The Sacrament of Waiting
by Fr. James Donelan, S.J.The English poet John Milton once wrote that those who serve stand and wait. I think I would gofurther and say that those who wait render the highest form of service. Waiting requires more discipline,more self-control and emotional maturity, more unshakeable faith in our cause, more unwavering hope inthe future, more sustaining love in our hearts than all the great deeds of derring-do that go by the name of action. Waiting is a mystery—a natural sacrament of life. There is a meaning hidden in all the times we haveto wait. It must be an important mystery because there is so much waiting in our lives.Everyday is filled with those little moments of waiting—testing our patience and our nerves,schooling us in our self-control—
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. We wait for meals to be served, for a letter to arrive, for afriend, concerts and circuses. Our airline terminals, railway stations, and bus depots are temples of waitingfilled with men and women who wait in joy for the arrival of a loved one—or wait in sadness to say goodbyeand to give that last wave of hand. We wait for birthdays and vacations; we wait for Christmas. We wait forspring to come or autumn—for the rains to begin or stop. And we wait for ourselves to grow from childhood to maturity. We wait for those inner voices thattell us when we are ready for the next step. We wait for graduation, for our first job, our first promotion. We wait for success, and recognition. We wait to grow up—to reach the stage where we make our own decision. We cannot remove this waiting from our lives. It is part of the tapestry of living—the fabric in whichthe threads are woven that tell the story of our lives. Yet the current philosophies would have us forget the need to wait. “Grab all the gusto you can get.”So reads one of America’s great beer advertisements—Get it now. Instant pleasure—instant transcendence.Don’t wait for anything. Life is short—eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow you’ll die. And so they rationalize us into accepting unlicensed and irresponsible freedom—premarital sex and extramarital affairs—they warn against attachment and commitment, against expecting anything of anybody, or allowing them toexpect anything of us, against vows and promises, against duty and responsibility, against dropping any anchors in the currents of our life that will cause us to hold and to wait.This may be the correct prescription for pleasure—but even that is fleeting and doubtful. What wasit Shakespeare said about the mad pursuit of pleasure? “Past reason hunted, and once had, past reasonhated.” Now if we wish to be real human beings, spirit as well as flesh, souls as well as heart, we have to learnto love someone else other than ourselves.For most of all waiting means waiting for someone else. It is a mystery brushing by our face everyday like stray wind or a leaf falling from a tree. Anyone who has ever loved knows how much waiting goes intoit, how much waiting is important for love to grow, to flourish through a lifetime.