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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 Cassian.  

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 them.  

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.  

Historia Monachorum




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