Saint Rafael Arnáiz

This past Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI canonized six new saints. One of them, Saint Damien of Molokai, has received the lion’s share of the attention, because Father Damien (who served a leper’s colony in Hawaii in the 19th century until he eventually succumbed to the disease himself) has been a celebrity for many years. But for members of the Cistercian family, just as exciting has been the canonization of a rather humble and largely unknown Spanish Cistercian oblate, Rafael Arnáiz Barón. Earlier this year my Lay Cistercian community read and discussed a short biography of Blessed Rafael, as he was known then; Sunday’s ceremony “upgraded” him from “blessed” to “saint,” acknowledging him as a figure worthy of admiration, imitation and veneration.

To Know How to WaitMy knowledge of Saint Rafael is admittedly pretty minimal. I know that he died young, after struggling for years with diabetes, and that he spent most of his short adult life bouncing back and forth between living at the Trappist Monastery where he was an oblate, and returning to his family’s home for periods of convalescence. His illness finally claimed him in his 27th year.

After we studied Saint Rafael, I managed to find a secondhand copy of a book of his writings published in 1964. called To Know How to Wait. It’s a small little book, mostly just filled with vignettes and brief little meditations, many rather ordinary, but a few quite luminous in their insight — for example:

God asks of me silence among my fellow men; I gladly offer it, though after all I don’t regard it as a sacrifice as the world does, since to keep the tongue quiet is to give the heart rest.

Amen.

But what I love the most about St. Rafael’s little book is, simply enough, its title: To know how to wait. It seems to me that this is a lost art. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I am pretty much a babe in the woods when it comes to patient waiting. I wait pretty much only when circumstances force me to, and rarely do I embrace the opportunity to wait: mostly I just chafe against the situations in life where waiting is called for (at a red light, in line at the post office, looking for a check in the mail). So I don’t really know how to wait at all. It seems to me that knowing how to wait has something to do with the “meditation minutes” I wrote about a few days ago: it has something to do with cultivating contemplative mindfulness as an ongoing part of our lives. When we can do that, when we can embrace life’s interruptions and waiting-times as opportunities for silent self-donation to God, then — and only then — do we truly “know how to wait.”

Thank you, St. Rafael, for this simple little insight.

N.B. If you want to learn more about the St. Rafael, his biography has been published: God Alone: A Spiritual Biography of Rafael Baron by Gonzalo Fernandez. I haven’t read it yet, but it has been a popular title among my fellow Lay Cistercians.

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