Patience

Patience is often described as the Benedictine’s fourth vow. It is a theme that occurs again and again in the Rule, where we are reminded that we ‘share by patience in the sufferings of Christ’. (RB Prol. 50) The newcomer to monastic life is to be ‘tested in all patience’.  (RB 58.11) Indeed, patiently bearing with delays and contradictions is one of the signs looked for as the mark of a genuine vocation. It all sounds rather wonderful until one has to practise it. For the plain truth is that patience is hard work. It means embracing suffering, not just stoically putting up with it, and doing so with a quiet heart. (RB 7. 35) Patience requires a great deal of trust and humility as well as self-control.

Patience, trust, humility: these are not qualities that our society cultivates or values very much. We prefer to be self-assertive, thrusting not trusting, testing everything by our own standards and rather despising those who are patient and humble, as thought they were milksops. In fact, it takes real strength of character to be patient, to accept adversity quietly, without anger or upset. Similarly, trust and humility are not for wimps but for those who are brave enough to look themselves in the face and know themselves for what they are.

Today each one of us will be given the opportunity to exercise a little patience, to show a little trust and be a little humble. Are we big enough to meet the challenge?

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9 thoughts on “Patience”

    • I have just embarked on Abraham Heschel’s The Prophets. Your remark fits beautifully with their description. I like the idea of prophet vs. patience.
      On the other hand, I can think of very few prophets around these days (I wish there were more)….
      As I am not a prophet (unless maybe when I want women to have their deserved place in the RCC), it will do me good to practice patience on an hourly basis 🙂

  1. Thank you so much for this. It seems to me that acquiring patience is one of the biggest pastoral demands we ever face. I work with cancer patients and the kind of patience or endurance needed to keep going in very difficult circumstances. It seems to me that we do only acquire patience by doing it. I would love to hear more from you about your practical experience of how one goes about the business of developing our ability to be patient.

  2. Thank you. Today we tend to regard independence as a great virtue, a sign of strength, whereas the truth is that dependence is a harder quality to cultivate, even though that’s the way we’re designed, to live in community, whether enclosed or not. Patience, trust and humility are building blocks of community, aren’t they? And I suppose forgiveness is a part of humility.

  3. Patients do indeed need to learn patience. The endless wait for test results without knowing what the outcome will mean, short term, long term. Uncertainity about the future, the need to accept but at the same time it is not fair to leave chaos to others so there has to be planning – planning in the dark. Great need for the quiet heart.

  4. Thank you for all your comments, and for waiting so patiently for any response from the monastery! (The delay wasn’t intentional, it’s just that we are necessarily preoccupied with fundraising at the moment.)

    I don’t think any monk or nun would claim to be an expert in patience, but Benedict’s core teaching on the subject, found in the fourth degree of humility in chapter 7 of RB, does insist on two elements: the quiet heart which embraces suffering, and the persistence which neither grows weary nor gives up. As Michael correctly pointed out, these are essential to the growth of any community, whether it be monastic, ecclesial or marriage. Forgiveness is important too, as the fourth degree makes clear. We are to bear with false brethren, etc.

    How does this work out in the situation of those faced with terminal illness? I don’t know, but I think that practising patience daily, in the ordinary circumstances of life, does help when we are confronted with something major. We form a habit of it. Of course, individuals often show immense and unexpected resilience in the face of a challenge like cancer, but I wonder whether it is only unexpected because we are blind, half the time, to the good qualities of the people about us.

  5. Thank you for this. My family is often angry with me because they say I am too patient, especially when dealing with service people or when waiting for someone else to deliver good or services. It’s nice to hear that it’s a good thing as well.

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