When we speak of this or that virtue, we are speaking not merely of this or that aspect of goodness, but of a certain stability in that regard. For example, one can practice patience in an isolated incident or situation, but the virtue of patience indicates a habit of so acting.
In a previous issue of THE ROSARY, LIGHT AND LIFE (Vol. 46. n.3) we spoke of “The Infused Virtues and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.” We explained there in detail the difference between the acquired (or natural) virtues, and the infused (or supernatural) virtues. We will not repeat that discussion here, but merely state that the mature Christian has both the acquired and the infused virtue of patience. The ACQUIRED virtue of patience assists us to exercise that virtue as directed by the natural light of reason; while the INFUSED virtue of patience enables and disposes one to exercise that virtue as directed by reason enlightened by faith. This latter involves a whole new dimension to the practice of patience, a whole new outlook, a whole new reason for practicing patience as we will presently see.
THE ACQUIRED VIRTUE OF PATIENCE
The word “patience” is derived from the Latin word pati, which means to suffer, to endure, to bear. Already that tells us much about the nature, meaning and necessity of the virtue of patience.
Patience is one of the moral virtues that comes under the general virtue of FORTITUDE. We saw in the above-mentioned article that fortitude is a virtue that “strengthens the soul to sustain and overcome the difficulties and dangers that beset us in our moral lives, and keeps us from giving up when the going is hard. It brings a strength of soul that is required of every virtue.”
Speaking of the virtue of patience as akin to fortitude, St. Thomas Aquinas states: “A person is said to be patient ... because he acts in a praiseworthy manner by enduring things which hurt him here and now and is not unduly saddened by them.” (II II,136,4, ad 2).
Patience helps one to encounter frustrations, disappointments, contradictions, privations, sickness, hardships, etc. (all of which cause pain) without losing his serenity, without becoming irritated or despondent. It helps one not to be upset by trivial incidents however unpleasant in our daily lives and thus not lose peace of soul. It is a virtue that everyone is called upon to exercise frequently.
“If we reflect upon the number of times each day that we are confronted with situations, persons and things that displease us and make us sad, we can see how often patience is needed .... It is important because it prepares the way for the practice of all the other virtues. Virtuous action is usually difficult and likely to cause sorrow on the sense level. Patience, by moderating the emotion of sorrow, removes one of the serious obstacles to the practice of the other virtues. All virtues owe something to patience, and no one can long follow the path of virtue without it.” (The Christian Life, Francis Cunningham, O.P., p.697)
Patience is the ability to keep control over the impulse that rises suddenly when something disagreeable happens. It is not just disregard of or indifference to life’s daily irritations or upsetting incidents, but a real control of self, of one’s feelings and impulses. On the contrary, impatience is the lack of self-control, and leads to other and greater faults. It can easily grow into anger, irritability, harsh words, unpleasantness towards others, etc. Many a serious quarrel starts with impatience over little annoyances or inconveniences. Fr. Walter Farrell, O.P. gives the reason for this:
“Patience is one of the humble, workaday virtues; but it is, in a real sense, the root and guardian of all virtues, not causing them, but removing obstacles to their operation. Do away with patience and the gates are open for a flood of discontent and sin.” (Comp. to Summa, III, 394)
Yet, if patience is an important virtue, and much needed in daily life, it is not an easy virtue, for it demands much watchfulness over our emotions and impulses. It is acquired by slow continual repetition of patient control - in spite of many failures. It is unfortunate, however, that many do not grasp the value of patience, for its natural fruit is calm of mind. The soul of the patient person is not at the mercy of every chance happening.
THE SUPERNATURAL VIRTUE OF PATIENCE
So far we have spoken of patience on the purely natural level, in order to explain what the virtue consists in. The exercise of that virtue, however, on the purely natural level is a very difficult virtue to cultivate, since it is not easy for one without faith to see the advantages of enduring with serenity the pain and sorrow that are inseparable from the conflicts, frustrations, irritations, setbacks, sickness, etc. of human existence. The second Vatican council emphasizes this truth: "Through Christ and in Christ light is thrown on the enigma of pain and death which overwhelms us without His Gospel to teach us." (Gaudium et Spes, n.22)
One with a strong faith in Christ and His redeeming mission, on the other hand, not only sees that our Divine Savior paid the debt of mankind by His suffering and death, but gave to suffering a redeeming value when borne in union with His. Such a one sees that every dark cloud has a silver lining.
The supernatural virtue of penance brings into play the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, as well as the infused moral virtues and Gifts which we discussed in the above-mentioned issue. In the rest of these reflections we will be speaking of the virtue of patience as perfected and elevated by those infused virtues and Gifts of the Holy Spirit.
A) Patience and Divine Providence
There is a close connection between Christian patience, and awareness of and trust in the Providence of God; an awareness that there is nothing that happens in our life except that God foresees it, allows it, and can bring good out of it if we trust in His loving and all-wise concern for each of us.
The practice of Christian patience requires that everything be seen in the light of faith, that everything that happens in this life is permitted by God, and for our own good. Whether life’s trials and suffering come from human causes or natural causes, it is foreseen by God and allowed for our spiritual purification and growth. But it takes a deep faith in God to be aware of His hand in all such matters, and a strong trust and love of God to accept His will in patience, i.e. with an interior serenity of mind and heart. Such a one understands the words of St. James the Apostle:
“My brothers, you will always have your trials but, when they come, try to treat them as a happy privilege; you understand that your faith is only put to the test to make you patient, but patience too is to have its practical results so that you will become fully-developed, complete, with nothing wanting.” (1:2, Jer. Bible)
This acceptance of God’s will does not prevent us from feeling the suffering of the occasion, any more than Our Lord’s acceptance of His Father’s will eliminated His suffering in the Garden of Gethsemani. There His suffering was so intense that His sweat became as drops of blood. But that awareness and acceptance of God’s will begets interior peace and serenity, enabling one to maintain self-control. That is what it means to be patient.
In order to begin the practice of patience, one must try to bear daily annoyances and hardships without complaint, knowing that God’s Providence does not permit any trial that will not be a source of good for us if endured patiently. Without doubt, in the beginning we will experience a repugnance to suffering of any kind. Nature itself recoils from it. Yet, in time one will become aware of a real spiritual profit that comes from it, a growing awareness of cooperating with our Divine Savior in atoning for sin, our own and that of others. But we must begin with the humble and uncomplaining acceptance of what God provides in the course of our daily life. Even small trials of life borne in patience merit a reward, i.e. an increase of grace. The person who is unaware of the chastening discipline of these trials misses one of the best opportunities of spiritual growth.
Patience is not to be confused with indifference or stoic passivity to all that happens. The patient person is able to endure much because he sees the challenge of the cross, and wills to do so. He accepts the cross, not because forced - as did Simon of Cyrene, but freely - as Jesus did. He knows that the Lord will provide all the chastening discipline he needs for spiritual growth in the circumstances of daily life, if only he will accept them.
B) Patience and the spirit of the world
For those who seek their happiness mainly in this life, anything that brings adversity, duress or pain is to be eliminated, as if this earthly life were the one and only chance of happiness. As St. Paul pointed out, the whole message of the cross does not make sense to the worldly mind. Still today, to some it is a stumbling block, to others it is foolishness (I Cor. 1:23). So many have rejected the Christian explanation of the sorrows of life for which we are promised an “imperishable heritage” (1 Pet.1:4) in the life to come.
“Since so many learned men have been scoffing for a hundred years at an ‘imperishable heritage,’ we need not wonder that so many psychiatrists tell their patients that chastity breeds nervous disorders, that patience is bad for them. Their argument against patience is that, by uncomplaining sufferance of many annoyances, people pile up within themselves a huge psychic potential, a thunderhead of inhibitions, which will work great psychological harm, unless they constantly release it by direct irascible action. So if a man is annoyed at the breakfast table because the toast is burned, let him pound the table a bit, if he dare.
“But the word of God is not confounded by the false wisdom of the learned of this world, nor is the eternal law of human conduct made void by men’s follies, no matter how much these are multiplied. Faith and reason tell us that ‘through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God’ (Acts 14:21). No psychologist has better advice to offer than the succinct words of Christ: ‘By patient endurance you will save your lives’" (Lk. 21:19). (Thomas Higgen, S.J. Helps and Hindrances of Perfection, p.97)
CHRIST, OUR MODEL
We should reflect often on the infinite patience God has with us. Time and again we resolve to correct this or that fault - only to fall again; and each time the Lord patiently awaits our return to pardon us again. He is so patient and understanding with our weaknesses and falls that some may imagine that He pays little attention to them, or is little concerned about them. Nothing could be farther from the truth. His love for us enables Him to patiently await our return, like the father of the prodigal son; and He bids us: “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn. 15:12) .... that is, be patient in whatever you suffer from the weaknesses and falls of others, as I am patient with your weaknesses and repeated falls.
This does not mean that we condone the falls of others, any more than the justice of God overlooks our falls. His justice demands a turning back to Him, and a payment (temporal punishment due to sin) that remains to some extent after pardon. But it does mean that we be patient with the frailty of others, and not expect an immediate and total conversion, for we ourselves are not perfect in the amendment of our own lives.
Nor does the enduring of the trials of life with patience mean that we should not defend ourselves or others against some unjust action, or remind another of something that is out of line. It refers more to those cases where emotion takes over and blinds us to the hand of God providing an opportunity of patience and self-control, and our hurt pride causes us to respond in an impatient and uncharitable way.
Nowhere can we find a more perfect model of patience than Christ during His passion. He is the very Lord and Maker of the creatures who abused Him so ignominiously. He who could call upon “more than twelve legions of angels” (Mt. 26:54) to annihilate his enemies, allows Himself to be roughly bound and brought before the High Priest, where false accusations are made against Him. Without resistance He accepts the judgment of Pilate who condemns Him to death. He submitted silently to the terrible scourging at the pillar, and the painful humiliation of the crowning with thorns. No complaint escaped His lips when the soldiers spat in His face, knelt before Him in mockery hailing Him as king, and struck His crowned head with a reed. Without complaint He accepted the cross and bore it to Calvary, where He endured three hours of the most unspeakable torture until death. He submitted to all these outrages without complaint out of love for His Father, who willed this redemptive sacrifice for the salvation of mankind with all its painful and humiliating details. “Yes, Father,” was the silent response of Christ through it all.
OUR LADY NEEDS OUR PATIENCE
It is clear from what we have said that, as a rule, each time we act impatiently we have squandered an opportunity of making a little oblation to God that could be a source of grace. If one can only become aware of the opportunity that each little trial presents, (some little delay, setback, humiliation, disappointment, etc.) and try to accept what God’s infinite wisdom and love has provided, it would contribute much to spiritual growth. If one cannot do so, he will be missing one of the main channels that God uses in testing us and in bringing about our purification. Accepting with patience these upsetting incidents will not only eliminate quarrels, harsh words and ill feelings, but will enable one to maintain a peace of soul, knowing that our acceptance of what God allows will only contribute to our good. It changes what would have been an act of impatience, into one that merits an increase of grace.
If only one could breath a silent “Yes, Father,” when things go against the grain, and give that offering to the Mother of God, she could do much with those little sacrifices to help souls in need. Our Lady made known at Fatima that “many souls are going to hell because there is no one to make sacrifices for them.” We don’t have to go in search for opportunities for sacrifice. They are built-in our daily lives. If we could only recognize and accept with patience the hand of the Divine Physician using the daily ups and downs that we encounter to heal our hidden attachments and provide opportunities for atonement, we would make rapid progress in the spiritual life. Too, we would be cooperating with the Mother of God who needs those little sacrifices (the fruit of patience) to save the souls of her children who have lost their way.
St. Paul, who knew so well the meaning of the cross and suffering in following Christ, also knew how essential patience is in bearing that cross:
“We boast of you in the Churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations you are enduring.” (2 Thes. 1:4)
“We can boast about our suffering. These sufferings bring patience, as we know, and patience brings perseverance, and perseverance brings hope, and this hope is not deceptive, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given us” (Rom. 5:3-5).
"When...persecution comes our way, we bear it patiently." (I Cor. 4:12)
"The cross of Christ, though it has become to many a stumbling block and foolishness (1 Cor. 1:23) remains for the believer the holy sign of his redemption, the emblem of moral strength and greatness. We live in its shadow and die in its embrace. It will stand on our grave as a pledge of our faith and our hope in the eternal light. (Pope Pius XI)
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