“For to this you have been called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. He committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly” (1 Pt 2:21-23). We know that Jesus stated quite categorically that if we want to be his disciples we must take up our cross every day and follow him (Lk 9:23). This work of mercy spells out one way to do this.
At the outset we should be clear what this work of mercy does not mean: it does not mean that we should continue to live in an abusive situation where we or those we love are being harmed. At the heart of the Gospel is the dignity of every human being, made in the image and likeness of God; we are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves, not at the expense of ourselves.
This work is aimed at those situations that are part of life in our fallen world: misunderstood motives, slights and insults, backbiting and gossip. It is only natural that we want to strike back, and of course there may be occasions where it is appropriate or even necessary to set the record straight. The wisdom required is to know when to speak and when to keep silent. As we read through the Gospels we find that there were occasions when Jesus responded to criticism of his disciples or of himself. But there were other times when he remained silent, trusting to him who judges justly.
This work of mercy challenges us to bear wrongs patiently – a tall order. Patience is not just a matter of temperament, it is a gift of the Holy Spirit (see Gal 5:22), so it is something we must pray for and strive to put into practice. Like other virtues, it is trait that improves with practice. We can school ourselves with little acts of patience so that we are prone to be patient when the bigger upsets of life come our way. We should strive to give others the benefit of the doubt and seek to be less critical ourselves.
Patience is rooted in a reality at the core of our faith: the Passion of Christ. Patience and passion come from a Latin word meaning to suffer or endure. Patience is by its nature a passive quality, a matter of putting up with something. But Christ has turned the word passion from the passive to the active voice: his Passion was ultimately something not done to him, but something he did: “No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (Jn 10:18). The alchemy that transformed Christ’s suffering into something positive was love: love for the Father and love for us.
This is why Jesus tells us that, far from seeking to retaliate against others, we should respond to them positively: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt 5:44). He calls us to not simply bear wrongs patiently, but actively, with the activity of love. Even when Jesus stood silent in the face of those who mocked him and lied about him, he was loving them. May his Passion make our patience an act of love.