As I gaze out my window I see sunshine, blue sky and a summer breeze moving the leaves on the trees. For me, it is an idyllic scene. Nonetheless, both in person and in the media I have encountered dramatic images coming from areas north and east of the Syracuse metro area of road closures and destruction caused by unprecedented flood waters. On a recent trip to the North Country, I encountered firsthand the flood waters as I approached the northeast corner of the state. Also in a week’s time, the basement of the family homestead would be swamped at least three times by torrential downpours and my father’s garden has a lake-like look to it these days.
Certainly, our prayerful support goes out to those affected by this major flooding and to the countless emergency personnel and Good Samaritans trying to assist those in need in this time of disaster. Moreover, the gift of patience will be needed in the rebuilding process, and so we pray for this gift for those who will need it, but also for ourselves who could benefit in different ways from it.
Patience — as my mother would tease me over the years — “possessed by a woman but seldom by a man!” In her jest, one also finds an immediate examination of conscience. How is my patience these days?
Fr. John Hardon’s Modern Catholic Dictionary defines “patience” this way: “A form of the moral virtue of fortitude. It enables one to endure present evils without sadness or resentment in conformity with the will of God. Patience is mainly concerned with bearing the evils caused by another. The three grades of patience are: to bear difficulties without interior complaint, to use hardships to make progress in virtue, and even to desire the cross and afflictions out of love for God and accept them with spiritual joy. (Etym. Latin patientia, patience, endurance; from patiens, suffering.)”
Throughout the Catechism of the Catholic Church, one encounters references to the different grades of patience. Patience is to be found in “purity of heart” and one’s attempt to make progress in this virtue through modesty in one’s relationship with self and others (see #2533). It is found also in trusting in God in every circumstance and adversity as illustrated in the prayer of St. Teresa of Avila: “Let nothing trouble you / Let nothing frighten you / Everything passes / God never changes / Patience obtains all / Whoever has God / Wants for nothing / God alone is enough.”
Finally, patience is to be located in the “Parable of the Persistent Friend” (see Lk 11:5-10) as it demonstrates acceptance of inconvenience and even of affliction out of love for neighbor and the ultimate joy it fosters.
Nonetheless, the question remains for me, how can I grow in patience? As Saints, like Kateri Tekawitha (July 14) and Monica (August 27) remind the Church universal, such patience is to be found in prayer.
The lives of both these holy women are testaments to the power of prayer first and foremost in seeking patience to deal with the adversities and challenges facing them. Such prayer would be the source of both strength (fortitude) and solace (patience) in dealing with family tribulations and even persecution, while pursuing their own growth in Gospel living and discipleship. Kateri would become an authentication of the Christian life for her neighbors, including fellow converts and believers. Monica would lead her wayward son (St. Augustine) to know Christ.
A second way to grow in patience is through humility and paying attention to one’s own sinfulness and shortcomings. This allows compassion, kindness and patience to grow in an individual while not closing the door of accompaniment to one we may be tempted to write off in life.
A third way is to follow the Ignatian concept of agere contra — to do the opposite you are tempted to do when faced with impatience, ill will or frostiness towards another person. It reflects the adage “to kill with kindness” whose ultimate goal is to let kindness reign — “Thy Kingdom come.”
Finally, patience with God and self will assist a person not to give up on what may seem impossible. As St. Paul would reveal in his Second Letter to the Corinthians: “Therefore, that I might not become too elated, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me” (12:7-9).
My grace is enough … my grace is sufficient for you! I often think of these words when faced with my own shortcomings and wondering how I might get the patience to deal with others. This is why, too, a prayer attributed to the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr is often on my lips: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
In a world where we seem too often “to fly off the handle,” this time of summer renewal may be a good moment for us to check our response to the less than idyllic situations that arise in life; and examine where we might gain the fortitude to be patient on such occasions. It was just such behavior that literally allowed the Saints down through the centuries, including Kateri and Monica, to move mountains and others closer to the Kingdom of God and our Savior, Jesus Christ.
God’s blessings as your summer journey continues!