Patron Saints for the Impatient
Virtually all masterpieces have one thing in common: they were born through patience. As Michelangelo says, “Genius is eternal patience.” From my experience as an artist, patience and calm are essential or it’s usually time wasted. Then again, patience is helpful in every aspect of life. Knowing my shortage, I try to keep good models of this virtue in mind. Here are four saints whose examples have inspired me.
1. Saint Philip Neri (1515-1595)
St. Philip was a Florentine by birth but moved to Rome when he was eighteen years old. After ordination to the priesthood, he ministered at the hospital of San Girolamo della Carità. By nature, St. Phillip was an agreeable person, but he stirred the envy of three persons associated with the hospital- two were sacristans and one a cleric. For two years, they made his life a continual hell on earth. They would hide his chalice or missal, give him dingy vestments, make him constantly wait, and annoy him at every opportunity.
Several persons suggested that Philip should go to another parish, but he was resolved to suffer patiently for the love of God. Moreover, he was determined to let go of all resentment and never complain except to God alone. One day, however, his suffering was extreme. During Mass he fixed his eyes on the crucifix and earnestly prayed, “O good Jesus, why is it that you don’t hear me? See how long a time I have besought you to give me patience! Why is it that you have not heard me, and why is my soul disquieted with thoughts of anger and impatience?”
After this impassioned prayer, he heard Jesus say to him in his soul, "You ask patience of Me, Philip? Behold, I will give it to you speedily, on this condition, that if you desire it in your heart, you earn it through these temptations of yours.” In other words, God grants the gold of patience more abundantly after He sees our effort to practice it. St. Philip’s patience consequently became easy to practice with God's grace and through his exercise of resistance. Not long after, one of his adversaries humbly asked pardon and became a life-long friend.
2. St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622)
St. Francis de Sales was born into nobility in the Duchy of Savoy. He received an excellent education as his father destined him for worldly success. St Francis chose instead to become a priest. Eventually, he became the bishop of Geneva from 1602 until his death. He wrote books that are now spiritual classics, particularly, An Introduction to the Devout Life. With St. Jane Frances de Chantal he founded the Visitation Order.
The Patience of St. Francis
The most patient are often those who have to struggle most against impatience. Like St. Philip, this is comparable to an athlete building muscles by means of resistance. By resisting the impetuosity, annoyances, and tedium of life with calm, one grows little by little to be patient. St. Francis’ example in this regard is especially admirable. By nature, he was fiery and temperamental, but through constant training, he became as calm as the moon. As a bishop, he received many persons each day, pestering him with requests or questions. Once, a certain nobleman visited and asked him for a special favor. St Francis gently explained how it was not possible. The quick-tempered man accused him of duplicity and even threatened him. St. Francis tried to use calm words but received even more insults. When the man left, St. Francis’ acquaintance who was present wondered how he held back his anger. St. Francis said he understood that this person was a friend and was only speaking through his anger. Rather than respond with impatience he simply diverted his attention to other matters and so remained calm.
Quite frequently, an elderly lady visited him with questions about religion. Although he had thousands of other concerns, St. Francis always treated her with kindness and patiently answered all her inquiries.
His Advice to Acquire Patience
Examples of patience abound from St Francis’ life, but equally helpful are his wise counsels. Here are a few gems, “Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset.” Again, “Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections, but instantly set about remedying them - every day begin the task anew.” “Dispose your soul to tranquility in the morning, and be careful during the day to recall it frequently to that state, and to keep your soul within your control.” He frequently recommends meditation on Christ’s sufferings as a means to acquire patience: “When it is our lot to suffer pain, trials, or ill-treatment, let us turn our eyes upon what Our Lord suffered, which will instantly render our sufferings sweet and supportable.”
3. St. Zélie Martin (1831-1877)
St. Zélie is a good example of 19th century multitasker; she was a busy wife, mother, businesswoman, and letter writer. However, she did not become a saint simply by being busy; she gave high value to her spiritual life, for example, attending 5:30 am daily Mass with her husband, Louis.
St. Zélie possessed great energy and intelligence. She learned the art of lace-making known as Point d’Alençon, and became a successful businesswoman. She employed a number of lace makers, whom she personally trained; she sketched patterns and supplied drawings for them, took orders, and tactfully dealt with customers and suppliers.
Point d’Alençon is an extremely refined craft requiring great care to execute well, and in this, St. Zélie excelled. However, the work could be taxing: “I have much trouble with this wretched Point d’Alençon,” she says, “it is true that I gain a little money, but, oh dear! At what a cost!”
Mother of Nine
Mothers accomplish one of the most important tasks on earth. Today’s children shape tomorrow’s world. Yet motherhood is also a great school of patience. St. Zélie gave birth to nine children. She lost three infants and a five-year-old girl. Her five surviving daughters all became nuns, and one is the so-called “greatest saint of modern times,” St. Thérèse. However, her third child, Léonie, was a problem child par excellence. Whereas four of her daughters were little darlings, Léonie was a black sheep: stubborn, temperamental, and a slow learner.
St. Zélie’s correspondence has many references to this problematic child; “Léonie gave us a terrible time all day yesterday. She took it into her head to go to Lisieux, and she would not stop screaming.” Again, “If only one could succeed in getting the better of her stubbornness, and rendering her character more flexible, we could make her a good daughter…She has a will of iron.” She wrote to her sister-in-law, “I am very satisfied with my two eldest children, but it saddens me deeply to see Léonie as she is. Sometimes I hope for her, but often I am discouraged.”
Did St. Zélie despair of this child? No, she did not stop praying and hoping; “I doubt that anything short of a miracle can change her nature. The more difficult she becomes, the more I become convinced that the good Lord will not leave her like this. I will pray so hard that I know He will relent.” Indeed, God gave in and answered her persistent prayers beyond imagining. Léonie eventually became a very holy Visitation nun. In 2015, her cause towards canonization began in France where she received the title of Servant of God.
Battle with Cancer
In her youth, St. Zélie received a sharp bruise on her breast. This had repercussions later in life, as she developed a malignant tumor, which eventually led to her death at age 45. Her patience during this trial was exemplary. She continued to work as long as she could. Without the help of medicines to alleviate her pain, she suffered very keenly.
“Every change of position means incredible suffering for her,” wrote her daughter, Marie “for the least movement makes her utter piercing cries. And yet, with what patience and resignation she is bearing this dreadful disease. Her beads never leave her fingers; she is praying constantly in spite of her sufferings.”
St. Zélie is an excellent example for all who have tedious work to accomplish, a difficult child, or a battle with physical suffering.
4. St. Thérèse Martin (1873-1897)
If you cornered me, I would have to admit: St. Thérèse is probably my favorite saint. She is witty, wise, and charming. Moreover, she learned the secret of patience from her mother, St. Zélie. However, I especially admire that her virtue came at a great price, because she was a super-sensitive soul. She therefore felt more keenly the rough corners of convent life.
The Fidgeting Nun
During the hour of meditation, she knelt near a nun who could not stop fidgeting, especially with her rosary. Because of her sensitive hearing, this caused St. Thérèse to break into serious perspiration. She wanted to turn around and simply impale the culprit with one look.
Then one day she found peace in the situation; “Deep in my heart,” she says, “I felt that the best thing to do was to put up with it patiently, for the love of God first of all and also not to hurt her feelings. So I kept quiet, bathed in perspiration often enough, while my prayer was nothing more than the prayer of suffering! In the end, I tried to find some way of bearing it peacefully and joyfully, at least in my inmost heart; then I even tried to like this wretched little noise. It was impossible not to hear it, so I turned my whole attention to listening very closely to it, as if it were a magnificent concert, and spent the rest of the time offering it to Jesus.” She found peace by bearing with it as an expression of love for God.
The Splashy Nun
Human nature naturally shrinks from annoyances, but St. Thérèse embraced them as treasures. “Another time,” she explains, “washing handkerchiefs in the laundry opposite a Sister who kept on splashing me with dirty water, I was tempted to step back and wipe my face to show her that I would be obliged if she would be more careful. But why be foolish enough to refuse treasures offered so generously? I took care to hide my exasperation. I tried hard to enjoy being splashed with dirty water, and by the end of half an hour, I had acquired a real taste for this novel form of aspersion. How fortunate to find this spot where such treasures were being given away!” The wisdom of the saints seems foolish indeed!
Mistress of Novices
The Prioress of her monastery placed St. Thérèse in charge of the novices’ formation. It was her duty to correct their faults and listen to their concerns. There were five novices under her charge, all with very different personalities. This task required a cartload of patience to work with them. “Ever since I took over the noviciate, my life has been one of war and struggle,” she wrote to her Prioress.
One of the novices, Sr. Marie of the Trinity had a problem with crying. St. Thérèse could have said, “You know Sr. Marie, you’re a big girl now, what’s your problem!?” Rather, Sr. Marie tells in her own words how St. Thérèse dealt with her: “One day she had a brilliant idea: taking from her painting table a molding shell and holding my hands so I could not wipe my eyes, she started to gather my tears in the shell. Instead of continuing my crying, I could no longer keep from laughing. ‘All right,' she said, 'from now on you can cry as much as you want, providing you cry into this shell.’” By her patience, St. Thérèse helped Sr. Marie gain control over her sensitiveness.
Her Last Months
St. Thérèse died slowly from tuberculosis at age twenty-four. Treatment for this disease in those days was somewhat primitive. The doctor administered difficult treatments such as having her drink creosote, along with the application of mustard plasters, and pointes de feu, or hot needles applied to her back. Contending with flies was another part of her troubles. She suffered from intense thirst and became a skeleton through an inability to hold down food. The worst of her physical sufferings was the experience of suffocation, as her lungs were disintegrating. In addition, she passed through a trial of faith during these months, where God seemed absent. While some saints find strength in looking forward to the joy after sadness, she could only remain patiently in the present moment.
God the Artist
Does God allow persons to experience vexations in life for some purpose? I believe God is the supreme Artist, and as such wants to bring His ultimate creation, the human person, to perfection. This, I believe, occurs in the studio of patience. “By your patient endurance you will gain your souls.” (Luke 21:19)
“For we are His Masterpiece”
In order for God to make a masterpiece of our soul, He needs our patience and our trust. Fr. Jean-Pierre de Caussade illustrates this in his classic, Abandonment to Divine Providence. He compares God to a sculptor creating a stone sculpture. “If the stone were asked, ‘What is happening to you?’ it would reply if it could speak, ‘Do not ask me, I only know one thing, and that is, to remain immovable in the hands of my master, to love him, and to endure all that he inflicts upon me. As for the end for which I am destined, it is his business to understand how it is to be accomplished; I only know that whatever he is doing is best and most perfect, I accept this skillful master’s treatment of me without knowing or troubling myself about it.’”
God uses our very exercise of patience to create His masterpiece. When there is trust in Him, patience becomes much easier to practice, knowing that He is the Artist, and “we are His masterpiece.” (Eph 2:10)
Which example was most helpful?
The Life of St. Philip Neri: Apostle of Rome, by Card. Alfonso Capecelatro.
An Introduction to the Devout Life, By St. Francis de Sales.
An article with more facts about Sts. Louis and Zélie Martin.
Léonie Martin: A Difficult Life, by Marie Baudoin-Croix, 1993, Veritas
The Story of a Soul, the Autobiography of St. Thérèse of Lisieux.
Counsels and Reminiscences of St. Thérèse.
Abandonment to Divine Providence, by Père de Caussade.
The 1st collage Image of St. Phillip Neri is from the Wellcome Collection.
© 2018 Bede