PART 3 - The Illuminative Way of Proficients
Ch 10 : Patience and Meekness
"In your patience you shall possess your souls."
"Charity is patient." - I Cor. 13:4
Patience, says St. Thomas,(1)l is a virtue attached to the virtue of fortitude, which hinders a man from departing from right reason illumined by faith by yielding to difficulties and to sadness. It makes him bear the evils of life with equanimity of soul, says St. Augustine,(2) without allowing himself to be troubled by vexations. The impatient man, no matter how violent he may be, is a weak man; when he raises his voice and murmurs, he really succumbs from the moral point of view. The patient man, on the contrary, puts up with an inevitable evil in order to remain on the right road, to continue his ascent toward God. Those who bear adversity that they may attain what their pride desires, have not the virtue of patience but only its counterfeit, hardness of heart.
By patience the soul truly possesses itself above the fluctuations of the sensible part depressed by sadness.(3) The martyrs are in the highest degree masters of themselves and free. In patience is met again something of the principal act of the virtue of fortitude: the enduring of painful things without weakening. It is more difficult and meritorious, says St. Thomas, to endure for a long time what keenly vexes nature than to attack an adversary in a moment of enthusiasm.(4) It is more difficult for a soldier to hold out for a long time under a shower of bullets in a cold damp trench than with all the ardor of his temperament to take part in an attack. If the virtue of fortitude bears the blows that may cause death, as we see in the soldier who dies for his country and still more in the martyr who dies for the faith, the virtue of patience endures unflinchingly the contradictions of life.(5) Thus we see that this virtue of patience is the guardian of other virtues; it protects them against the disorders that impatience would cause; it is like a buttress of the spiritual edifice.
Some years ago Americanism spoke rather disdainfully of the so-called passive virtues of patience, humility, and obedience. A good writer replied that they are the twin columns of the moral and spiritual life.
To have patience as a solid virtue, man must be in the state of grace and have charity, which prefers God to everything else, no matter what the cost. For this reason St. Paul says: "Charity is patient."(6)
If the contradictions of life last for a long time without interruption, as happens in the case of a person forced to live with someone who continually tantalizes him, then there is need of longanimity, a special virtue resembling patience. It is called longanimity because of the length of the trial, the duration of the suffering, the insults, all that must be borne for months and years.
As St. Francis de Sales points out,(7) patience makes us preserve equanimity of mind in the midst of the variableness of the divers mishaps of this mortal life. "Let us frequently call to mind," he says, "that as our Lord has saved us by patient sufferings, so we also ought to work out our salvation by sufferings and afflictions, enduring injuries and contradictions, with all possible meekness. . . . Some are unwilling to suffer any tribulations but those that are honorable: for example, to be wounded in battle. . . . Now these people do not love the tribulation, but the honor wherewith it is accompanied; whereas he that is truly patient suffers indifferently tribulation, whether accompanied by ignominy or honor. To be despised, reprehended, or accused by wicked men, is pleasant to a man of good heart; but to suffer blame and ill treatment from the virtuous, or from our friends and relations, is the test of true patience. . . . The evils we suffer from good men are much more insupportable than those we suffer from others." (8)
To practice this virtue in a manner that is not stoic but Christian, we should often recall the patience of Christ on the cross, which surpasses human thought. For love of us He endured the most severe physical and moral sufferings, which came to Him from the fury of the priests of the Synagogue, from abandonment by His people, from the ingratitude of His own, from the divine malediction due to sin, which He willed to bear in our place as a voluntary victim. May the patience of our Savior preserve our souls according to the words of St. Paul: "And the Lord direct your hearts, in the charity of God and the patience of Christ." (9) As a German proverb says, patience yields roses and ends by obtaining all: "Geduld bringt rosen."
When we have to practice this virtue in prolonged trials, we should remember the teaching of the saints, that sufferings well borne are like materials which compose the edifice of our salvation. Sufferings are the portion of the children of God in this life and a sign of predestination: "Through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God," we are told in the Acts of the Apostles.(10) It is essential to know how to suffer calmly without excessive self-pity. Those who share most in the sufferings of Christ will be most glorified with Him.(11) Sometimes an act of great patience before death is sufficient; this is the case of many dying persons who are reconciled to God a few days or hours before their last breath.
"Charity is kind." - I Cor 13:14
Meekness, or gentleness, should accompany patience from which it differs in that it has as its special effect, not the endurance of the vexations of life but the curbing of the inordinate movements of anger,(12) The virtue of meekness differs from meekness of temperament inasmuch as, in widely diverse circumstances, it imposes the rectitude of reason illumined by faith on the sensibility more or less disturbed by anger. This virtue is superior to meekness of temperament, as the virtue of chastity is to the laudable natural inclination called modesty; similarly, the virtue of mercy is superior to sensible pity. Meekness of temperament is exercised with facility toward those who please us and is rather frequently accompanied by ill-temper toward others. The virtue of meekness does away with this bitterness toward all persons and in the most varied circumstances. Moreover, into a just severity that is necessary at times, the virtue injects a note of calmness, as clemency mitigates merited punishment. Meekness, like temperance to which it is united, is the friend of the moderation or the measure which causes the light of reason and that of grace to descend into the more or less troubled sensible appetites.(13) This is so in true martyrs.
Meekness thus conceived should reign not only in our words and conduct, but also in our hearts; otherwise it is only an artifice. As St. Francis de Sales points out, when it is inspired by a supernatural motive and practiced even toward those who are acrimonious, meekness is the flower of charity. "Charity is kind," says St. Paul. The flower is the most beautiful visible part of a plant, that which most draws our gaze, and in spite of its fragility, it has a very important role: it protects the fruit which is forming in it.
Similarly meekness is that which is most visible and most agreeable in the practice of charity; it is what constitutes its charm. It appears in the gaze, the smile, the bearing, the speech; it doubles the value of a service rendered. And besides, it protects the fruits of charity and zeal; it makes counsels and even reproaches acceptable. In vain will we have zeal for our neighbor, if we are not meek; we appear not to love him and we lose the benefit of our good intentions, for we seem to speak through passion rather than reason and wisdom, and consequently we accomplish nothing.
Meekness is particularly meritorious when practiced toward those who make us suffer; then it can only be supernatural, without any admixture of vain sensibility. It comes from God and sometimes has a profound effect on our neighbor who is irritated against us for no good reason. Let us remember that the prayer of St. Stephen called down grace on the soul of Paul, who was holding the garments of those who stoned the first martyr. Meekness disarms the violent.
St. Francis de Sales, who loves analogies taken from nature, remarks: "Nothing so soon appeases the enraged elephant as the sight of a little lamb, and nothing so easily breaks the force of a cannon shot as wool." (14) Thus at times Christian meekness, which inclines a man to present his right cheek when someone strikes him on the left, disarms the person who is irritated. He indeed is the bruised reed; if he is answered in the same tone, he will be completely broken; if he is answered with meekness, he will gradually revive.
St. Francis de Sales also declares: "It is better to make penitents through meekness than hypocrites through severity." In his letters he reverts again and again to advice such as this: "Take care to practice well the humble meekness that you owe to everybody, for it is the virtue of virtues which our Lord greatly recommended to us; (15) and if you should happen to violate it, do not be troubled, but with all confidence, get back on your feet in order to walk anew in peace and meekness as before." Everyone knows that the Bishop of Geneva never tired of saying that more flies are caught with honey than with vinegar. Zeal is necessary, but it should be patient and meek.
We ought, consequently, to avoid bitter zeal, which sermonizes indiscriminately and which has brought about the failure of many reforms in religious orders. Opposing this bitter zeal, which is not inspired by charity but by pride, St. John of the Cross used to say: "There where there is not sufficient love, put love in and you will reap love." (16) We should also note that meekness, which is spoken of in the beatitude of the meek, corresponds, as St. Augustine and St. Thomas state, to the gift of piety.(17) This gift inspires in us, as a matter of fact, an entirely filial affection toward God; it makes us consider Him more and more as a very loving Father, and consequently it makes us see in men, not strangers, nondescript people or rivals, but brothers, that is, children of our common Father.(18) The gift of piety makes us say more profoundly both for ourselves and for others: "Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come. . . ." We desire that the kingdom of God may take more profound possession of us and of our brethren, and this desire brings to our souls a great supernatural meekness which radiates on our neighbor. Indeed meekness, united to this gift of the Holy Ghost, is like the flower of charity.
To practice this virtue well, we should consider it in our Lord. His meekness is manifestly supernatural, springing from zeal for the salvation of souls; instead of diminishing zeal, meekness protects its fruits.
Isaias had announced the Savior, saying: "Neither shall His voice be heard abroad. The bruised reed He shall not break, and smoking flax He shall not quench." (19) In response to Peter's query as to how often he should pardon his brother, Christ said: "I say not to thee, till seven times; but till seventy times seven times." (20) He willed to be called "the Lamb of God. . . who taketh away the sin of the world." (21) At His baptism the Holy Ghost descended upon Him in the form of a dove, another symbol of meekness.(22) Finally, on the cross He pardoned His executioners while praying for them; it is the smile of meekness in the supreme act of fortitude: the smile of the Crucified is the highest expression of goodness on earth.
Often martyrs, like St. Stephen while he was being stoned, followed the example of Jesus and prayed for their executioners. This very great supernatural meekness is one of the signs by which true martyrs are distinguished from the false. False martyrs die for their own ideas or opinions and through pride rebel against suffering; they may be aided in this by the spirit of evil. The connection or harmony of outwardly contradictory virtues is not manifest in them; their fortitude, which is stubbornness, is not accompanied by meekness. True martyrs, on the contrary, practice meekness even toward their executioners and often pray for them, following the example of Jesus. To forget one's own sufferings in order thus to think of the salvation of one's persecutors, of the good of their souls, is a sign of the highest charity and of all the virtues that are harmonized in it.
Let us often, in practice, ask our Lord for the virtue of meekness united to humility of heart. Let us ask Him for it at the moment of Communion, in that intimate contact of our soul with His, of our intellect and heart with His intellect illumined by the light of glory and His heart overflowing with charity. Let us ask Him for it by spiritual communion that is frequently renewed and, whenever the occasion presents itself, let us practice these virtues effectively and generously.
Then we shall see the realization of the words of the Master:
The peace which the Lord gives is above all interior, and we cannot have it without incessant war against our inordinate passions, our pride and concupiscences, against the spirit of the world and the devil. For this reason our Lord, who brings us interior peace, says also: "I came not to send peace, but the sword." (24) How, in fact, can we be humble and meek toward all without doing violence to ourselves? Then we have war on the frontiers of our soul, but peace reigns within. In spite of the demands of God's love, we experience that His yoke is sweet and His burden light. The weight of His burden diminishes with the progress of patience, humility, and meekness, which are, as it were, forms of the love of God and of neighbor in the sense in which St. Paul says: "Charity is patient, is kind; charity envieth not, dealeth not perversely; is not puffed up; . . . is not provoked to anger, thinketh no evil; . . . rejoiceth with the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never falleth away." (25)
It is truly eternal life begun like a prelude of unending
1. Cf. IIa IIae, q.136, a. 1.
2. De patientia, chap. 2.
3. "In your patience you shall possess your souls" (Luke 21: 19).
4. As St. Thomas says, IIa IIae, q. 123, a.6 ad 1um: "Endurance is more difficult than aggression for three reasons. First, because endurance seemingly implies that one is being attacked by a stronger person. . . . Secondly, because he that endures already feels the presence of danger, whereas the aggressor looks upon danger as something to come. . . . Thirdly, because endurance implies length of time, whereas aggression is consistent with sudden movements."
5. Ibid., q. 136, a.4.
6. Cf. I Cor. 13:4.
7. Introduction to a Devout Life, Part III, chap.3 Of Patience.
9. Cf. II Thess. 3:5.
10. Acts 14: 21.
11 Cf. A. de Boissieu, O.P., La Patience chez les saints (ed. La Vie spirituelle).
12. Cf. IIa IIae, q. 157, a. I f.
13. Acquired meekness causes the light of reason to descend into the sensibility; infused meekness, that of grace. The two are exercised simultaneously in the lust man, for the acquired virtue is at the service of the infused, as in the artist the agility of his hand is at the service of his art, or the imagination at the service of the intellect.
14. Introduction to a Devout Life, Part III, chap. 8.
15. St. Francis de Sales speaks thus for he here considers meekness as a form of charity, which is the highest of the virtues.
16. It is interesting to note on this point what was accomplished by a spiritual daughter of St. Francis de Sales, Louise de Ballon, who reformed the Bernardines and founded at least seventeen convents in France and Savoy. Cf. Louyse de Ballon, by Myriam de G. (Desclee e de Brouwer, 1935), in which the author discusses at length the work of this venerable nun and her teaching, which often reminds one of that of St. John of the Cross. Her maxim was: "Do all in the spirit of prayer."
17. De sermone Domini in monte, chap. 4.
18. Cf. IIa IIae, q. 122, a.2.
19. Isa. 42: 2 f.
20. Matt. 18:22.
21. John 1:29.
22. Luke 3:22.
23. Matt. II: 29.
24. Matt. 10:34.
26. Supernatural meekness prepares for contemplation. On this subject
we should recall the following just observation: "The certitude of
being right is no obstacle to meekness of speech. Violence in speaking
the truth indicates the existence of pride. Such a way of speaking is
singularly prejudicial to the views one upholds" (Rene Bazin). Man is
even more separated from contemplation by taking the point of view of
the useful, and not sufficiently that of the honest good. This is,
nevertheless, the course of action of many statesmen and also of many
nations which enter into conflict with each other because each wishes
to consider things "from its own point of view," that is, under the
aspect of its own interest, and not from the general and superior
point of view that would unite people, whereas earthly interests