The expression “he has the patience of a saint” is fitting praise for someone who puts up with difficulty, displaying noteworthy calm and grace when most of us succumb to exasperation and anger. In the way they live their lives, saintly people teach us that it is possible to rise above our proclivity to express impatience when things do not go our way. A patient person willingly suffers the inconveniences involved in waiting for a difficult situation to be resolved. He stays rather than flees; he bears the trouble without lashing out; he even gives thanks to God for the opportunity to show love, and to grow in the spirit of humility, by accepting that which he would rather avoid.
To increase our capacity for patience, we must be subject to trials. When those trials arrive, we should be glad. Exercising patience makes us strong in the Lord. It also attracts favorable attention from anyone who may be watching. God does not want us to be “heroic” show-offs, who perform good deeds for the sake of the praise that may come from others. Yet our lives are meant to be exemplary. We are called to instruct our fellow man in the things of God by living in a Godly way.
As a young priest in a parish in Upper Manhattan I sometimes failed to unlock the doors of the church at 7 AM sharp. One very devout grandmother was always there, waiting patiently to enter. I can still remember her kind smile, and the great tact and love she showed in not scolding me. She always went directly to the life-size crucifix located near the sanctuary, praying there with the spirit of someone who had to speak to God first before beginning her day. If the priest made her wait, well, she would wait without fretting.
I learned from other parishioners that she was greatly loved in her apartment building because of her generosity in taking care of others. She had time to help anyone she could. Patience with a tardy young priest was the fruit of her love of God, expressed in thinking about the needs, and, yes, the failings, of others.
It is much easier to be patient when we think about others more than we think about ourselves. And patience becomes almost second nature when we combine a serious life of prayer with a willingness to put others ahead of ourselves. Love is not only for the admirable and inspiring people in our lives. We should suffer fools gladly (2 Cor 11:19) because so many times we have been fools ourselves. Every time we show a problem person kindness and forbearance—when the more “satisfying” response would have been to dismiss or disparage that living source of annoyance—we achieve the purpose for which God has put us on this earth: “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength. This is the first commandment. And the second is like to it: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mk 12:30-31)
Everyone wants to be happy, but not everyone understands that happiness is the by-product of right living. Happiness necessarily involves doing God’s will, not our own. When we bear our daily crosses with a patience born of love for God and our neighbor, the deep happiness we experience is a sign that we are on the right path in our journey towards Heaven.