Further Reflections after 35th Wedding Anniversary. When I first read Von Hildebrand’s Transformation in Christ at age 21, I was immediately struck by the title of Chapter 12: “Holy Patience.” The beauty and appropriateness of the conjunction of those two words have stayed with me ever since. Von Hildebrand unfolds in the chapter that impatience is a form of self-indulgence and is rooted in an illegitimate claim to sovereignty of the self. Patience, on the other hand, is opposed to all petulance and quarrelsomeness; it is also opposed to fickleness and inconstancy—e.g., if a task or goal seems to require commitment over a long period of time. True patience recognizes the sovereignty of God over our lives and over time, so holy patience is an ultimate act of surrender to God and a concrete expression of our trust and confidence in Him. He says:
Our impatience is a mark that we have quit the status of habitare secum, and are swimming with the current of a predominant impulse or the formal automatism of our nature. There is an analogy with a fit of anger in this type of self-importance, or even more closely, with an act of frivolous swearing and cursing. We then, giving free rein to impatience, stake, as it were, everything on one card and give away our whole person without the sanction of our central and responsible self.
In other words, and viewed from a different aspect, we sever the fundamental link with God that defines the constitution of our life as a creature.
So there is a tendency in impatience to want to denounce the current situation and to “make things right” according to our own perception and timing, regardless of the wider truth of the matter at hand, the rights of others, or the prerogatives of God. Kierkegaard describes this in Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing, under the aspect a person who displays his impatience by being “double-minded” in that he wants things to be “right” but is not so sensitive or concerned about the means he uses to that end:
So it is with all impatience. It is a kind of ill-temper. Its root is already in the child, because the child will not take time for things. With the double-minded one, it is thus clear that time and eternity cannot rule in the same man. He cannot, he will not, understand the Good’s slowness; that out of mercy, the Good is slow; that out of love for free persons, it will not use force; that in its wisdom toward the frail ones, it shrinks from any deception. He cannot, he will not, humbly understand that the Good can get on without him. He is double-minded, he that with his enthusiasm could apparently become an apostle, but can quite as readily become a Judas, who treacherously wishes to hasten the victory of the Good.
Now my point about all this is that in our idealism and imagination we may picture ourselves exhibiting heroic patience in the face of overwhelming evils, pains, and sufferings, showing saintly perseverance as we lovingly carry our cross; whereas, where we really need to show patience is in the “little” daily crosses and difficulties continually arising in our intimate love relationships—spouse and family. The first line of heroism is not great feats in the world, but little things at home—as in St. Therese’ “little way.”
Kierkegaard writes in his journals: “I can joyfully labor against the storm till the blood is ready to spurt out of me; but the wind which blows a grain of dust into my eye can make me so angry that I stamp my feet.” Sometimes we take the so-called little things for granted, assuming that our intimate life with spouse and children will automatically be the ground and support for our heroism in the world outside the home; whereas, in fact, a loving family life must never be an presumed, must never be taken for granted, or it will not last. St. Francis de Sales says: “A courageous man is quite prepared to be despised, criticized, and accused by the wicked, but his virtue is really put to the test when he is treated in this way by those who are good, by his friends and relatives.” In other words, we should neither be surprised nor dismayed to find that we have to bear with one another in our intimate love relationships, not only with strangers or enemies.
So married couples must fight the good fight for their love over time (patience as opposed to fickleness and inconstancy) and not let daily interactions, faults, or pettiness sap the strength from their love (patience as opposed to petulance and quarrelsomeness). Above all, married couples, despite all difficulties, must continually reaffirm that this is their call and vocation: to love one another before God until death do them part (patience as opposed to losing trust and confidence in God and his loving concern for their happiness—as if God made a mistake in calling them to their special love; this is the line of thought that leads to destruction, to rejection of our way to follow Christ on His path to Calvary, to a false self-love). The Curé of Ars writes: “Those who love themselves with a love that seeks themselves and the world—that seeks creatures more than God—are never satisfied—never quiet. They are always uneasy, always tormented, always upset.”
Rather, with St. Paul, we should “put on, therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, a heart of mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, patience. Bear with one another and forgive one another.” (Colossians 3:12)