Patience is often called the Benedictine’s fourth vow. ‘We share by patience in the sufferings of Christ,’ says St Benedict in the prologue to his Rule. What he didn’t say was how difficult that can be. Saints aren’t made as easily as instant coffee. Indeed the process of sanctification seems to consist of much scouring and scooping out, lots of good intentions that end in failure, and the apparently endless plodding on. But is that what makes it hard? I don’t think so. Patience is hard because it is, as the word implies, suffering. It is not stoicism or endurance, a way of coping with pain, it is being exposed to pain itself— and we naturally shrink from that. The pain we can talk about or share with others is probably not the pain we feel most acutely. It is the things that keep us awake in the small hours or send a cold chill down our spine that often inflict the most searing pain, and our not being able to share them makes the suffering worse. Is it pointless? Again, I don’t think so.
As we move closer to Holy Week we focus more and more on Christ’s inner life. Now and then we get glimpses of what fidelity to the Father cost: the misunderstanding of those he held most dear, their abandonment of him in his loneliest hour, the physical torment of his passion and death. Was he afraid that he might not be strong enough to bear it all? Did he fear ultimate failure? We don’t know. We don’t know what patience meant for him, but we do know this. Whatever we are called upon to bear, we bear it in union with him; and because we bear it in union with him, it is not pointless. Christ did not fail, and provided we hold fast to him, we shall not fail, either. Patience may not be easy, but it is our way into that saving dynamic, to the joy of Easter and eternal blessedness.