Editor’s note: This is part three of a four-part series on hymns used in parishes at Advent. Four music ministers from parishes in the Diocese of Green Bay have agreed to describe one of their favorite Advent hymns and how it is used during Advent liturgies.
It has been said that patience is a virtue and the word patience is defined as the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble or suffering without getting angry or upset. These are ideas that we probably don’t associate with the season of Advent, which usually speaks of “joyful waiting.”
But it is just those sentiments which are conveyed in one of my favorite Advent songs, “Patience, People,” composed by Jesuit Fr. John Foley. My first experience with this song was back when I was a teenager and playing the organ for Mass. I remember being struck by the message of this song. The lyrics of this song are based on James 5:7-9, 11:
Be patient, therefore brothers, until the coming of the Lord.
See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and late rains.
You too must be patient. Make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not complain, brothers, about one another, that you may not be judged. Indeed we call blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of the perseverance of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, because “the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” — The Catholic Study Bible, 2nd edition.
Fr. Foley has incorporated a simplicity, a calmness and steadfastness in this piece of music. In our chaotic world, this song calls me to block out all of that chaos and to focus on what is really important: my relationship with Jesus Christ and to wait patiently for his return and to be prudent in my preparation for when he does come again.
The season of Advent calls us to turn away from what is going on around us and to put our faith and trust in God and to wait and to persevere in following him especially if he is delayed and we are suffering.
Another aspect of this song that I can relate to has to do with having been raised on a dairy farm, the years I have witnessed the tremendous trust that the farmer must put in God. As a good steward of the earth, the farmer prepares the soil, plants the seeds and then depends on God to provide the sun and the rain for the growing of the plants until harvest.
Even though, at this time of the year, the farmer does not plant, he is planning the next year’s planting and wondering as the land lays fallow what God will provide in another growing season. Year after year, the farmer perseveres. Some years the harvest is better than others, but through it all God provides.
I find it curious that this piece of music is in a minor key, with hints of the harmonic and melodic form of the minor key signature depending on which accompaniment you use. As a musician, I am always concerned with sound and the use of the minor forms catches the ear, reminding me of the part of the world that Jesus lived in. I don’t know if that is what Fr. Foley intended, but that is how I interpret it.
Again, the season of Advent is supposed to be a season of “joyful waiting,” but the darkness and peacefulness of this music strikes a chord within me that tells me to be patient and to persevere. Recently I heard a rather curious observation in the creation of the world. When God created the light out of the darkness, it is said that God had to be there in the darkness to create the light out of it. I find that comforting to know that God is with us in our darkness and it is out of our darkness that he creates our light so we can shine for the rest of the world to see.
Since this is the darkest time of the year in daylight, Christ shines forth and I am reminded of what St. John says: “I must decrease, so that he may increase.”
One more observation, having just finished the Jubilee Year of Mercy: The second verse of this song speaks of God’s compassion and mercy. God, in his infinite goodness, gives us these wonderful gifts which we need to ask for daily and to wait for patiently. So we sing, “Patience, people, till the Lord is come. Patience, people, for the Lord is coming.”
Strnad is director of music at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Green Bay.