An example of the true virtue of patience

February 18, 2022 • 3 min

From The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales, page 180
By His friend, Jean Pierre Camus, Bishop of Belley

BLESSED FRANCIS’ TEST OF PATIENCE IN SUFFERING.

One day he was visiting a sick person who, in the midst of intense suffering, not only showed great patience in all her words and actions, but plainly had the virtue deeply rooted in her heart. “Happy woman,” said Blessed Francis, “who has found the honey-comb in the jaws of the lion!”

Wishing, however, to make more certain that the patience she showed was solid and real, rooted and grounded in Christian charity, and such as to make her endure her sufferings for the love and for the glory of God alone, he determined to try her. He began to praise her constancy, to enlarge upon her sufferings, to express admiration at her courage, her silence, her good example, knowing that in this way he would draw from her lips the true language of her heart.

Nor was he deceived, for she, sincere and absolutely patient Christian that she was, answered him:

Ah! Father, you do not see the rebellious struggles of all my senses and feelings. In the lower region of my soul everything is in confusion and disorder, and if the grace and fear of God were not to us as a tower of strength I should long ago have altogether given way and rebelled against God. Picture me to yourself as like the Prophet whom the Angel carried by one hair of his head; my patience, as it were, hangs on a single thread, and were it not for the mighty help God is to me I should long ere now have been in hell.

It is not then my virtue but the grace of God in me which makes me show so much courage. My own part in the matter is but pretence and hypocrisy. Were I to follow my own impulses I should moan, struggle, break out into passionate and bitter words, but God restrains my lips with bit and bridle, so that I dare not murmur under the blows dealt by His hand which I have learnt through His grace to love and honour.

Our Blessed Father, on leaving her sick-room, said to those who were with him:

She has, indeed, true and christian patience. Instead of pitying her for her sufferings we ought rather to rejoice over them, for this high virtue is only made perfect in infirmity. But do you notice how God hides from her own eyes the perfection which He is giving her? Her patience is not only courageous, but loving and humble; like pure balm, which, when unadulterated, sinks to the bottom of the water into which it is cast. Be careful, however, not to repeat to her what I have just said to you lest, by doing so, you should excite in her movements of vanity, and spoil the whole work of grace, whose waters only flow through the valley of humility.

Let her peacefully possess her soul in patience, for she is at peace even in this extremity of bitterness.

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