Wednesday, January 25, 2012

(Im)Patience

Years ago when my confessions were becoming kind of same-y (same stuff, different week), my confessor suggested that I was, perhaps, so focused on those seemingly intractable sins that I was missing others. He asked me how I went about examining my conscience and, finding that I used the "whatever I can remember in the few moments before I walk into church" method, suggested I dig deeper with a written examination of conscience.

Now, such examinations are to be found in almost every Catholic church. They are frequently of the laminated, tri-fold variety and go through a fairly intense and exhaustive list of sins that plague the 21st Century man. This particular church kept them in the place that I was least likely to find them: right next to the confessional. But since that day when they were pointed out to me, I have almost always used a formal examination of conscience to prepare for confession.

One of the sins that I discovered by this new method was the sin of impatience. Of course, I was well aware that I was impatient. And, well, I still am. But, that was the first time I had ever seen it referred to as a sin. I knew that showing impatience with someone was bad in the sense that it was rude. However, that it was sinful was something new. Reading further, I found that impatience is closely related to anger and both are a sin against the Commandment "Thou Shalt Not Kill."

OK, I thought. How does that work? I've never killed anybody with whom I was impatient, although I sometimes imagined evil befalling them. That imagining was the link. What I learned was that the Commandments while seeming to enjoin only a few things, actually enjoin all things within certain broader categories.

So, the Commandment "Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultry"also enjoins fornication and all the other acts of sexual impurity. And, because Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount that "whoever looks at a married woman and lusts after her has already committed adultery in his heart" one would also have to include mentally dwelling on impure thoughts as a violation of the Commandment.

It's the same way with "Thou Shalt Not Kill."  In the same sermon Jesus said "You have heard that it was said to the people of long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment. But, I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment." So dwelling on angry thoughts although you never plan on physically carrying them out gets you a rap under the Commandment. It doesn't take much to see that impatience is very close to anger as it often becomes anger in our hearts very quickly.

Since that time, I've made it a point to work on my impatience. For years, I worked on simply avoiding those situations where I might have to queue up and wait. I shopped during off hours and planned vacations during off seasons. I worked out routes to and from work that involved the fewest number of traffic lights. I went to confession early because, yes, waiting behind other people so I could confess the sin of impatience made me very impatient.

Still, while that was successful in narrowing my outward expressions of impatience to moments of cursing in my car (as if the windshield were guilty of offending me), I had a lot of work to do to become patient in my heart. Lately, as I've continued to work my way through Father de Caussade's spiritual classic "Abandonment to Divine Providence," I've made some progress. I've started to view lining up and other setbacks inherent in the modern world as the divine will--that God wills these things for my life not because they are good in themselves, but because God uses them to make me a better person more pleasing to him.

"Look upon yourself then...as a statue under the hands of a sculptor, or like a stone which is chipped and cut with the chisel and hammer to make it the right shape to take its place in a beautiful building. If this stone could feel, and if, while it thus suffered it asked you what it should do in so much pain, you would, without doubt, reply 'Keep perfectly quiet in the hands of the workman and let him proceed with his work, otherwise, you will always remain a rough, common piece of stone.'"

Viewing those times of waiting as opportunities for perfection instead of inconveniences has changed my attitude both inwardly and outwardly. I've still got a lot of roughness left to smooth. But it's nice to be making progress.

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