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We heard a lot over this past tumultuous, unsettling year about our healthcare and frontline workers especially those in hospitals, needing what is called PPE, personal protective equipment, such as gloves, masks, goggles, while dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.
But I would like to talk about a different type of PPE here, one to provide much needed protection for all of our souls against a different type of virus, a spiritual one that encompasses faithlessness, indifference, and despair, that is plaguing Christianity as well as society at large.
This PPE stands for Prayer, Perseverance and Equanimity. In this regard, I would like to offer a prayer here asking God for His much needed assistance in strengthening our wills to include these three paths to Godliness and sanctity more at this time!
Dear Lord, when I’m fighting against darkness and confusion so often these days, strengthen my will in prayer so that i may persevere in good intentions in following You and doing Your will. Help me to develop and nurture the spirit of equanimity, so that I may keep my thoughts and emotions on an even keel, confident that You are there and will see me through whatever choppy waters or even storms that may lie ahead. Amen.
We see the importance of perseverance in scripture, as well as in numerous examples in both the history of the church and the lives of many of the saints as well.
What is meant by perseverance? Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines it as being a “continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition: the action or condition or an instance of persevering”.
I would add here that showing perseverance means being “in the fight” against sin and Satan, as it were, for the duration, to stay on course in striving to do God’s will and staying in the state of sanctifying grace.
It means not giving up or allowing despondency to take over in your life, especially when the going gets tough. It brings to mind that age old adage “When the going gets tough the tough get going.”
As I mentioned earlier, scripture abounds with examples of this important character trait: Think of St.Paul’s continual and valiant efforts as Apostle to the Gentiles in this regard, even when, as he expressed it once, he was stoned, shipwrecked, scourged, imprisoned, and experienced great hardships from false friends and real foes alike resisting his spreading Christ’s Gospel message (2 Cor 11:21-33).
Think also of our Lord’s parable of the widow and the unjust judge, that Jesus used to instruct his disciples about the importance of praying without losing heart in Luke’s Gospel (18:1-8) in which an unrighteous judge granted her what she wished on account of her persistence.
St. Monica also showed magnificent perseverance in praying for quite a few years for her wayward son’s conversion to our faith. Thankfully, she lived to see him repent of his sinful ways. He was baptized by St. Ambrose at Easter in 387 AD.
You’ve probably heard of him. He went on to become the Bishop of Hippo in North Africa and one of our greatest theologians, the Doctor of Grace and author of his great work Confessions, St. Augustine!
I would like to add here on a somewhat personal note that I see a great deal of perseverance from readers on our website in the "prayer requests" section. My “repeaters'' are not at all shy about posting their requests, especially for urgent needs for their loved ones, on a regular basis.
(Incidentally, feel free to post a prayer request on our site ourcatholicprayers.com.)
Frequent prayer can be the “fuel” for the engine of perseverance. So can equanimity, that is to say, having “composure, especially under tension or strain; calmness; equilibrium”. Or as Merriam Webster’s dictionary puts it “evenness of mind especially under stress”.
Equanimity allows you to stay at an even keel in serving our Lord no matter what the circumstances and to trust in Him to see you through both good times and bad with His grace!
There is a great prayer we have on our site attributed to St. Theresa of Avila entitled, appropriately enough, St. Theresa’s Bookmark, that captures the spirit of equanimity and the patience needed for this trait quite well:
Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing;
God only is changeless.
Patience gains all things.
Who has God wants nothing.
God alone suffices.
Please note, however, that equanimity in the face of trials and tribulations doesn’t mean a mindless surrender of all one’s rational thoughts and faculties. Our Lord did indeed say “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow; for tomorrow will have anxieties of its own” (Matt 6:34).
However, we must still plan for the future for ourselves and our loved ones as best we can. God did give us souls with intellects along with our free will, after all. We are not just beasts governed only by animal instincts.
The point is to ask Him constantly for help and to trust in Him to give you an overcoat of grace in prayer, as it were, to see you through these cold winter days and nights ahead.
Anger and frustration are quite natural emotions given all the economic, social, and political turmoil and confusion we see all around us these days, but beware not to let these get the better of you.
The devil is real and he has no love in him, except for that to see you turn away from God in anxiety, anger, or frustration as you sink into a quicksand of depression and despair.
It’s hard these days, to be sure, but don’t give Satan that opportunity to work on you, feeding your grudges, resentments, or just plain bitter hopelessness, as St. Paul warns us about in his letter to the Ephesians (4:27).
Also, in this regard, watch out for another trap, the Satan's siren songs of sinful seductive sedatives, especially for emotional pain or understandable anxieties you may have about the future.
Drugs, alcohol, and lustful activities might provide some temporary respite, but ultimately they only make matters worse for most of us. Think of the hangover you feel after a night of binging on booze the next morning, for example.
Consider also these other good scripture verses for inspiration: like this one from St. James’ letter in the New Testament: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you” (James 4:7-8).
And then there’s this famous verse from St. Peter: “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time he may exalt you in the time of visitation. Cast all your anxieties upon him, for he cares for you. Be sober, be watchful! For your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goes about seeking someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, knowing that the same suffering befalls your brethren all over the world” (1 Pet 5:6-9).
Think also about St. Paul’s words of perseverance in his second letter to Timothy (4:7) “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith”. This was towards the end of his life. He was referring here to his many years of spreading the Gospel (which was not without hardship, as mentioned earlier), reminding us all in this regard that our spiritual journey is a marathon not a sprint!
As St. James also wrote in his letter: “Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:4).
When you pray for the graces of perseverance and equanimity, you also pray to trust in Jesus, that He will see you through whatever hardships you may encounter in this life in serving Him, especially these days; that He will give you the grace you need to bear with sorrows and will more than wipe away any tears you may have here, (Rev 21:4) in heaven!
So many times you might feel Christ is asleep in your boat (Matt 8:24) as it is tossed and turned by the waves of Covid, economic hardship, and stony indifference, or even hostility, to those of our faith. Yet even if it doesn’t seem as if Jesus has awakened to calm those waters, stay as close as you can to Him in prayer, knowing that he will see you through your stormy weather one way or another.
Our Lord once said that those who stood by Him to the end in serving Him despite persecutions or hardships would nonetheless be saved (Matt 24:13).
Think also of our Blessed Mother’s wonderful perseverance, not only in standing by her son in his agony on the cross at Calvary, but even earlier in seeking Him out when He went missing for three days (Luke 2:41-52).
Jesus Himself well understood better than anyone how fickle and even cruel people could be (John 2:25). Yet He Himself gave us a wonderful model of perseverance echoing that found in Psalm 22 which we hear most often on Good Friday or at other times during Lent and Holy Week.
That stirring psalm starts out with one of the seven last words our Lord uttered on the cross “My God, My God why have you abandoned me?” and includes it details that could well describe our Lord’s misery in those brutal hours on the cross at Calvary.
Yet that desolate tone turns triumphant by the psalm’s end, with the psalmist expressing his faith that the Lord will deliver him from His anguish much as Jesus might well have felt having conquered death with His death (as depicted in the image above) when he said “it is finished (John 19:28) and “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46).
Note as well that in pursuing our particular “PPE” we’re also tapping into the important theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. When you turn away from God in despair, love's opposite passion, hatred, comes far too easily. Likewise, there is a poisonously seductive temptation to say turn away from God in anger for all the evil He seems to allow, or at least not to discourage.
However, as much as we don’t understand God's ways in His permitting evil to exist out of giving us free will to choose to love him, the three theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Love, much like Prayer, Perseverance, and Equanimity can give you the strength and presence of mind for His love and goodness to work in and through you.
These are times indeed when all of us will need what one singer once called a “busload of Faith to get by”. May God help you with the PPE, Prayer Perseverance and Equanimity, to help see you through whatever uncertainty, murkiness, and even desolation may come your way!