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If we were to ask a holy man or woman what the greatest virtue is, I would imagine that most would respond that the greatest virtue is Charity.  There is little disagreement about it, thanks to St. Paul, and thanks to almost every wedding, where we hear 1 Corinthians 13 read!

However, if we were to ask a holy man or woman what the foundational virtue is, there would be more variety. Some saints would say it is humility; some would say obedience; some, faith.  The Church Father Tertullian, on the other hand, says that the foundational virtue in the spiritual life is Patience. “The good health of faith, and the soundness of the Lord’s discipline, accrue not easily to any unless patience sit by his side,” he says, “So is patience set over the things of God, that one can obey no precept, fulfill no work well-pleasing to the Lord, if estranged from it.  The good of it, even they who live outside it, honor with the name of highest virtue.”

Now if you were to mention to anyone who knows me well that I am writing about patience, they might laugh in your face. And they would be right to! But my aim isn’t so much to talk about external patience as it is to talk about internal patience—the patience of the soul before God (though the two are certainly related). I can think of no better example of this kind of internal patience then Saint John Paul “the Great.”

John Paul’s mother died when he was just eight years old, leaving him with just his father and brother, both of whom would also die relatively soon. His university studies were interrupted when the Nazis closed his school. Several of his good friends, being Jews, were taken away never to be seen again. And even when the Nazis left, the Soviets did not make things much better for John Paul and the Church.  They were bitter enemies of organized religion, and sought to blot out the Catholic culture of Poland in favor of a Communist worldview. 

Throughout all this, however, John Paul chose to be patient. He continually turned to Christ. When his mother died, he knelt before an image of Mary, and said to her, “You must be my mother now.” It would lay the foundations for his future motto “Totus Tuus Maria” (Mary, I am totally yours). In silent, patient opposition to Communist leaders, he visited Poland and held an outdoor Mass which drew over one million people, and initiated the fall of the Soviet Union in Poland. John Paul did not aggressively further any of his own plans, but left everything in the hands of Jesus and Mary.

Patience is a necessary virtue in everyone’s life. We often grow impatient with God because he hasn’t given us the break we were looking for. You might be stuck in the same job you thought you’d be out of by now; you might have a child that is still struggling in school, even though you've worked hard to help him or her improve; you might have a difficulty in a friendship that is still not ironed out; or you might have a vice that it seems you've been working against forever, and no help seems to come. We might also have lost patience with ourselves, to which St. Francis de Sales says, “Have patience with all things, but first of all with yourself.”

Let us pray for patience, and follow after Jesus’ own example. “Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps...he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:21, 23). Jesus, Mary, St. John Paul, St. Francis de Sales, help us to be patient in all things. Amen.

Thomas Skinner

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