“And patience hath a perfect work; that you may be perfect and entire, failing in nothing.” (James 1:4)
Patience is a huge – indeed critical – virtue in the spiritual life and for life in general. Consider St. Paul’s description of the many characteristics of love – the first thing he says about love is that it is patient, and the next thing he says is that it is kind (1. Cor. 13:4). Dear God, give me the grace to be patient and kind and I certainly will grow in charity!
Here, then, by the practice of patience, is a simple yet profound way to grow in holiness. To be sure, growth in holiness means, as already mentioned, growth in the love of God and neighbor. All the virtues, including patience, are directed to the fulfillment of Christ’s law of charity. “For all the law is fulfilled in one word: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Galatians 5:14).
So this simple method to grow in holiness is nothing more (or less) than the exercise of patience under adversity for the love of God. Virtue is tested by the people and circumstances of our day to day life. When, for the love of God, we meet these challenges and adversities with patience and meekness, we grow in holiness and sanctifying grace increases within us (see CCC 1266,which explains that the supernatural virtues – including patience – are given to us in the sanctifying grace of baptism, and nos. 2010-2011 pertaining to the increase of sanctifying grace by way of meritorious acts).
The motive for our patience (which is truly a mortification of our self-will) is the love of God, and, secondarily, the love of neighbor. It is this “purity of intention,” as the theologians say, which makes the act of being patient supernaturally meritorious, thus causing sanctifying grace to grow within us, which, as Father Garrigou-LaGrange frequently mentions, can continually increase inasmuch as the precept of the love of God has no limits!
Patience is a power – a supernatural virtue sustained by sanctifying grace. Patience is an exercise of the cardinal virtue of fortitude. “Patience, says St. Thomas, is a virtue attached to the virtue of fortitude, which hinders a man from departing from right reason illumined by faith by yielding to difficulties and to sadness. It makes him bear the evils of life with equanimity of soul, says St. Augustine, without allowing himself to be troubled by vexations. The impatient man, no matter how violent he may be, is a weak man; when he raises his voice and murmurs, he really succumbs from the moral point of view. The patient man, on the contrary, puts up with an inevitable evil in order to remain on the right road, to continue his ascent toward God. Those who bear adversity that they may attain what their pride desires, have not the virtue of patience but only its counterfeit, hardness of heart” (from The Three Ages of the Interior Life, Volume II, Chapter 10).
Now, my friend, get this! The great theologian and Dominican, Father Garrigou-LaGrange, from whom I am drawing the material for this note, specifically states that among one of the three important signs of predestination (there are more than three) patience in adversity for the love of God is one of them. He states:“Therefore, as a rule, among the signs of predestination are…patience in adversity for the love of God (he names love of the poor and love of enemies as two other such signs)”. See The Three Ages of the Interior Life, Volume II, p.395, which, in context, is dealing with the passive purification of the spirit.
Your sure path to holiness and Heaven is patience and meekness under adversity, done for the motive of loving God and neighbor. Father Garrigou-LaGrange mentions that the devil often tempts us to anger, so we should not be surprised if this happens as we try to practice the great virtue of patience. “Love is patient and kind…love bears all things….” (1 Cor. 13:4,23). The corresponding virtue of meekness, says Father Garrigou LaGrange, curbs anger and bitterness. When you feel anger, allow meekness to descend into your anger.
To accomplish this goal of patience under adversity, we will need constant recourse to prayer and fervent reception of the sacraments. The practice of examining our conscience at the end of the day (to mark our progress) is also valuable. In the Eucharist, Jesus shares his life and virtues with us. When we receive Holy Communion, we should specifically ask Jesus to help us grow in patience and meekness.
Remember, “In your patience you shall possess your souls” (Luke 21:19). Pray for the grace to grow in the all- important virtue of patience.
Tom Mulcahy, M.A.
Image: Madonna Under the Fir Tree, 1510, by Lucas Cranach the Elder, Public Domain, U.S.A. For a reflection on the patience of Mary, click on :
References: I am basing this note entirely on The Three Ages of the Interior Life by Father Garrigou-Lagrange. All of my thoughts proceed from this amazing work! Father Faber has an excellent chapter on patience in his Growth in Holiness book, wherein he shows that patience is the “rule” for those of us living in the world. Note that the word “patient” in James 1:4 is also translated as endurance or steadfastness, or one might say, “patient endurance.” According to Father Garrigou-Lagrange, patience is united to fortitude, whereas meekness is united to temperance. The natural virtue of patience, which may be carried out purely for pragmatic reasons, must be contrasted with the supernatural virtue of patience, done for the love of God and neighbor by reason of sanctifying grace (see CCC 1804-1811).
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