Friday, July 18, 2014

Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene on Patience

[871] Although courage is needed to face or to undertake hard tasks, it is even more necessary in order to persevere in them, above all when they are unpleasant or of long duration, and it is impossible to avoid or change them. In this sense, St. Thomas teaches that the principal act of fortitude is not to attack but to stand firm in the midst of dangers, and to endure struggles, opposition, privations, and persecutions with a virile spirit.

In the spiritual life we meet not only difficulties which can be surmounted and overcome once and for all by a strong act of courage, but we encounter—and this much more frequently—difficult, painful situations from which it is impossible to escape, and which willingly or unwillingly we must face. There are physical ailments which exhaust us, and prevent us from extending our activity as we would wish; there are moral sufferings caused by our own temperamental deficiencies or by contact with persons who are opposed to us or do not understand us; or again, there is the pain of seeing our loved ones suffer without our being able to relieve them; there is the experience of separation from our friends, and loneliness of heart. There are also spiritual troubles due to aridity, interior darkness, weariness of mind, temptations, and scruples. In addition to these, there are all the problems, fatigue, and difficulties inherent in our everyday duties. We know that all these things are planned by God for our sanctification and our good; nevertheless, that does not prevent us from feeling the weight of them; suffering is never pleasant, and though we will to accept all for the love of God, we are sometimes tempted to react, to give up, to shake off the yoke, or we are weighed down by sadness and discouragement. What remedy is there? There is the one which Jesus suggested to the Apostles after telling [872] them of the persecutions they would have to endure: "In patientia vestra possidebitis animas vestras," in your patience you shall possess your souls (Lk 21:19). Patience is the virtue which permits us to live in a state of suffering, hardship and privation without losing our serenity. It enables us to remain firm amid storms, contradictions, and dangers, without becoming irritated or despondent, without being deterred by them.

Christian patience is not the forced resignation of the fatalist or the philosopher who submits to suffering because he cannot escape it, nor is it the attitude of one who submits because he is not able to react through lack of strength and resources; it is the voluntary acceptance of suffering in view of God and eternal happiness, an acceptance sustained by the knowledge that suffering is absolutely necessary to purify us from sin, to atone for our faults, and to prepare us to meet God. Christian patience incites us to accept suffering serenely, and gradually to esteem and love it, not because we see it as an end in life, but rather as a necessary means for attaining the end, which is love of God and union with Him. If Jesus willed to live a life of martyrdom and to die on the Cross in order to kindle the fire of charity in us and restore us to friendship with God, how can we expect to attain the plenitude of love and intimacy with God if we do not follow in His footsteps? "Christ, therefore, having suffered in the flesh, be you also armed with the same thought," cries St. Peter (1 Pt 4:1). Let us embrace suffering, then, with the same sentiments which Jesus had: to do the heavenly Father's will, to atone for sin, and to give Him proof of our love.

Christian patience is not merely a passive attitude in the face of suffering; it is also active and voluntary. The latter is the more important because it is this which makes suffering meritorious. A patient man is passive because he wills to be passive, because he uses his free will to submit to all the sufferings which he meets on his way, because he voluntarily bows his shoulders under the yoke of suffering, just as Jesus bowed His under the weight of the Cross, because He willed to do so, "quia ipse voluit" (Is 53:7). A Christian is not a forced Cyrenean, but a willing one, not in the sense that he goes spontaneously in search of suffering—this would not be feasible for all, and sometimes would be imprudent—[873] but in the more modest sense whereby he accepts willingly all the suffering which he encounters on his way, recognizing in this the Cross offered him by God for his sanctification. [...]

[874] Patience is a virtue of primary importance and daily necessity. As we need bread to live, so every day, even every moment, we need patience, because every day and every moment brings with it its own trial. We become patient by making acts of patience, that is, by accustoming ourselves to accept peacefully all that contradicts us and makes us suffer. If, however, instead of accepting annoyances, we use every means possible to avoid them, we shall never acquire patience. For example, we may at our work come in contact with someone who clashes with us, or we may be given a difficult or disagreeable tasks; if under these or similar circumstances we do our utmost to free ourselves as soon as possible, asking for a change, we are depriving ourselves of a precious opportunity prepared for us by God Himself to make us practice the virtue of patience. In certain cases it is lawful and even a duty to represent our problems to our superiors and to ask humbly for a solution, but we should never insist on obtaining one at all costs. On the contrary, we should think that divine Providence has arranged these circumstances to help us acquire the patience we do not yet possess. St. Philip Neri once complained to Our Lord because he had to deal with an extremely insulting, disagreeable person. Our Lord replied to him interiorly, "Philip, you have asked for patience. Here is the means of acquiring it."

God will surely give us the virtue we ask of Him, but only on condition that we make use of the means He gives us, and apply ourselves to practice that virtue with the help of His grace. Whoever wishes to become a saint will not be anxious to avoid opportunities for practicing patience, but will welcome them, recognizing in them the means offered by God for his sanctification. And how can a mere creature dare wish to make any change in what has been [875] ordered "in measure, and number, and weight" (Wis 11:21) by God's infinite wisdom?

God can draw good out of evil; therefore, He can, and in fact does, use our faults and even our sins and the sins of others, to make us practice patience: patience with ourselves, seeing ourselves so frail, so imperfect, so prone to fall, yet humbly recognizing our faults and bearing their consequences peacefully; patience with others, being indulgent toward their frailties, compassionating the weaknesses of each one, and accepting without irritation the discomfort and sufferings caused by their faults. For example, when anyone disturbs or provokes us, we must not stop to consider his manner of behaving, for that would rouse our indignation, making it more difficult to practice patience. Instead, we should turn our gaze away from the creature to fix it upon God who permits this contradiction to make us advance in virtue. We should also avoid complaining about our sufferings to others, or even to ourselves. Complaints always make the heart bitter, rendering it ill-disposed to accept trials calmly. "To suffer and be silent for You, my God" (St. Teresa Margaret of the Sacred Heart of Jesus) is the motto of the patient soul who wishes to conform its conduct to that of Jesus in His Passion: "He was offered...and He opened not His mouth" (Is 53:7). If we feel the need of a little help in bearing a trial, let us speak of it only to those who will encourage us to suffer for the love of God, and not to those who will give us merely human consolation and sympathy, thereby nourishing our resentment toward those who make us suffer.

All the saints were eager for the occasions of suffering which we so eagerly avoid. Let us consider St. Jane Frances de Chantal who chose to live for many years in her father-in-law's house, amidst the disrespect and calumnies of a servant who also attempted to endanger her children's welfare. Let us think of St. John of the Cross who being free to choose the monastery in which he would spend his last days, gave the preference to one whose superior was hostile to him. These are examples of the heroism of the saints, to be sure—but heroism from which no soul of a good will is excluded and to which everyone is called by God, heroism for which we too, if we really wish to be generous, must prepare ourselves by lovingly accepting everything which causes us suffering. [...]

[877] To become a saint, it is not enough to be courageous and patience and to practice the other virtues for a few days or a few months, or even for a few years. We must persevere in these dispositions to the end of our life, never yielding to fatigue, discouragement, or laxity. This is the crucial point for, as St. Thomas says, "to apply oneself for a long time to a difficult task—and virtue is almost always difficult—constitutes a special difficulty" (Summa IIa-IIae, q. 137, a.1); and it is only by overcoming this difficulty that we shall be able to reach perfection. We are not angels, we are human beings. The angel, a pure spirit, is stable by nature; if he makes a resolution, he holds to it; but this is not the case with us. We, being composed of spirit and matter, must suffer the consequences of the instability and fluctuations of the latter. As stability is characteristic of spirit, so instability is characteristic of matter; hence it becomes so difficult for us to be perfectly constant in the good. Although we have formed good resolutions in our mind, we always feel handicapped by the weakness of the sensible part of our nature which rebels against the weariness of sustained effort, and seeks to free itself from it, or at least to reduce it to a minimum. Our bodies are subject to fatigue; our minds are disturbed by emotions which are always fluctuating. That which at once moment fills us with enthusiasm may, at the next, become distasteful and annoying to such a point that we think we can no longer endure it. This is our state while on earth and no one can escape it. However, God calls us all to sanctity, and since sanctity requires a continual practice of virtue, He, who never asks the impossible, has provided a remedy for the instability of our nature by giving us the virtue of perseverance, the special object of which is the sustaining of our efforts. Though fickle by nature, we can by the help of grace become steadfast.

[878] There are two types of perseverance. The first is so perfect that it never wavers, it is always inflexible, maintained even in the most difficult and unexpected circumstances. This is the perseverance of heroic virtue, of souls who have reached the state of transforming union, who habitually live under the influence of the Holy Spirit. It is the beautiful goal to which we can and should aspire, though we cannot attain to it by the practice of virtue alone; only the continual intervention of the gifts of the Holy Spirit can completely overcome the instability of our nature.

The second type is the perseverance practiced by fervent or even perfect souls who do not as yet enjoy the habitual motions of the Holy Spirit, and whose perseverance, therefore, shows some fluctuations, more or less slight, according to the degree of perfection of the soul. In this case perseverance does not consist in remaining perfectly stable in good, but rather in constantly beginning again as soon as any failure is recognized. Sometimes just a momentary inattention, an unexpected happening, a little weariness or emotion, is enough to make us commit some fault that we had sincerely resolved to avoid at any cost, and here we have failed again! This, however, is no reason for being discouraged or sad; rather it is a motive for humbling ourselves, for recognizing our weakness and begging more insistently for God's help to rise at once and begin again. Because our human nature is so unstable, our perseverance will usually consist in continually beginning again. This is the perseverance to which we should all attain, because it depends on our good will, in the sense that God has infused this virtue in our soul, giving us at every moment sufficient grace to practice it. It is not in our power to free ourselves from this instability of our nature, and therefore we cannot avoid every slackening in virtue, every negligence, weakness, or fault; but it is within our power to correct ourselves as soon as we perceive that we have failed. This is the kind of perseverance that God demands of us, and when we practice it faithfully, and are always prompt in rising after each fall, He will crown our efforts by granting us the supreme grace of final perseverance.


Source: Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene, Divine Intimacy, trans. by Discalced Carmelite Nuns of Boston (Rockford, IL: TAN Books, 1996), 871–878.

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