Fausto Gomez OP
Thomas a Kempis tells us that patience is necessary because we have to face many adversities in this life (cf. Imitation of Christ).
What is the road to patience?
God is patient with us. The omnipotent and merciful God is patient with his creation, with his creatures, especially the human being. God’s patience “is shown in his mercy towards sinners” (Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia). Jesus was most patient through his life, and dramatically, incredibly patient through the last days of his passion and death. How awesome his piercing cry from the cross! Father, “why have you, abandoned me.” Jesus tells his disciples to be patient: “By your patience you will gain your souls” (Lk 21:19).
God the Sower is patient with the weeds in our souls and the souls of others. Jesus says: “Let both of them [the wheat and the weeds] grow together until the harvest” (Mt 13:30). Likewise, we ought to be patient with those who, on the journey of this life, inflict wounds to our souls. God gives us chances and graces to improve our lives, and He forgives us always. And so ought we to do: we forgive others every day and thus practice hope in ourselves and in others. Indeed, forgiveness is a call to patient hope.
As children of God and disciples of Jesus, Christians are asked to imitate the patience of God and of Jesus, God’s Son, divine and human. They ought to be patient with all others, their brothers and sisters. To be patient with others entails to respect them and the rhythm of their journey of life. Romano Guardini writes incisively: “Mature responsible life begins with our accepting people as they are.” This does not mean that we are saying yes to the evil they may be doing. No, we accept their reality and try gently to walk with them and help them to grow in goodness and love – and patience. Impatience with others, with those around us, wound our relationships with them, and may be a manifestation of our anger and pride.
PATIENT WITH OURSELVES
We ought to be patient with ourselves to be able to be patient with others: no one gives what s/he does not have. In an enlightening article on patience, Guardini affirms: “Patience with ourselves is the foundation of all progress.”
To be patient with ourselves entails radically the acceptance of ourselves as we are. We do not like some aspects of our life and we want to change them for the better. How? First, by convincing ourselves wholly, in a determined manner, that this change will make us better and happier. And second, by acting appropriately, that is, by performing good deeds little by little, “slow by slow” – patiently! Without the second step, the first will remain an abstract good intention, a useless dream. As an outstanding marathon runner says, “It is not a question of running fast, but of finishing the race” (Kathrine Switzer).
Change, renewal is not easy. It requires time, perseverance and hope. But it is possible. The two poles of our existence are “being” and “becoming”: to become what we are as human beings and as Christians by the path of purifying love.
A recurring objection – or a justifying excuse – to change is this: I am like that, I cannot change. Have I really tried to change? Am I ready to make some needed sacrifices to change the selfish direction of my life? It is important to note that patience alone cannot obtain the wanted change.
The virtues are connected and each needs the help of others to be fully practiced. The virtue of patience needs the help of its closest virtue, namely perseverance: both are parts of the seminal cardinal virtue of fortitude or courage. It is, too, a characteristic of the virtue of hope, which is patient. And, moreover, patience needs – like every other virtue – the fundamental help of love, which is like the form and moderator of all virtues – and also patient! “Charity is the tree of love, the essence of which is patience and benevolence with the neighbor” (St Catherine of Siena).
At times, we may lose patience and become impatient when we are tempted to believe that God is absent from our lives and seems deaf to our petitions. We may even then look and ask for extraordinary signs or miracles. Instead, we pray to feel the presence of God in our life and events, including in our present or future days of darkness. (By the way, in dangerous times in particular, some rest and a bit of good humor help us deemphasize sadness and anger, and give us the ability to patiently receive the usual punches of life). “Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him” (Ps 37:7).
Among the first Christians, there were some who were impatient because the Lord was taking too long to come back (his promised Second Coming). In our time, the problem may be the opposite: some of us, perhaps, do not seem to care much about his Second Coming or even eternal life, although the terrible pandemic we are all suffering has shown us dramatically the glaring reality and nearness of death – of our own death.
True believers endure sorrows and sufferings for the sake of God and the good to come – eternal happiness: “Whatever happens to you, accept it, and in the uncertainties of your humble state, be patient, since gold is tested in the fire, and chosen men in the furnace of humiliation. Trust in him [in God], and he will help you” (Sir 2:4-6).
In her well-known poem, St. Teresa of Avila invites us all to be prayerfully patient: Let nothing disturb you. / Let nothing frighten you; / all things pass away. / God never changes. / Patience obtains all things; / he who has God / finds he lacks nothing. / God alone suffices.
(Photo: Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya, world’s most decorated marathon runner, by Paul Childs/Reuters)