Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Tolerance Is a Virtue

The old lists of "Catholic Necessaries" once found in missals and prayerbooks include such helpful reminders as the Ten Commandments, the Precepts of the Church, various collections of virtues and vices, and, one that I keep returning to, the Spiritual Works of Mercy. A few of these can be twisted into a kind of know-it-all-ism, like instructing the ignorant or admonishing sinners; others are less susceptible to vanity, like forgiving offenses and praying for the living and the dead. One I meditate upon frequently is phrased variously depending on the source: the USCCB has it as "bearing wrongs patiently," another says "be patient with those in error," but my favorite version (found in the Baronius Press missal) is to "bear patiently the troublesome."

Not as the world giveth does the Church give admonition to tolerance.

The unending Season of Covidtide has given Catholics ample opportunity to revisit old grudges and revive familial squabbles. We have bishops publicly announcing private think-tanks for discussing the radicals of the Catholic world and their problematic online presence. We have wannabe-warriors demanding the clergy offer more Masses and fewer facemask requirements. We have eschatological worriers scribbling crypto-chiliastic timelines for our edification. In saner times such persons could be the source of lightly humorous caricature, but we live in times devoid of a sense of humor. We do not think that those who are troublesome to us, inside or outside the Church, are at all funny. Perhaps we should.

To bear patiently the troublesome does not mean to make excuses for their sins nor to always refrain from calling them out, but it does mean to put into practice one aspect of our Lord's admonition, "Let not your heart be troubled." This work of mercy is also distinct from the simpleton's advice to "never lose your peace" (even when engaged in grave sin). It may mean sometimes that you ought to roll your eyes at stupidity and merely leave a conversation with a slightly insulting but insightful comment, but it should definitely mean that you do not decide it is your mission to "fix" all the faults of your neighbors.

Tell your brother he should stop fornicating with a lady friend? Certainly. Cancel him for dressing in tweed and rambling on forever about St. Bellarmine? Perhaps this is a good opportunity to bear a troublesome person patiently and leave it be.

I do not know where all the boundaries lie. Where does one stop bearing patiently and begin the work of instruction and admonition? The application of wisdom often needs to be subtle, differing much by situation. I have seen too many people work themselves into frenzies over things that are morally minor but greatly annoying. They strain out gnats and risk swallowing camels because they have no tolerance for troublesome people.

In times when stress is imposed by national unrest and global pandemics it is good to be reminded of the patience of Christ in the face of so many troublesome people. He not only had to put up with his own murderers but with his Apostles, and with us.


  1. This has been the most edifying thing that i have read on the affliction, the rioting & looting and the state we Catholics find ourselves in our world. Thank you.
    As a Chicago policeman, a father and a Catholic, you have both encouraged this soul and given me a challenge toward sanctity. If 'Politics is downstream of the Culture', then Culture must be downstream of Religion and its practice? Pax Christi tibi