The Life of Virtue – Patience

The Life of Virtue – Patience

‘Wait your turn – patience is a virtue you know!’ How many times have we all heard patience being referred to in those rebuking tones? Of all the virtues patience is perhaps one of the most widely referred to in everyday life but it is often done so glibly and with little real thought. However, the virtue of patience is of great importance in our everyday lives because no day passes without some measure of suffering, however small. Patience or patientia in the Latin is formed from the same root as pati which means ‘to suffer’. For Aquinas, suffering or grief formed the matter of patience and true patience can help us both to withstand and to overcome those evils which cause us to suffer. “It is necessary for a virtue to safeguard the good of reason against sorrow, lest reason give way to sorrow: and this patience does” ( IIa IIae, q.136 art 1). These sufferings can be great or small and our lives are full of trial, for instance we may be confronted with disagreeable tasks at home or at work or indeed disagreeable people! We may have to bear the burdens of ill health or find that the close friendships we have forged seem to be breaking down because the more we give of ourselves, the more we expose our shortcomings, the more likely we are to cause irritation!

If we are to endure and ultimately overcome these sufferings we need to practice the virtue of patience and the only way to become a patient person is to make acts of patience. In prayerfully disposing ourselves to humbly accept the trials we face and the burdens we must bear, we can cultivate this very Christian virtue. Difficult though it is, we must see these hardships as God-given opportunities for us to acquire patience. If we shy away from every difficult or disagreeable situation, if we fail to accept the cross in our lives, then we not only deprive ourselves of the opportunity to practice patience and thus grow in holiness but leave ourselves open to greater evils and the sufferings they bring. We must trust in God and face our trials. As St Paul reminds us “everything written before our time was written for our instruction that we might derive hope from the lessons of patience and the words of encouragement in the Scriptures” (Rom 15:4).

It is certain that this is no easy virtue to cultivate. Sometimes we will fail but we must persevere and we must remember that we do not do so alone. God’s love for us is beyond our understanding and we must turn toward Him in love and humbly ask Him for the grace we so deeply need. As Aquinas states, “Patience, insofar as it is a virtue is caused by charity…from which it is clear that patience cannot be obtained without the help of grace” ( IIa IIae, q.136 art 3). St Paul also insists that “charity is patient” (1 Cor 13:4.) and so we must recognise our acts of patience as being rooted in love and learn to humbly trust God to give us the grace we need to suffer for love of Him.

Graham Hunt OP