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Part 6: Be Patient With Those in Error

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By Chris Sparks (Jan 29, 2016)
The following is the sixth in a seven-part series on the spiritual works of mercy.

Many of the works of mercy come with some sort of emotional reward.

Not this one.

One of the hardest of the works of mercy, being patient with those in error truly demands the patience of a saint. Why? Because you're not being called upon merely to be patient with the honestly mistaken or the well-meaning but confused. You're being called on to be patient with the impatient, the aggressively wrong, those who are so certain of their own rightness (and righteousness) that they are eager for you to get out of the way and allow them to make all things right.

And with these people, we are to be patient. Truly, Christians are called to endure great suffering.

But sometimes, since we are human, we are the ones who make demands on the patience of others. Sometimes we are so bound and determined that we are right that we break people, places, or things, all through a misguided sense of our own rightness, even though we are the ones in error. And in those times, it is the people who were patient with us, who looked at the mess we were making, sighed, and quietly, calmly, charitably went about helping us clean it up, that we most appreciate. It is Jesus, the Merciful Lord, who came to us to speak the truth in love, to sacrifice himself so that we might all know the truth of God's love, the truth of the fullness of Divine Revelation, and so be set free. He did it with a minimum of fuss: 30 years of private life, three of public ministry, then his Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension. The Church is the continued presence of his life and work in the world.

Very tidy. Very patient. Very generous.

In fact, the whole of the Bible is packed full of examples of divine generosity to those in error, divine patience that boggles the mind, at times. Why does the divine patience send the Prophet Jonah to Nineveh, give them 40 days warning of impending destruction, and then actually accept their repentance? Why does God not destroy the Israelites for their breaches of the covenant, for their acceptance of false gods and repeated betrayals of the true faith? Why does God have such patience with the Jews across the millennia, a people in error, having rejected the Messiah?

Because God is love and mercy itself, as St. Faustina tells us (see Diary, 1704). He is the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son — welcoming his wayward son back with open arms and a generosity that staggers the faithful, obedient elder brother.

So let us emulate the divine patience with our error, and be merciful to those who err around us, even those who err against us. Let us have patience while gently correcting, patience while bearing witness to the truth, patience while we clean up the messes caused by those who thought they knew better than Christ, knew better than the Church, knew better than the master of a trade or a skill, knew better than the truly wise. Let us practice patience and trust, and hold on to the truth, even as we love those who attack it so fiercely.

The spiritual works of mercy

Teach the ignorant
Pray for the living and the dead
Admonish sinners
Counsel those in doubt
Console the sorrowful
Bear wrongs patiently
Forgive offenses

We invite you to follow along with the series.

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