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The Saints’ Guide To Patience

From St. Albert the Great, a Doctor of the Church, this guide from The Paradise of the Soul defines and directs the faithful on the virtue of patience. In our overstimulated, fast-paced culture, patience is a rarity. More than this, it is misunderstood. It isn’t just the ability to wait, but the virtue to endure unjust suffering and to love our enemies. 


What Is Patience?

True and perfect patience consists in the readiness to sustain difficulties, hardship, and injustices—not only when one deserves them, but even when they are completely underserved. Thus perfect patience was exemplified by blessed Job, who declared, “I have not sinned, and yet I see bitterness everywhere I look!”

Patience While In A State Of Grace

It is, of course, more difficult to tolerate hardships and injuries when one does not deserve them and is innocent of all fault. Nevertheless, having a clear conscience can sometimes impart a certain sweetness and serenity in enduring adversities and ill-treatment. 

And so Saint Peter exhorts us, “Let none of you suffer for being a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or an interferer in other persons’ affairs.” 

Enduring Unjust Suffering

But if anyone endures ill-treatment for being Christian, then he gives glory to God, in whose name he suffers. It is better to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For what merit is there in sustaining a beating if you deserve it for having done some wicked deed? But to suffer patiently for doing what is right is meritorious and pleasing in the sight of God.

That form of patience is particularly praiseworthy which is ready to tolerate injuries quietly, not only from enemies, but even from those who are friends or are considered to be good people, and to tolerate suffering not only when one has done something wrong but even for doing good acts.

The soul which bears adversities with patience in the midst of unjust circumstances is especially beloved by God and becomes like a lily among thorns. Now, a lily, when it is pierced by thorns, loses none of its radiant whiteness, but it even emits its perfume more sweetly and more powerfully than before it was pierced. Thus it is with the soul which suffers unjust hardships. For it retains the brilliant hue of a pure conscience, but adds to it the sweet and holy fragrance of holy patience.

The Example Of Jesus Christ

It is a sign of genuine patience not only to tolerate hardships and difficulties which come but even to desire them for the sake of the love of God. This is to follow the example of Jesus Christ, who (speaking through the words of the psalm) said, “My heart awaits for sorrow and misery.”

The truly patient soul will not murmur or grumble in the midst of adversities, following the example of Job, who refused to speak a word against God even when struck by dire misfortunes. Rather, he rejoices with a grateful mind, blessing equally the name of the Lord who “gives and who takes away.”

The genuinely patient person does not seek to excuse himself from injustice and calumnies but commits himself to God in all things, with confidence that God will vindicate his innocence in His own good time. Thus it was that when Jesus Christ was interrogated by Pilate, He offered no reply or excuse for Himself. The truly patient person does not complain about what he is called to endure, thereby seeking relief in expressing himself in complaints and expressions of suffering. Rather, he reveals his sufferings to God alone, until the faithful Lord Himself brings him spiritual consolation.

Three Ways to Cultivate Patience

Awareness of Our Sins

There are three useful considerations that contribute powerfully to the cultivation of the virtue of patience. The first consideration is to recognize that because of our many sins and failings, we rightly deserve the most bitter of punishments and that whatever sufferings we sustain during our mortal life serve to alleviate what is our due. 

The Extremity of Christ’s Suffering

The second consideration is to bear in mind how long-lasting and dire were the sufferings born by Christ, who was completely innocent, and that, in comparison, whatever we are called to endure is but light and passing. 

The Heavenly Recompense That Awaits Us

The third consideration is to recognize that God is perfectly just, and so whatever we suffer for the sake of His name, or whatever we suffer through no fault of our own, He shall certainly make generous recompense for. This recompense for suffering shall be the delights, happiness, and joys which await us in the next world. Thus it is that the apostle Paul confidently declares, “Whatever we suffer in the present life is light and momentary, compared to the sublimity of eternal glory prepared for us.”

Signs Of Patience

A proof of true and humble patience is not to take revenge on those who cause our sufferings, even when the opportunity presents itself. This should go even so far as preventing others from acting on our behalf, following the example of David. For he prevented his soldiers from killing Shimei, who hurled stones and curses at him as he passed by, and called him a “man of blood.”

The truly patient person has no thought for revenge and retribution, but even prays for those who injure him. In doing this, he emulates the example of Christ, who prayed for the forgiveness of those who crucified Him, and Saint Stephen, who prayed for mercy for those who stoned him. Such prayers are heard by God with great delight, and He never fails to answer them. Thus it was that the prayers made by David, Christ, and Stephen on behalf of their persecutors were all received and granted by God the Father.

Signs Of A Lack Of Patience

A sign of a lack of the virtue of patience is when a person is quick to abandon whatever good works or acts of piety he could and should do as soon as he finds himself suffering any kind of hardship. To do this is to lose all reward from God, both for the good works themselves and for enduring adversity. And this attitude can very easily conceal itself in subtle ways. But it is in reality the most dangerous form of impatience there is. For by withdrawing itself from works of charity or acts of piety, the impatient soul seeks to avenge itself upon the innocent and merciful God.

Prayer To God For Patience

Why, O Lord, am I so quick to complain whenever I suffer any injustice or insult, or feel that I have been judged unjustly? If I keep in mind how many times and how seriously I have offended You and sinned against You, then I shall realize that I truly deserve most of these things which I suffer in this mortal life, and even much more. Let me reflect frequently that it is Your great mercy, O Lord, which permits me to undergo the light and passing trials and adversities of this present life in order to avoid the immeasurably graver and longer-lasting pains of purgatory or hell!

Lord, bestow upon me strength and spirit so that I may bravely tolerate whatever afflictions I encounter; for without Your grace, my own fragile flesh is surely destined to fail. Help me to endure all false judgments, unfounded suspicions, groundless gossip, and unmerited injuries. May I quietly accept such sufferings without murmuring or interior complaint and resentment but rather find joy and peace in innocence and purity of conscience. Keep me ever mindful of Your love and Your passion, and grant that I may be strengthened in my own patience by consideration of these. Make me even desire whatever cross You choose for me, knowing that to live and die while bearing my own cross is to live and die in union with You. Amen.

This article is taken from a chapter in The Paradise of the Soul by St. Albert the Great which is available from TAN Books

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