“Patience, People, for the Lord is coming...” this song is associated with Advent more than Lent, but it reminds me that the season of Lent is perfectly placed in the season of late winter/early spring, because both times are periods of hardship, waiting, and expectation of better things to come. Both times are times of Trust.
Here in California we might not experience the difficulties of early spring described in this essay. But over the years, my orange and lemon trees have experienced the occasional unexpected frost. My apricot tree has suffered from unusual harsh winds that strip it from its tender blossoms. I, too, have been impatient to plant tomatoes, in anticipation of a summer harvest of juicy red globes unlike any imposter you’d find in the supermarket.
This article, and my natural interest in words and their derivations and connotations, led me to musing about the word “patient,” and not for the first time. As a retired Latin teacher, I know that “patient” comes from the Latin verb patior, which covers a myriad of meanings, from “allow, permit” to “endure, suffer.” So, too, do the words “passive” and “passion”, which to us seem so contradictory. My favorite marriage preparation story involves the priest explaining some basic Catholic tenets to my non-Catholic future husband. In response to Fr. John’s instruction on the Passion, my ever-insightful partner, perhaps naturally focusing on the secular, romantic meaning of the word, said, “Oh, I didn’t know it referred to his death; I thought it meant how much God loves us.” I have lived that double-take on “Passion” ever since.
Our remembrance of our Lord’s Passion during Holy Week is anything but passive: if we engage in the Triduum, we celebrate the institution of the Eucharist at Holy Thursday Mass, the call to service of the washing of the feet, the beginning of the Passion with the stripping of the altar and reposition of the Eucharist (which brought tears to my eyes as a child.) We are minutely aware of all the minutes leading up to the final act of suffering (Passion), in our active recollection of the Agony in the garden, the developing case against Jesus, the steps we take with him in the Stations of the Cross, the three hours of prayer, reflection on His final seven utterances and veneration of the Cross. And then, we wait.
Holy Saturday can seem a day of passivity; with Jesus lying in the tomb, what is there for us to do? In this year of the pandemic, some of us have actually been patients, either at home, or in the hospital. If we’ve been blessed to avoid disease, our minds and hearts have been peopled by many patients who did not, lying in their beds and ICU rooms, unable to do much to fight the virus that has infected them, many of them not rising from their beds alive. So many, now over 500,000, have remained in the tomb, and we are left to miss and mourn them. But that is not all we can do; we can turn our faith to action; on that one day when Christ’s eyes and mouth and hands on Earth must truly be our own, because His were dead to the world, we can act for Him, by recommitting ourselves to our faith in the Resurrection, and by engaging in acts of service for and with those who are most vulnerable. We can turn Holy Saturday into Holy Service-Day, and be the actual presence of Christ for others.
Mary McCarty is a native of Southern California and has managed the bookstore at the Jesuit Retreat Center for over 4 years.