It doesn’t happen very often, but every once in a while, I complain directly to God about something that’s bothering me. Last week, my frustration with an ongoing issue finally got to the point that one of my thoughts went up to God in the form of a question: Why can’t you just have an angel appear to me in a dream and tell me what to do? I’m tired of playing these cat and mouse games where I’m always struggling to try to figure out what I should do.
Of course, I immediately felt guilty about addressing God in this manner. Who did I think I was? A prophet? King Solomon? Saint Joseph?
But I get extremely frustrated at times, because while I want to do the right thing, I often feel as though I need specific direction from God. Although I’ve always been good at solving problems, I don’t like it when I have to wait on God to reveal pieces of the puzzle that are needed to solve the problem I’m struggling with.
I’m convinced that one of the primary reasons God operates this way is to teach me the virtues of humility and patience. If He sent an angel to tell me how to solve my problems, I wouldn’t need to learn and practice humility and patience. I would simply wait for instructions from the angel and then take credit for being a special child of God.
Most of us fail to realize that in order to really be humble, we must first suffer humiliations. And we must accept whatever humiliations that come our way with love and gratitude. While humility is the most important of all virtues, the virtue of patience has to be among the top five virtues. Why? Because it’s so difficult to put into practice.
Last week, I wrote about the three grades of patience, which are, to bear difficulties without interior complaint, to use hardships to make progress in virtue, and to desire the cross and afflictions out of love for God and accept them with spiritual joy. It would be impossible to put the three grades of patience into practice if we were to try to do it without God’s assistance.
In order to truly master the great virtue of patience, we need to have a deep understanding of what the actual word itself means.
The word “patience” is derived from the Latin terms patientia, which means “endurance” and patiens, which means “suffering.” The best definition that I’ve seen of the word “patience” came from the Jesuit priest, theologian, and author of more than 40 books on the Catholic faith, Fr. John A. Hardon (1914 – 2000). According to Fr. Hardon, patience is “the willing endurance of suffering.”
There’s a rule that came into existence after the fall of Adam and Eve. The rule is that every human being is destined to suffer. There’s no exception to this rule. Although we all suffer, most of us suffer unwillingly. We do everything in our power to resist and avoid suffering, despite the fact that any intentional effort to avoid suffering is in conflict with God’s plan for us.
According to Fr. Hardon, one of the primary reasons that God became man was so that as a human being, He would be allowed to voluntarily, freely, and willingly choose to suffer. The Son of God did not have to become man. He voluntarily chose to become man, so he could endure suffering.
We automatically become more like Jesus Christ when we voluntarily and patiently endure the suffering that comes our way. In a lot of situations, the suffering we endure is because someone who we care about is unkind, rude, or cruel to us.
If we are willing to imitate Christ and voluntarily endure the suffering that comes our way, we are able to obtain from God the mercy and grace to benefit the person who is causing us to suffer. Our willingness to endure suffering has the power to change other people’s hearts and bring them closer to God.
When we fail to practice patience — by refusing to voluntarily endure suffering — the person who has caused us to suffer may never be given an opportunity to receive the mercy and grace that is necessary for his or her salvation.
We must keep in mind that it was because of our Savior’s willingness to suffer that we have been given the opportunity to someday enter into His Kingdom. By the same token, our willingness to suffer at the hands of another person may be the only way that the person will be given the additional mercy and grace that is needed for him or her to enter into the Kingdom of God.
The industrial revolution brought with it technological advances that ushered in an unprecedented level of abundance, growth, and comfort for the citizens of our country. Unfortunately, the technological advances also gave us the ability to easily choose to avoid suffering.
In today’s so-called modern society, advances in medicine and technology have provided women with the tools to abort their unborn children, so they can avoid the suffering that is associated with pregnancy, raising a child, and dealing with all the undesirable consequences of raising a child.
The birth control pill and other forms of contraception have allowed couples to avoid the suffering that is associated with giving up their freedom and being required to raise and support a large family. The collateral damage that has been caused by contracepting couples has been rampant fornication and adultery, broken marriages, and growing old without having the support and comfort that would have been provided by the children that God had planned for them.
Assisted suicide has gained popularity and respectability because it allows people to avoid suffering that has been preordained by God. People don’t realize it, but the intentional termination of the life of a person who is suffering, prematurely cuts off the delivery of mercy and grace that God planned for the suffering person and his or her loved ones.
Our divorce laws were changed so that husbands and wives could easily avoid the suffering that is associated with putting up with each other. It’s much easier to dump your spouse than to willingly endure the suffering that comes along with living with — and loving — another person.
We are told by counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and life coaches that if we have family members or friends who are “toxic,” that in order for us to be happy, we must eliminate them from our lives. We’re never told that there is great value in voluntary enduring the suffering associated with dealing with those toxic people, so we can earn the mercy and grace that the person needs for his or her salvation.
Mother Angelica had this to say about suffering:
From the time of Adam and Eve, man has tried to escape suffering in any form. It is a mystery to all except the holy ones of God. The Prophets saw it as a call from God to repent. The Apostles saw it as “a happy privilege” to imitate Jesus. Pagans saw it as foolishness. Men of today see it as an evil and try to avoid it, but it follows them wherever they go.
If you want to learn how to practice patience, you must first learn how to willingly embrace and endure suffering.