“My son, if thy mind is to enter the Lord’s service, wait there in His presence, with honesty of purpose and with awe, and prepare thyself to be put to the test. Submissive be thy heart, and ready to bear all; to wise advice lend a ready ear, and be never hasty when ill times befall thee. Wait for God, cling to God and wait for Him; at the end of it, thy life shall blossom anew” (Sir 2:1-3).
Wait for God… How difficult it is for our generation, the children of speed and technology, of the frenzy of a globalized world in which almost everything is known in real time at the touch of a finger on an electronic screen, to understand the deep meaning of these words!
Nevertheless, Sirach conveys to us nothing but words of wisdom, which invite us to a brief reflection.
The greatest test of the elect: to wait patiently
If we peruse the pages of Holy Scripture, we will see how the most important events of humanity took place after an enormous wait. God makes His chosen ones wait. And the great trial is to learn that His time is neither slow nor swift, but perfect: “In Thy sight, a thousand years are but as yesterday, that has come and gone, or as one of the night-watches” (Ps 90:4).
How we suffer with God’s delays! Yet they bring a promise of victory: “Wait for Him; at the end of it, thy life shall blossom anew.” Therefore, “Victory is given to one who suffers with patience. Patience here is not indolence, but that strong virtue by which one endures the pain of the wait. Woe to the man whom the wait does not hurt! Woe to the man who cannot bear the pain of the wait! This is patience,”1 states Dr. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, commenting on the passage in question.
The remembrance of the longest waits, considered after many years, carries with it the contentment of unreserved surrender into God’s hands, made both in the midst of consolations and under the weight of sorrow borne patiently. And it brings forth the fragrance of confidence, which is the wake left by hope strengthened by faith. “Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. And let perseverance be perfect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (Jas 1:2-4).
God walks with His chosen ones
When we contemplate certain remarkable episodes in sacred history, we can see how God walks along these paths with His chosen ones, with decisive steps.
Let us take one of the giants of the Old Testament: Noah. He was “a righteous man, blameless in his generation” (Gn 6:9). At a time when wickedness was rampant in the world, according to the account in Genesis, the only reason the Lord did not exterminate all breathing creatures from the face of the earth was because Noah found grace in His eyes. And God promised him that He would save them,sheltering them in an ark that was to be built, while He destroyed wickedness by means of the flood.
But this “preacher of justice” (2 Pt 2:5) was sorely tested! A hundred years passed in building the ark according to the measures and plans drawn up by the Creator, before anything happened. Noah was subjected to the scorn of his compatriots, without weakening in his faith in the word of the Lord. His long and patient wait was crowned with joy when, at last, after the waters of the flood had subsided and he was able to settle again on solid ground, the divine covenant was sealed with him, symbolized by the beautiful rainbow: “This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between Me and all flesh that is upon the earth” (Gn 9:17). The promise was fulfilled!
Paradigm from the Old Testament
Perhaps the greatest paradigm of confident waiting in the Old Testament is Abraham. After the Lord promised him: “I will make of you a great nation” (Gn 12:2), years and years passed without his having any descendants. Led from one place to another, he underwent countless trials; none of them, however, could compare to that of continuing to wait with faith for the fulfilment of a promise that showed no signs of being realized. Finally, God grants him a son: Isaac.
Then came the trial of all trials: the Lord asked Abraham to sacrifice the son of the promise! God seemed to demand from His chosen one the renunciation of what had been promised him. In appearance, He was breaking His own pledged word… The Holy Patriarch does not waver. The patience forged by faith during the long years of waiting leads him to trust the Most High and generously deliver his beloved son to Him. An angel stays the hand bearing the knife, and God is pleased with his faithfulness, renewing the covenant with him: “By myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will multiply your descendants as the stars of Heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore” (Gn 22:16-17). “And thus Abraham, having patiently endured, obtained the promise” (Heb 6:15).
His perseverance in waiting was crowned with glory, as St. Leo the Great states on the feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, commenting on the visit of the Magi as representatives of all the races of the world: “These peoples were an innumerable offspring promised in other times to the holy patriarch Abraham, offspring which would beget not carnal seed but the fecundity of faith, offspring compared to a multitude of stars, so that the father of all nations might hope not for an earthly but for a heavenly posterity. […] Abraham saw this day and rejoiced (cf. Jn 8:56) when he knew that his children according to faith would be blessed in his offspring, that is, Christ (cf. Gal 3:16), and he saw himself as the future father of all peoples in faith (cf. Rom 4:18).”2
The promise of promises
We could continue considering other Old Testament characters such as Moses, for example, who was given the assurance of the Promised Land and who spent forty years in the desert because of the people’s lack of patience in waiting with faith for the fulfilment of God’s word. However, for the sake of brevity, let us reflect on the promise of promises, made by God to our first parents while still in Paradise, before sending them to this land of exile: the Redemption, foretold in the Protoevangelium (cf. Gn 3:15), whose fulfilment marked the beginning of the New Testament.
“In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets” (Heb 1:1), and not a few were the signs and oracles given about the coming of the Saviour. Among them, those of Isaiah, the most messianic of the divine heralds, stand out: “In that day the root of Jesse shall stand as an ensign to the peoples; him shall the nations seek” (Is 11:10). However, “all the predictions were put to the test by Heaven, in order to ascertain whether the people of the covenant would be worthy to see their fulfilment.”3 God would demand from His chosen ones a wait of many centuries…
Behold, “a Virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and His name shall be called Emmanuel” (Is 7:14). Knowing these promises, Mary Most Holy awaited the Redeemer full of faith, and formed in her heart His divine figure, desiring to be the handmaid of Her who would be His Mother. She did not imagine, however, that She herself would be the Virgin of Isaiah. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14).
Later, after Our Lord’s Passion, the crowning moment of the Redemption, her unflagging faith in the Resurrection gathered the Apostles and disciples once again in the Upper Room, encouraging them to believe despite the apparent contradiction and denial of the facts. Their hope was not disappointed: “The great battle of the Blessed Virgin lay in keeping the flame of the Resurrection alight in those poor souls. Without her intercession, none of them have continued to believe, despite the repeated promises of the Divine Master.”4 Together with Her in the Upper Room (cf. Acts 1:14), the Apostles received the promised Holy Spirit and began to spread the Good News, carrying out the Saviour’s command: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15). The epopee of the Holy Catholic Church had begun.
Hope for the 21st century
Today, after twenty-one centuries of the Church’s life, do we still have promises in which to hope, living against a backdrop of pandemic, war and uncertainty? We have prayed for two thousand years: “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven” (Mt 6:10). Can we hope for the fulfilment, in our troubled historical times, of this prayer taught by Our Lord?
Now more than ever is the time to believe and hope! At the beginning of the last century, God sent His own Mother to Fatima, Portugal, to warn humanity about the contemporary evils. “Our Lady at one and the same time explains the reasons for the crisis and indicates its remedy, prophesying catastrophe if men do not hear Her. From every point of view, by the nature of their content and by the dignity of the One who made them, the revelations of Fatima therefore surpass everything that Providence has said to men on the threshold of the great upheavals of history.”5
Above all, the Virgin came to bring the promise of the realization of the long-awaited Reign of Christ: “In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.” Mary Most Holy is not capable of deception! She will be “enthroned in men’s hearts as Queen, subjecting them to the dominion of her great and princely Son […]. Ut adveniat regnum tuum, adveniat regnum Mariæ,”6 teaches St. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort.
However, if the final outcome of the Fatima promises is a long time in coming, let us not forget , as Dr. Plinio affirms, that great waits herald how generous God will be when He answers. “The Lord is not slow about His promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Pt 3:9).
It is often for our conversion and increase in love that He makes us wait. “There is a heroic confidence by which one does not give up hope, in spite of everything. This confidence hurts. And the soul is sometimes left in a bleeding state. But even so, it continues to confide and says: ‘That interior, ineffable promise that Our Lady made to my soul, that promise will not fail; I will confide in it!’”7
Blessed, then, are those who believe and hope, for what they have been promised will be fulfilled (cf. Lk 1:45). Confident and patient waiting will always be the pledge of the fulfilment of promises! ◊
1 CORRÊA DE OLIVEIRA, Plinio. Ai do homem a quem a espera não dói; ai do homem que não aguenta a dor da espera! [Woe to the man whom the wait does not hurt! Woe to the man who cannot bear the pain of the wait!] In: Dr. Plinio. São Paulo. Year XV. N.172 (July, 2012); p.32.
2 ST. LEO THE GREAT. Sobre la Epifanía de Nuestro Señor Jesucristo. Homilía III, n.2; 5. In: Homilias sobre el Año Litúrgico. Madrid: BAC, 1969, p.130; 132-133.
3 CLÁ DIAS, EP, João Scognamiglio. Maria Santíssima! O Paraíso de Deus revelado aos homens [Mary Most Holy! God’s Paradise Revealed to Men]. São Paulo: Arautos do Evangelho, 2020, v.II, p.218.
4 Idem, p.510.
5 CORRÊA DE OLIVEIRA, Plinio. Fátima: explicação e remédio da crise contemporânea [Fatima: Explanation and Remedy for the Contemporary Crisis]. In: Catolicismo. Campos dos Goytacazes. Year III. N.29 (May, 1953); p.2.
6 ST. LOUIS-MARIE GRIGNION DE MONTFORT. Traité de la vraie dévotion à la Sainte Vierge, n.217. In: Œuvres Complètes. Paris: Du Seuil, 1966, p.634-635.
7 CORRÊA DE OLIVEIRA, Plinio. Conference. São Paulo, 7/10/1975.