One of my favorite Advent readings whose recurrence I look forward to every year is the second Office reading for the Saturday of the 1st Week of Advent, which would be today were not that reading - an excerpt from Saint Cyprian's treatise On the Virtue of Patience - displaced this year for the celebration of Saint Francis Xavier. Obviously, I don't begrudge the great patron of the foreign missions the precedence the liturgy rightly accords him, but neither would I want to ignore Saint Cyprian's important Advent message on patience.
Admittedly, as virtues go, patience is not particularly popular - not nowadays, probably not ever!
But Advent, as I suggested last Sunday, while ostensibly the most future-oriented of seasons, is really in a sense a sort of symbol for the entire Christian life, lived inevitably in the present, between the first coming of Christ and his hoped-for final advent. Part of what it means to be a Christian is to live one's life literally in this interval between Christmas and the end.
And if Advent symbolically expresses the experience that is the Christian life, patience is the virtue that expresses the way that life is to be lived. Saint Cyprian says is necessary for us if we are to be perfected in what we have begun to be. I have had 68 years so far to become what I hope to be for eternity. How much more time will be left to me I cannot know, which is why time is so precious, why the present is so precious, precisely because it is so limited and so must be made the most of. But it remains a process in which God's grace is the principal driver. The process challenges me to do my part - and certainly not to give up. Like the farmer in Mark's Gospel (Mark 4:26-29), I must work, but I must also wait. If life is one long Advent and Advent illustrates life, patience is the key to carrying on day by day.
I especially like how Saint Cyprian (following Saint Paul) unites patience with endurance and both with charity. Endurance specifies the practice of patience in concrete situations and struggles of life. Charity is what it is all for. The present peace and unity which enduringly patient charity makes possible anticipates - and, more than just anticipates, actually begins - the peace and unity for which patience enduringly strives and Advent awaits.
And so Cyprian concludes neither unity nor peace can be maintained unless the brethren cherish each other with mutual forbearance and preserve the bond of harmony by means of patience.