LIFE IN THE
There was a time when people
asked where the Catholic Church was-- they pointed towards the desert.
And, behold, there, laymen seriously living the gospel lived in populations
as big as towns. St. Jerome and St. Rufinus described these
Christian communities as "heaven's family here on earth," where
Christians lived in "silentium ingens," "quies magna"
(the great silence). And everybody at that time knew that a
pilgrim's journey through the desert, visiting those desert-dwellers, was a
veritable course in theology unsurpassed even by today's standards.
Fortunately, some of these travelers handed down to us what they heard and
saw; and, more fortunately, some of the desert dwellers wrote down the
lessons of their masters for "fratres peregrinos" (pilgrim
brothers). The LIFE OF ST. ANTHONY by the Holy Bishop Athanasius was a
best seller "among those who wished to model their lives after the
holiness of Christ."
"A journey into the
desert of Egypt," learning first hand from the words and examples of
the desert- dwellers the art of holiness, the way of salvation, was the
thing for any serious-minded Christian. Some of these visitors became
themselves great saints and pillars of the Church like St. John
But, of course, there was
another group who went to the desert. . .the tourists. The Christian
communities merely fed them but did not share their life and wisdom with
them. . ."there are visitors from Egypt. . ." was the code word to
describe them. And the holy hermits did not bother to meet with
Then, there was the outer
desert and there was the "terrible desert" and there was the inner
desert. . .all of these showing different heroic ways of living the
gospel. All of them lived the fullness of the gospel but emphasizing
different aspects of the gospel.
Why did the serious Christians
stay in or, at least, visit the desert? ". . .for the good of our
souls so that what we have heard with our ears we may perceive with our
eyes. For the ears are naturally less reliable than the eyes and,
because, very often, forgetfulness follows what we hear; whereas the memory
of what we have seen is not easily erased but remains imprinted in our minds
like a picture" And so the first Christians HEARD the gospels
explained to them and SAW how it was lived by LAYMEN.