Love is patient


I’m reading Pope Francis’s document on love in the family along with a group of incarcerated men whom I visit, and thought I’d post short sections of the part that we are reading together here. Although the letter specifically addresses love within a family, it’s also relevant to love within a community, or the human family more generally.

In chapter four he reflects on individual lines of St Paul’s Hymn to Love. He begins with “Love is patient”:

“Its meaning is clarified by the Greek translation of the Old Testament, where we read that God is “slow to anger” (Ex 34:6; Num 14:18).  It refers, then, to the quality of one who does not act on impulse and avoids giving offense.  We find this quality in the God of the Covenant, who calls us to imitate him also within the life of the family.  Saint Paul’s texts using this word need to be read in the light of the Book of Wisdom (cf. 11:23; 12:2, 15-18), which extols God’s restraint, as leaving open the possibility of repentance, yet insists on his power, as revealed in his acts of mercy.  God’s “patience”, shown in his mercy towards sinners, is a sign of his real power.

Being patient does not mean letting ourselves be constantly mistreated, tolerating physical aggression or allowing other people to use us.  We encounter problems whenever we think that relationships or people ought to be perfect, or when we put ourselves at the centre and expect things to turn out our way.  Then everything makes us impatient, everything makes us react aggressively.  Unless we cultivate patience, we will always find excuses for responding angrily.  We will end up incapable of living together,  antisocial, unable to control our impulses, and our families will become battlegrounds.  That is why the word of God tells us: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and slander be put away from you, with all malice” (Eph 4:31).  Patience takes root when I recognize that other people also have a right to live in this world, just as they are.  It does not matter if they hold me back, if they unsettle my plans, or annoy me by the way they act or think, or if they are not everything I want them to be.  Love always has an aspect of deep compassion that leads to accepting the other person as part of this world, even when he or she acts differently than I would like.” (91-92)