How a Conflict with a Seminarian Taught a Valuable Lesson in Patience

It's one of the hardest virtues to master, especially today — but as Jesus would want, it's vital we think before we speak

by Fr. Michael Sliney, LC | Updated 06 Nov 2017 at 7:34 AM

Many years ago, during my priestly ministry in Washington, D.C., I learned a valuable lesson about prayerful patience.

The night before I was scheduled to preach a retreat to over 100 women, my stomach began to swirl, my temperature spiked — and the evening became long and painful.

The next morning I knew there was no way I could fulfill my spiritual duties, so one of my fellow priests kindly offered to step in.

I told the seminarian who was going to accompany this priest that the attendees would all be asking why I was not there. I asked him to respond by saying that something had come up unexpectedly and that I'd been unable to make it.

I did not want to burden the audience with concern for a sick priest — and I did not want to be overly cared for during this brief sickness, either. I'm a private person that way, and I took pains to share my preferences. Later in the day, however, emails and text messages started to pour in, with comments such as, "Fr. Michael, I heard you are really under the weather." And when medicine and even chicken soup started showing up at the door, my impatience with the seminarian who had spilled the beans began to simmer.

One of my fellow priests who knew me well encouraged me not to address this issue for a week — and then to calmly approach the seminarian with my concerns. I prayed about it and felt this would be the reaction Jesus would want from me.

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This seminarian was very remorseful when I did speak with him — and he knew the matter had bothered me, but he was grateful I had waited one week to calm down. I gently explained again why I did not want to burden the attendees with information about an illness of mine. And I was grateful a fellow priest had counseled me in this way.

There are many other instances and examples of how patience pays off for people — or should. Throughout my life, I have been writing birthday and Mother's Day poems to my mom. My older sister, Deb, loves poetry, and she's been humbly observing my mom's joy about receiving these poems and consistently congratulating me for my literary endeavors.

My sister recently celebrated her birthday, and the idea occurred to me to write her a birthday poem. Her immediate response was, "Michael, my own birthday poem, just for me! Thank you!" She had never complained, never insinuated for so many years about how she would love to receive a poem from her younger brother — she just patiently waited for so long until I came to my senses. How I wish that I had thought of doing this many years ago!

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A few months ago, I boarded a busy New York City subway car heading downtown during rush hour. The car was totally packed, and as we approached the platform for the next stop, people tried to make space for incoming passengers. When it seemed we had reached our breaking point, one more person tried to squeeze in. The man next to me, who was already completely sandwiched, turned toward this woman and unleashed a tirade of nastiness.

The world needs more witnesses of patient love.

The woman tried to respond, and the back-and-forth battle that ensued made the brief ride extremely uncomfortable for everyone else in the car. The woman should have waited for the next car — but this gentlemen certainly needed to bite his tongue.

Patience is such a challenging virtue in our society. It can be tested from a plethora of angles, each and every day. Human beings are not and never will be perfect. There are so many "hurt" people out there who struggle just to survive. Look around — and try to notice the nuances of those souls God has placed in your path, and offer them a look of love. The world needs more witnesses of patient love.

Fr. Michael Sliney, LC, is a Catholic priest who is the New York chaplain of the Lumen Institute, an association of business and cultural leaders.

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