Although courage is needed to face or to undertake hard tasks, it is even more necessary in order to persevere in them, above all when they are unpleasant or of long duration, and it is impossible to avoid or change them. In this sense, St. Thomas teaches that the principal act of fortitude is not to attack but to stand firm in the midst of dangers, and to endure struggles, opposition, privations, and persecutions with a virile spirit.
In the spiritual life we meet not only difficulties which can be surmounted and overcome once and for all by a strong act of courage, but we encounter—and this much more frequently—difficult, painful situations from which it is impossible to escape, and which willingly or unwillingly we must face. There are physical ailments which exhaust us, and prevent us from extending our activity as we would wish; there are moral sufferings caused by our own temperamental deficiencies or by contact with persons who are opposed to us or do not understand us; or again, there is the pain of seeing our loved ones suffer without our being able to relieve them; there is the experience of separation from our friends, and loneliness of heart. There are also spiritual troubles due to aridity, interior darkness, weariness of mind, temptations, and scruples. In addition to these, there are all the problems, fatigue, and difficulties inherent in our everyday duties. We know that all these things are planned by God for our sanctification and our good; nevertheless, that does not prevent us from feeling the weight of them; suffering is never pleasant, and though we will to accept all for the love of God, we are sometimes tempted to react, to give up, to shake off the yoke, or we are weighed down by sadness and discouragement. What remedy is there? There is the one which Jesus suggested to the Apostles after telling them of the persecutions they would have to endure: “In patientia vestra possidebitis animas vestras,” in your patience you shall possess your souls (Lk 21:19). Patience is the virtue which permits us to live in a state of suffering, hardship and privation without losing our serenity. It enables us to remain firm amid storms, contradictions, and dangers, without becoming irritated or despondent, without being deterred by them.
“O Jesus, the duty of souls admitted to Your intimacy is to suffer with You, to raise the Cross on high, not to allow it to leave their hands, whatever the perils in which they find themselves, and not to let themselves be found wanting in suffering.
“Now that You have shown me what a signal blessing it is to suffer trials and persecutions for Your sake, I find I cannot cease from desiring trials; for those who follow You must take the way which You took, unless they want to be lost. Blessed are their labors which, even here in this life, have such abundant recompense!
“O Jesus, what greater proof of Your love could You give me than to choose for me all that You willed for Yourself? To die or to suffer: this is what I should desire” (Teresa of Jesus, Way of Perfection, 18 ~ Life, 33-11).
“O Christ crucified, You are sufficient for me; with You I wish to suffer and to take my rest! Grant that I may be crucified with You inwardly and outwardly, and may live in this life in the fullness and satisfaction of my soul, possessing it in patience.
“Teach me to love trials and repute them of small account to attain Your favor, O Lord, who hesitated not to die for me. O my Beloved, all that is rough and toilsome I desire for myself, and all that is sweet and delectable I desire for You” (John of the Cross. Spiritual Maxims: Points of Love 13,8,15,52).
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Art: Teresa of Avila [mirror], Peter Paul Rubens, 1615, PD-US copyright expired, Wikimedia Commons. Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, mirror from open source material.