Perseverance directs us to the deepest truth of our being: That God does not love us because we are good; God loves us because he is good.
I read somewhere that the difference between persistence and perseverance is that persistence means pressing on despite an annoyance, while perseverance is pressing on despite a hardship. Jesus promises in the Gospel this Sunday: By your perseverance you will secure your lives (Lk 21:19). Which means the Lord is mindful of the hardships that hound us.
Why is perseverance the answer? It almost seems like a dirty word … something moralistic and Pelagian. And the Church has recently cautioned us about the spread of “a new form of Pelagianism,”
one in which the individual, understood to be radically autonomous, presumes to save oneself, without recognizing that, at the deepest level of being, he or she derives from God. According to this way of thinking, salvation depends on the strength of the individual (Placuit Deo #3).
Perseverance is not about marshaling our will power. There is only one reason why I consent to persevere when assailed by hardship, and that is because the one urging me to persevere loves me. That love trumps any tribulation.
We cease reducing perseverance to spiritual teeth gritting when we ponder the deepest level of our being. There we face our nothingness, our fragility, that to be human is to depend, that I have nothing to offer God which he has not first given to me. Perseverance means that, as we come to terms with these stark truths, we will not permit them to discourage or deter us. For perseverance directs us to the deepest truth of our being: That God does not love us because we are good; God loves us because he is good. To persevere, we need to “seize God with our mind” (St. Gregory of Nyssa). Jesus promises: I myself will give you a wisdom.
So much of the perseverance we expend ends up exposing the deceptions that seduce us. We get scandalized by our limitations and by our capacity to do evil. We succumb to the blackmail of guilt over past sins. We despond that we are nothing but the sum total of our failures. But, we persevere when we live by Christ’s wisdom and refuse to cater to these lies.
Perseverance is the antidote to The Inner Daily Rebellion: the cynical dread that things will never change … that we’re forever to be saddled with the same old bad habits, the same old shaming temptations, the same old infuriating character flaws—so we might as well give up the ghost and give in to our own willful way of doing things since we know better than God.
Our self-hatred and hopelessness and fatalism and whatever else conspires to deprive us of our confidence must be submitted to perseverance. Perseverance entails using our freedom to live in the Truth. And the most glorious facts of that Truth are often the most unnerving and paradoxical. Fr. Basil Maturin (+1915) reminds us that “the despair that springs from the sense of one’s own weakness, and the breaking down of resolution after resolution, may be the birth pangs of Christian hope.” Wisdom is knowing right order.
Christ’s Gospel counsel to us is a call to courage. For the chief activity of courage is perseverance … unflinching endurance … clinging bravely to the good of God’s Truth when menaced by daunting pressures. “Temptation will often attack the one grace of perseverance; for it knows well that if it can destroy or weaken this, all else must fail with it” (B. Maturin).
Let’s beg for the grace of perseverance Jesus is so eager to provide:
Oh Master! … I have a feeble, wayward, doubting heart,|
Incapable of endurance or great thoughts,
Striving for something that it cannot reach,
Baffled and disappointed, wounded, hungry;
And only when I hear you am I happy,
And only when I see you am I at peace
(Henry Wadsworth Longfellow).