St. Cyprian shows us to overcome one of the greatest vices of our time.
I once watched my grandfather patiently and painstakingly take apart an old, rusty hinge. He then cleaned it for about an hour and put it back together in working condition. I would’ve thrown it away immediately and bought a new one, but there’s wisdom in his approach. Impatience is, perhaps, the great vice of our time. We drive fast, eat food that’s made fast, and want church to be over fast. It also seems we’re quick to form conclusions about people, want to make money quickly, and grow impatient at those who slow us down in any way.
Although things are speeding up, impatience itself isn’t a new problem. I suspect if I lived thousands of years ago, I still would’ve been angrily white-knuckling my coffee in the chariot while I waited for my kids to find their shoes and pile in so we could finally leave.
St. Cyprian, whose feast day we celebrate on September 14, knows my pain. In Northern Africa in the 3rd century, patience was wearing thin. Christians were being persecuted and the pressure was on to conform. During this time, Cyprian became the bishop of Carthage. The people of the city loved him, but he was elected against the wishes of other bishops. In this atmosphere of persecution and distrust, a major theological argument broke out, and let’s just say that Cyprian said and did some things that he later regretted. His attitude became heated and he stubbornly refused to change his mind, even to the point of publicly disagreeing with the pope himself.
Cyprian has been known ever since as a man with a patience problem, but to his credit he recognized it and tried to amend his ways. He even worked hard on a book called On the Advantage of Patience, in which he offers some pretty tremendous advice on the subject. Cyprian is venerated as a martyr, so we have the amusing situation in which a man famous for being hot-headed is now a saint and is known for giving the best advice around for how to remedy impatience. This really is a case of someone who knows his topic from intimate, first-hand experience.
Cyprian’s advice is simple, really. In order to become more patient, we first have to be convinced about how many benefits there are to it. Life is full of obstacles, and patience is the key to remaining peaceful and happy as we work through them. Cyprian talks about how the drudgery of work, bad health, and evil people can all entice us to act rashly. We often react quickly and end up hurting people we love or making ill-considered decisions we later regret. He advises that big decisions are better made after a time that is “long and greatly deferred,” and he goes on to mention how many other habits such as self-control, peace of mind, devotion to loved ones, and gentleness are all linked to first having patience. It’s incredibly helpful to keep in mind all these benefits to patience when we’re struggling with it. In the end, the payoff for self-restraint is way better than the immediate gratification of a rash action.
One last tip? Cyprian says to remember the times others have been patient with us and how much it meant to us. He especially mentions how God is patient with our mistakes, but we can also consider other people. I know that I appreciate people who’ve given me this gift, and I hope to be able to do the same for others.
As Cyprian puts it, “Wait for each other.”
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