Virtuous living draws us out of ourselves — and that’s why it is important to keep talking about the ways to arm ourselves (and our children) with virtue. Each virtue is inextricably linked to supporting virtue(s) — what an added boost! Virtues that have their fullest effect are practiced/put to work with love.
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” 1 Corinthians 13:1.
All of the above and more applies to this month’s virtue: perseverance. Perseverance played an obvious role for our Christmas story’s main characters! Consider the perseverance that Mary and Joseph had to draw on while walking the 80-mile-plus trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Perseverance would also have been necessary for walking another 40-plus miles to Egypt from Bethlehem. That portion of the journey would have held ever more potential for danger and hardship and intrigue.
The trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem — according to different experts — would have taken four or five days when walking at least 18 miles a day! Mary may have had the luxury of riding on the back of a donkey (if they had one) but that animal would have also been pre-loaded with supplies necessary for the two-week journey! The donkey would not have been able to provide a cushy seat for Mary — especially considering that she was nine months pregnant!
I vividly recall the discomforts of going camping when eight months pregnant. The camping cots were incredibly uncomfortable. It was nearly impossible to roll over to a different side on a very hard cot with a very large belly. Imagine Mary lying on the cold, hard ground with little rocks digging into her side under that thin blanket. Consider the discomfort when trying to hop up to, or down from, a donkey! I remember pulling a muscle while simply trying to get out of a canoe that was ground level. Imagine walking roughly twenty miles every day for five days straight while nine months pregnant! Was Mary ever afraid of anything during that trip? My own frequent trips to the outhouse during the night compounded my anxieties about things that might go bump in the night. The Israeli nights would have been chilly and dark. Mary and Joseph probably heard all kinds of wild animals growling, creeping and walking nearby. And think of that donkey ride!Yes, it took holy perseverance to make it to Bethlehem — and not because Mary and Joseph were assured of being able to have a comfortable place to stay upon their arrival! Nope, their extended stay hosted straw, hay, manure and smelly barn animals. Our camping trip discouraged me from planning any future camping campaigns when fully pregnant! Mary didn’t seem discouraged as they set out on the next adventure that took them even further from home and into Egypt while nursing the newborn child. And what about Joseph? He probably asked himself whether the decision to bring Mary along was wise as they bumped along the dirty, hilly roads to Bethlehem. Surely, he worried about the dangers that lurked around them [bandits and bears]. Finding fresh water for Mary, himself, and their donkey — if they had one — would have been a top concern for Joseph each morning! And the search for firewood (and more water) and fresh meat would have drawn on his personal perseverance!
And, for many readers, it will take holy perseverance to get through the Christmas/Advent season for reasons that are as complex as family traditions and expectations. So what about perseverance? Why do we all need it?
Normally, we associate perseverance with courage, stamina, and steadfastness when doing something difficult — but usually the doing is for ourselves. It’s easier to stay the course when striving to set personal records compared to staying the course when it is filled with unknowns, other people’s expectations, or goals that are not our own. When we get nothing in return for ourselves, personal perseverance is tested more than when we expect to receive a just recompense for a hardship. Perseverance will be expended whenever we experience challenges disaffecting our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being and/or growth.
Earlier, it was mentioned that the virtue of prudence is inextricably linked to perseverance. Let me explain. Most of us would consider it to be highly imprudent to spend time, energy and life savings on finding a Fountain of Youth — and so we don’t do that. Forcing ourselves to experience significant hardships for all the wrong reasons would be a waste of perseverance. It would also be a case of throwing prudence out the window. Good counsel and prudent decision-making helps us to avoid unnecessary hardships; however, even good decision-making cannot guarantee that we will only experience positive outcomes. Perseverance will always be needed when bad things happen to any of us.
There is the natural human virtue of perseverance and there is holy perseverance. The former is human-powered and the latter is supported and sustained by divine grace and authentic love. “Holy perseverance requires us to work at whatever we do with all our heart, as though we were working for the Lord and not for people.” (Colossians 3:23) This holy perseverance is blessed by the Lord. This perseverance amounts to doing things with strict discipline (perseverance) — not for a crown that is perishable, but for a crown that is imperishable. (1 Corinthians 9:25)
St. Catherine of Siena, Doctor of the Church, teaches the following about perseverance: “Holy perseverance is the resolve to serve God in truth. This is our invisible, glorious and holy crown. Holy perseverance is really essential for all of us; we all need it badly. And we can only ‘get it’ when we are motivated by love. But we cannot get perseverance or love unless our heart and will are stripped of selfish love (for ourselves). Perseverance allows us to know the truth about our own sinfulness. It allows us to know and discern the many graces and gifts we have received from God’s infinite goodness. This knowledge makes us strong and persevering.” “Perseverance does not allow us to be brought down by the devil’s wickedness and rascally temptations or by the nagging of our selfish frailty or by the world’s flattery or by the difficulties of the rule. No, by the light of most holy faith we would pass through them all with a courageous heart that draws on perseverance.” [St. Catherine of Siena, Magnificat, November 2017, p. 410]
The relationship between love and the specific virtue is circular. The more we love others, the more we will persevere in doing things with strict discipline for the crown that is imperishable. The more that we practice strict discipline, the more we will be able to love others authentically. And that is the Christmas story — and the Easter story. Love came down to earth — not for His sake but for ours. Mary, Joseph and especially Jesus’ perseverance show us the way to Heaven. Holy perseverance invites us to love God more and more and self less and less.
St. Catherine of Siena had it right. We need Perseverance and Love to walk like Jesus; Mary, his mother; Joseph; the Three Kings; the shepherds; and the angels. We will be able to follow the Star of Bethlehem when we practice holy perseverance. What does that path look like for you and me? It’s certainly something to think about this Advent.
Copyright 2017 Linda Kracht