“Get up every morning with the disposition to await God’s grace,” is the advice John Garvey, president of the Catholic University of America, sent graduates away from their commencement exercises on Saturday.
Patience, he said “is not the disposition to wait for what you want.” “Ted Williams,” he explained, “was a patient hitter because he could take a few pitches to get one he liked. The same quality made him a great fisherman. Warren Buffett is a patient investor because he takes his time getting in and out of stocks. But these are skills, not virtues.
Saint Monica is the model of patience, properly understood. Garvey said:
St. Monica spent 17 years praying for the conversion of her son, St. Augustine. This might seem like fishing or waiting for a stock to pan out, but I think it’s different. Patience is the disposition to await God’s grace. Monica was doing that. Ted Williams and Warren Buffett were not. Monica’s persistence in knocking on God’s door and waiting for an answer is what St. Paul meant when he said that “Love is patient . . . .”
Patience is the ground that virtue grows in. The lack of it was Othello’s undoing. He was too quick to suspect Cassio and doubt Desdemona. He did not consider that Iago might be spinning a web to catch him up. Shakespeare observes:
How poor are they that have not patience!
What wound did ever heal but by degrees?
Thou know’st we work by wit,
and not by witchcraft;
And wit depends on dilatory time.
Had Othello had Monica’s patience, his love for Desdemona would have had better soil to grow in.
I remember twenty years after the fact one of my blunders as a father. When our daughter Becky was six she announced, one morning as I frantically bundled the kids up for school, that school had been cancelled that day. I was too experienced a parent to be taken in by so simple a trick. When she became insistent I gave her a swat and told her to saddle up and get in the car. Turned out, there was no school. She has not forgotten my failure to observe due process. Nor have I. The lesson I learned that day was, hear people out. Even if you’re sure you’re right. Even if they’re six. They may have a point. Patience is the seedbed of humility, and justice.
It’s not just a virtue we employ in dealing with children and spouses. When I was 16 I went to nerd camp at Cornell to study math. I was from a small town, and the other kids were from Boston and New York City. It was the first time I’d ever met anybody who was smart. I struggled to understand Riemann sums in a class that had 800’s on their SATs. I would pound my pillow in frustration at night. I didn’t go as far as Ajax and impale myself on my own slide rule. But acting on some juvenile death wish, I started smoking cigarettes. It took me several years to learn patience with my own human failings – and the more important lesson that God had a good plan for me, and it didn’t involve approximating the area underneath a curve. Patience is the ground that hope grows in. The Koran tells us “O you who believe, seek assistance through patience and prayer; surely Allah is with the patient.”
If you were graduating from another college, I might now exhort you to follow your dreams and wear sunscreen. But I will suggest something better. Commencement is the beginning of a new life, and filled with uncertainties. The two biggest are: What will I do? And whom will I do it with? Will I be a lawyer, a painter, a nurse, or a mechanical engineer? And will I marry Agnes or join the Franciscans? Have the patience to answer these questions right. Get up every morning with the disposition to await God’s grace.
I might add: There was a day at CUA when that guy making a decision between marrying Agnes or joining the Franciscans wasn’t getting top-down encouragement. Like I said Saturday, thanks be to God for renewal. Grace will lead us to be leaders in its continuing manifestation, wherever we may be.