. It is a lie. Marriage is not meant to make us happy. It is meant to make us holy. Church is not meant to give us peace. It is meant to give us sacrifice. Christ did not die to lay out a slip-and-slide to heaven. He died on the cross to show us the path of the cross. There is only one door to heaven: it is the door of patient endurance.
“For the grapes must be treaded so that the preciousness of wine may flow.” St. Gregory taught. “So must the virtue of the olive, pressed out by crushing, leave the husk and become the fatness of oil. So likewise is the grain, beaten out on the threshing floor, separated from the chaff, and being cleaned is brought into the barn. Whosever then is desirous of wholly overcoming his defects, must bear with pleasure the pain of being made clean; and the more he is now purified in the fire of tribulation, the more worthy shall he be to appear at the judgement seat of God.”
Why are we discontent? Why do we get offended? St. Paul was beaten and slandered. He did not complain about his rights. He praised God for his trials. He saw it all as a glorious opportunity for repentance. Each of us has our own problems. We want God to take them away. But our problems are God’s gifts to us.
He is preparing something beautiful.
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The first heaven and the first earth had disappeared, and there was no sea anymore. And I saw the holy city, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It was prepared like a bride dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Now God’s presence is with people, and he will live with them, and they will be his people” (Revelation 21:1-3).
We are called to enter into Lent with strength. Each Lent is a little apocalyptic. It is our chance to get real about eternity. The Church asks us to increase our prayer rule, to confess our sins, to seek forgiveness from everyone, and to fast and give alms. None of it is good in itself, but it is a means for redirecting our hearts to Jesus Christ.
Along each step, we have this word from God: be patient. We are not alone in our trials. We have Christ, and he allows it all to prepare us for His Heavenly Jerusalem.
“By your patience, you will gain your soul.”