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In the school of the Holy Family – the virtue of longanimity

Imitating the Holy Family means imitating the virtues of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. One of them is the virtue of longanimity, which allows you to look at other people the way God does. The virtue of longanimity is foresight in looking at difficult interpersonal relationships in the hope of the ultimate victory of good.

In the school of the Holy Family – the virtue of longanimity

There are people who have formed this attitude of patience, gentleness and forbearance for themselves, or rather they have allowed God to shape it within them. Catherine, whom I met in the far savannahs of Kenya, was this kind of person. I could see in her the virtue of longanimity, looking at another person in the way God sees and admires them.

At that time, I was looking for the meaning of life and for an authority to follow. It was not easy, because those around me had already been engulfed by waves of secularisation. It was then, during a prayer vigil for Taizé youth in Barcelona, that a prayer arose in my heart: “Lord, let me meet people who are true believers, whose faith and life follow the same track”. God soon answered. During the holidays, I ended up as a volunteer in Kenya, digging a well for the inhabitants of a poor village. It was a camp for the local youth, but they made an exception for me and I joined their group. The youngest participant, Florence, was fifteen years old. She was very shy, but one day, when I discussed the topic of faith, she began to tell me about her mother. She invited me to her village. It was a long way, all day driving by a rickety bus to Lake Victoria, the following day a hike through the savanna in the heat of the tropical sun. At the end of the beautiful Lambwe Valley, Catherine was standing on the road, looking out for her daughter’s return. Their greetings consisted mainly of praising the Lord. A beautiful African prayer of thanksgiving flew into the air. With her eyes closed, Catherine thanked God for the safe journey, for the care during the summer camp, for me, “Mzungu” – the European guest – for my family, and she asked the Mother of God for a pleasant stay for me in their hut.

The abandoned woman started to pray and to wish for her husband to become a saint

I learnt about the hard daily struggle for survival in the natural surroundings. Girls with axes in their hands, in the heat, were putting up barbed-wire fences around farming plots, so that wild animals would not devour and trample the crops. In the evening, for the first time in my life, I participated in the rosary prayer recited by the family, on their knees, on the uneven earthen floor. Then we sang songs praising Jesus and expressing love for Mary. I felt as if I was one foot in heaven; I asked for more. Suddenly, I realised that it was already dawning, but after this all-night prayer I felt no fatigue. These were remarkable days for me, full of wonderful signs from God. Catherine, through the testimony of her life, helped me up on my spiritual feet. So I decided to take her as my first spiritual mother. She told me the story of her conversion. Her husband abandoned her. He went to the capital, Nairobi, for bread. There, a younger woman turned up. They started living together, a child was born… and Catherine was left alone with seven children, with no means to make a living. She did not give up, but got down to work. She started to produce corn moonshine and sell it to the local drunks. She chopped down trees and burnt charcoal for sale to be able to feed her children. Also, the children had to work hard and did not have the chance to attend school. Catherine hated her husband. The feeling of hatred captured her so much that she began to have a high fever. Suddenly, she fell into a coma. She was lying in her hut and her neighbours jointly took care of her children. Catherine said that during the coma she was visited every day by the Mother of God, who looked after her with great motherly love and prayed for the healing of her body and soul. First, Mary obtained for her from Jesus the grace of complete forgiveness towards her husband, and then love for him. Mary helped the patient to grow in faith, hope and love. As Catherine opened herself to the love of Jesus and forgave her husband, she began to recover. Mary made her realise that the Lord Jesus was always present in her marriage, and that it was an indissoluble sacrament. For God, there is no divorce. On the other hand, Catherine’s duty was daily prayer for the conversion of her husband and to never lose hope for his return, because nothing is impossible for Jesus. Mary, visiting Catherine during her illness, was teaching her to believe and to love Jesus with all her heart. She formed in her the virtue of longanimity, which allowed Catherine to think of her husband the way Jesus sees and thinks of him. The abandoned woman started to pray and to wish for her husband to become a saint. After three months in a coma, Catherine awoke completely healthy, both in soul and in body. From then on, her every day was steeped in prayer. She stopped making moonshine and selling alcohol. She earned her family’s living solely from the sale of coal and agricultural products. Her hut was no longer a drunkards’ den, but a place for prayer meetings. One former frequenter of the drinking den began attending the meetings, and his conversion reassured Catherine that she was on the right track, and that her husband could still repent…

Catherine taught me to look at another human being as a future saint

Five years later, I was able to go back to Kenya. First I visited Florence, Catherine’s daughter, who with her husband and three children was living in the largest slum in Africa: Kibera, near Nairobi. Florence’s father, Asiyo, had returned to his true wife, with whom he was in the sacrament of marriage. We went to visit them in the Lambwe Valley. Again, I had the grace of meeting up with my spiritual mother, Catherine. I also met her husband. I talked to him for hours on various topics, but at that time he would still strongly defend some pagan customs, like polygamy. Catherine was not worried about him, because she knew that the good God was gradually transforming her husband. When no one was watching, Asiyo would visit the hut that served as a chapel. Catherine saw this as the first fruit of God’s work, that her husband was on the right track and that his relationship with God was slowly getting stronger.

The virtue of longanimity involves patience, courage in the face of difficulties and the ability to wait a long time for the effects of God’s work

I went back to Europe. A few years later, I learned that Catherine had died, after a long illness, in the odour of sanctity, in a hospital in Nairobi. A crowd of people gathered at her funeral in the Lambwe Valley, not only from surrounding villages, but from all over the country. Catherine’s prayers for the conversion of her husband had been answered. Asiyo is now the main catechist and right-hand man to the priest responsible for the whole deanery. Despite his eighty-eight years, every Sunday he rises at three in the morning, walks to the main parish (over ten kilometres from the Lambwe Valley) and spends the day accompanying the parish priest, who celebrates Masses in the surrounding villages.

I was able to go to Catherine’s grave. I thanked God for her example of deep faith. Once again, I considered her attitude of trust in God. I saw how she had tried to imitate the virtues of Mary, but especially that of longanimity. My spiritual mother Catherine taught me to look at another human being as a future saint. Through the testimony of conversion of this married couple, Catherine and Asiyo, the Lord Jesus wants us to realise that there are no hopeless situations for Him. All marital problems need to be entrusted to Jesus through Mary, and He will solve them.

Aware of our weakness and sinfulness, we should give ourselves to Mary as her exclusive property, and she will open us to Christ and His mercy. Only Christ can lead us along paths of sanctification, with God’s perfect patience, despite our continuous falls and unfaithfulness. During trials of faith, when someone hurts us to the point that we cannot forgive any more, let us beg of Mary to obtain for us the virtue of longanimity, the grace of looking at others through the eyes of Christ. That we would want for them the grace of reconciliation with God, and more – that they would become saints.

Let us beg of Mary to obtain for us the virtue of longanimity, the grace of looking at others through the eyes of Christ

Our lives will be then filled with inner peace, stemming from the belief that the imperfections of our efforts to care for others are at all times covered by the omnipotence of God’s mercy, permeating our existence.

What should we do in a family crisis when it seems to us that we cannot take any more, when our patience has ended and there is hopelessness? It may be a marital crisis or a serious conflict with a child. Among the virtues of Mary and Joseph, there is one very special one which we really need in our families: the virtue of longanimity, perhaps the least known of them all. It involves patience, courage in the face of difficulties and the ability to wait a long time for the effects of God’s work. This is the attitude necessary in shaping your faith and other people’s faith, as well as in deepening your inner life.

Without the virtue of longanimity, parents, spouses and sometimes children may sooner or later be tempted into doubt and discouragement, especially when unexpected difficulties and trials of faith appear. How great a test of faith is the drama of being abandoned by a spouse because someone else, more attractive, has shown up… How much parents suffer and experience great helplessness when their children run away from home, stop praying and going to church, when they rebel against everything, and their helpless parents make many parenting mistakes… In such situations, the temptation to despair and give up can be very strong. All our problems with our spouse and children, as well as those that we have with ourselves, should be given to Jesus through Mary in daily prayer and frequent Eucharist. We must renounce every sin and remain in a state of grace. It is important to start with ourselves – with our own conversion.

If we take all our problems to Mary, and also to Jesus, who said: “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5), then He will be able to first heal the wounds of our heart and to shape the virtue of longanimity in us, so that we can unconditionally forgive everyone, think about others, love them with His love and patiently wait for God’s mercy. The shortest way to do this is in total entrustment to Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary. We can assume that Mary’s longanimity allowed Joseph to attain supreme holiness. And St Theresa of the Child Jesus, through this virtue, obtained the conversion of a criminal sentenced to death: Pranzini. We should also keep in mind the great saint of the Virgin Mary: St Maximilian Maria Kolbe, who died in the starvation bunker at Auschwitz. Was it not thanks to his virtue of longanimity that, with his suffering and prayer in the starvation bunker, he obtained the repentance of the commandant of the concentration camp at Auschwitz, Rudolf Höss, and other unrepentant sinners?

Jesus speaks to your heart, “Desire and you will receive. The more you desire, the more you will receive. Do not be impatient. Everything will come in its time. Learn to wait patiently and confidently. I am very close, and you should believe this, even though you cannot feel it. Faith is more important than feeling. Faith is merit and feeling is grace. Give me your fervent faith, and I will bestow you with graces… Be with Me and draw your strength from Me. It is important to persevere in spite of everything – to persevere in trust. You do not have to be strong. Cling to Me and take My power, and pass it on to others. Fill yourself with My peace and give out gentleness and smiles, friendliness and helpfulness. Be among the people like a ray of My Love, which I give to all of you. Carry it wherever you go. The more you give it out, the more you will have in your heart” (the words of the Lord Jesus to the mystic Alice).


The article was published with the permission from "Love One Another!" in September 2020.

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