Lately, I have been struck by how hard, and yet how necessary, it is simply to be patient in the day-to-day life of being a Catholic. The media is full of goads to be impatient with oneself, with others, and with the world in general: Why are things not the way they should be, right now? Surely there is something that I (or everybody else) ought to be doing! Given that “doing something” very often translates into “being angry on social media about it,” this impulse to do something ought to be interrogated quite intensely.
I’ve been doing a fair bit of research lately into nineteenth-century English Catholicism. It turns out that times were tumultuous for Catholics then too (a particularly divisive point was the Vatican I definition of papal infallibility), and while there wasn’t electronic social media, newspapers, pamphlets, and letters provided plenty of opportunity for extremely heated rhetoric amongst Catholics—often rather disedifying for Protestants. Sound familiar?
The Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins lived and wrote at this time, and his poem “Patience” is fruitful for reflection in this regard. It is a poem that can be read both as inward-focused (as we struggle for patience with our own spiritual growth, or lack thereof) and as an engagement with the noisy, distracting, anxiety-inducing world around us—and as a reflection on the ways that we deal inwardly with exterior pressures and distractions.