25 January 2010

An Admirable Radicality

From Lucien Regnault, a monk of the Abbey of Solesmes, came the book titled, “The Day-to-Day Life of the Desert Fathers in Fourth Century Egypt,” a self-explanatory title. Towards the conclusion of the book, the author writes about a modern-day fascination with the Desert Fathers, even though the culture in which we live seems to have distanced itself from God. Lucien Regnault borrows some thoughts from Pope John Paul II in order to address the interest in the lifestyle of the Desert Fathers in a day which seems consumed with material wealth. The Holy Father alludes to “the secrets hidden in the heart of man.” This is very intriguing. What has God placed on our hearts that we have yet to fully discover or even have no inkling whatsoever? Today’s interest in fasting, asceticism, deep prayer, as well as other practices, may stem from pride, when considering the climate of our culture -- a desire to be noticed in a radical lifestyle. But what must also be considered is something every human being deep down knows but may run away from for their entire earthly journey; and what that something is Saint Augustine said it best: “You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” Here’s the paragraph from the book.

Today’s fascination with the hermits of the past is all the more surprising when we observe how our times are so far removed from the mores and spirit of the first anchorites. Yet perhaps the new generations are more inclined than preceding ones to appreciate the Desert Fathers, envy them, indeed even to seek from them the human and Christian values which are not much honored these days: solitude and silence, asceticism and contemplation, interiority and self-giving, spiritual paternity and obedience, renunciation and humility. To all those who painfully feel the emptiness of an existence devoted entirely to the quest for material well-being and ephemeral pleasures, the elders of the desert are blunt reminders of the conditions for true happiness. As John Paul II has said, “The message of these enthusiasts for God rings out today, more up-to-date than ever, for these formidable athletes of the faith were witnesses of an admirable radicality in the search for the Kingdom, of a unique mastery for penetrating the secrets hidden in the heart of man.” They encourage and help us “rediscover in the hubbub of modern civilization creative solitudes where we can walk in the search for truth without masks, alibis or lies” (Homily at the Coptic liturgy, August 14, 1988, at the church of Saint Mary Major).