Patience is often mistaken for passivity, says Sister Teresa White FCJ. But it is in fact an active virtue that helps us to be faithful in testing times 4 / n difficult times," wrote Pascal. "you should always carry something beautiful in your heart.It seems to me that these 'words tell us something important about patience, which, in the traditional list of virtues, is set in opposition to anger or wrath.
The word "patience" is derived from the Latin verb patior, to suffer. Though its meaning cannot simply be equated with suffering, there is no denying that patience and suffering are inextricably linked. Patience gives us the inner strength to bear the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (which, as we know only too well, no one can escape) with equanimity and composure instead of anger. To do this, to accept unavoidable suffering, to face struggles and cope with troubles patiently, with peace of soul, would surely be impossible if we did not carry "something beautiful" in the heart.
But authentic patience is not passivity, though many people often link the two, and mistakenly (in my view) treat passivity almost as a synonym for patience. Patience is the ability to endure waiting, pain, delay or provocation without becoming angry. annoyed or upset. It is the ability to persevere calmly when faced with difficulties and adverse circumstances. Far from being a passive virtue, it flows from an active awareness of God's presence in the midst of suffering and disappointment. It is God's presence that is the "something beautiful" the patient person carries in the heart.
Like all the virtues, patience is an admirable human quality to be found in good people of all faiths and none, but Christians naturally see it in the light of the life and teachings of Jesus. Does that mean that patience is different for Christians? The answer is both "no" and "yes". It is probably not different in its outward manifestation — we can certainly see and honour the virtue of patience in people who do not share our beliefs. Yet there is a difference, and a significant one. Patience, for the Christian, is rooted in faith in Jesus Christ. The Letter to the Hebrews, in a snapshot of patient endurance, encourages us not to lose sight of Jesus, "who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection., for the sake of the joy that lay ahead of him, he endured the cross, disregarding the shame of it" (12: 2). Jesus bore suffering and death patiently, without anger or seeking vengeance.
At times, life can become very dark for all of us. It is in those moments that we need to seek meaning in our pain. Patience can help us at least to glimpse a deeper meaning in what happens to us, to begin to understand that things are not always what they seem. Milton discovered the benefit of patience in his life, and famously pays tribute to it in the sonnet he wrote about his blindness. Without meaning, suffering can destroy us. If we find a meaning in it, it can transform us. Patience gives us the space to seek that meaning. In her book Audacity to Believe, Sheila Cassidy describes an experience which illustrates this. After her arrest by the Chilean police in 1975, she was stripped, tied to a bed, and tortured by electrodes attached to her body. Then she was put in solitary confinement for three weeks, and was imprisoned in a detention centre for another five weeks before she was finally released and expelled from Chile. And yet she could write: "I did not hate the men who had hurt us... The freedom of spirit we enjoyed was something that our captors did not possess. Incredibly, in the midst of fear and loneliness, I was filled with joy, for 1 knew that God was with me. and that nothing they could do to me could change that."
Patience has a twin. It is peace. The two go together. Truly patient people are peacemakers. They avoid violence, not with a passive, peace-at-allcosts approach but actively seeking to resolve conflicts calmly, without anger or retaliation. Jesus said of them: "Blessed are the peacemakers: they shall be recognised as children of God."
Of course, patience is not only practised by very saintly people in extreme circumstances, like Sheila Cassidy in her prison. It is called for frequently in our everyday, workaday life — with parents, spouses or partners, with people who like us and people who dislike us, with the sick and elderly, with those who think differently from us or think and act more slowly than we do, with our children, with people pushing in front of us in queues, with drivers forcing us to slow down so that they can get ahead. Sometimes we respond patiently; at other times, as we know only too well, anger, annoyance or frustration get the better of us and we lose our cool.
In fact, amid the constantly accelerating changes of our busily globalising world, patience may well be the virtue that is most called for at the present time. We need that patient trust that we can and will cope, with God's help, and that indeed every little thing will, one day, be all right. In such a context, what could be better than to pray and reflect on Teresa of Avila's little poem, Nada to turbe? It could be seen as a hymn to patience, and is justly famous because it expresses complete confidence that God is present, even in affliction, hardship and difficulty: Let nothing upset you, Let nothing frighten you. Everything is changing; God alone is changeless. Patience attains the goal. Who has God lacks nothing; God alone fills all needs.