Patience for Beginners

The prologue to the Rule of St Benedict ends with a poetic hymn to monastic life and the role of patience within it. But it’s not patience as we commonly understand it: a plodding, unambitious quality which resigns us to accept what we cannot change. It is much more dynamic than that. We ‘share by patience in the sufferings of Christ,’ says St Benedict (Prol. 50). Patience, too, is capable of great and glorious deeds, but they are performed in a different key, have a different end in view, from those we usually associate with courage and derring-do. The patience that opens us up to the action of God in our lives, which transforms us in Christ, goes way beyond resignation. It is a joyful, willed embrace of everything our lives contain, a participation in the redemptive suffering of Christ himself. Patience of this kind never gives up or seeks ways of escape, however tired or weary we may be. It is like Walter Hilton’s Pilgrim, whose answer to every check or contradiction is, ‘I will be at Jerusalem.’

If, just for today, we could each live with patience of that kind, just think how different our lives would be!

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