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Ways to cultivate patience as a shield against suffering

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Daniel Esparza - published on 04/28/24

Patience is not the endurance of hardship: it’s the moral strength to endure suffering without succumbing to paralyzing grief.

Tom Petty famously sang that the waiting is the hardest part. Anyone who deals with delays or is enduring hardship can attest this is the case. But why is patience so difficult? And how can we cultivate this crucial virtue? Another “Tom” might have the answer. The 13th-century philosopher St. Thomas Aquinas offers profound insights into the nature and cultivation of patience in his Summa Theologica.

Aquinas considers patience to be a cornerstone of virtue. It is not simply the endurance of hardship: It is the moral strength to endure suffering without succumbing to paralyzing grief. Patience acts as a shield, protecting our reason from the paralyzing effects of despair and ensuring that we don’t abandon the path of goodness when faced with challenges.

While everyone may exhibit some form of patience, Aquinas emphasizes that true patience comes from a deep love of God, nurtured by divine grace. This love for the spiritual good allows us to prioritize virtue and endure suffering, knowing that it ultimately serves a greater purpose.

An essential partner of fortitude

Aquinas positions patience as an essential partner of fortitude, a virtue that enables us to face fear and danger. Fortitude gives us the courage to face external threats, while patience provides the inner strength to endure the emotional distress that often accompanies these challenges. Imagine a brave knight facing a dragon — let’s say, St. George. Fortitude gives George the courage to charge, but patience sustains him as he endures the fear, pain, and exhaustion of battle.

Aquinas is the master of subtle distinctions. He also distinguishes patience from longanimity, although both involve enduring hardship. Longanimity, he says, is specifically concerned with the frustration of delayed desires or goals. It’s the virtue that helps us persevere when the good we seek seems out of reach.

Imagine a scientist tirelessly searching for a cure, or an athlete who can’t manage to jump the desired distance. Perseverance keeps them both going despite repeated setbacks, fueled by the hope of eventual success. Patience, on the other hand, has a broader scope. It encompasses the ability to endure all kinds of evils, great and small, in the pursuit of virtue.

Cultivating virtue

So how do we cultivate this essential virtue? Aquinas wouldn’t suggest seeking out suffering, but he would advocate practices that build resilience. Here are a few ways to build your patience muscle.

1. Practice gratitude: Reflecting on the good things in your life, even in the midst of challenges, fosters a positive outlook and reduces the bitterness that can fuel impatience.

2. Develop empathy: Stepping outside your own perspective and trying to understand the struggles of others can cultivate compassion and tolerance, making your own hardships seem less overwhelming.

3. Embrace small challenges: Start by practicing patience in everyday situations. Wait your turn calmly, deal with minor frustrations without getting upset, and gradually build up your tolerance for discomfort.

4.Seek inspiration: Read stories of perseverance or observe the patience of inspirational figures. These examples can serve as a source of motivation and guidance on your journey.

By incorporating these practices into your life, you can cultivate the patience that enables you to face challenges with strength, compassion, and commitment to your goals.

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Catholic LifestyleChristian virtuesSaints
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