Friday, October 31, 2014

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The message of Benedict XVI to Urban, religions and mission.

October 23, 2014

di Benedetto XVI

I would first like to express my heartfelt thanks to the Rector and to the academic authorities of the Pontifical Urban University More Officers and Representatives of Students, for their proposal to name to my name, the Great Hall restored. I would like to thank in a special way the Chancellor of the University, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, to have welcomed this initiative. It is a great joy for me to be so ever-present in the work of the Pontifical Urban University.

Over the course of several visits that I could do as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, I was always impressed by the universality of that reigns in this university, where young people from almost all countries of the world are preparing for the service to the Gospel in today's world. Even today, I see inside front of me, in this hall, a community made up of many young people, and we see vividly the wonderful reality of the Catholic Church.

"Catholic": this definition of the church, which belongs to the profession of faith since ancient times, carries something of Pentecost. It reminds us that the Church of Jesus Christ was never about one people or one culture, but from the beginning it was intended to humanity. The last words Jesus said to his disciples were: "Make disciples of all nations" (Mt 28:19). And at the time of Pentecost the Apostles spoke in all languages, thus being able to demonstrate, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the full breadth of their faith.

Since then the Church has really grown on every continent. Your presence, dear students, dear students, reflects the face of the universal Church. The prophet Zechariah had announced a messianic kingdom which would go from sea to sea, and would have been a kingdom of peace (Zech 9.9s.). In fact, wherever the Eucharist is celebrated and men, with the Lord, they become one body between them, there is something of that peace which Jesus Christ had promised to give to his disciples. Dear friends, be co-operators of this peace, in a world torn and violent, it becomes increasingly urgent to build and preserve. This is why it is so important to the work of your university, in which you want to learn how to get closer to Jesus Christ to become His witnesses.

The Risen Lord commissioned his apostles, and through them the disciples of all time, to bring his word to the ends of the earth and make disciples of men. The Second Vatican Council, taking in the decree "Ad Gentes", a constant tradition, has highlighted the deep reasons for this missionary task and did so with renewed force assigned to the Church of today.

But is it really more? - Is asked by many today, both inside and outside the Church—indeed, the mission is still relevant? Would not it be more appropriate to meet in dialogue between religions together and serve the cause of peace in the world? The counter-question: Is the dialogue can replace the mission? Today, many, in fact, have the idea that religions should respect each other and, in the dialogue between them, becoming a joint peacekeeping force. In this way of thinking, most of the time it takes for the assumption that the different religions are variants of one and the same reality; that "religion" is the common gender, which takes different forms according to the different cultures, but still expresses the same reality. The question of truth, the one that originally moved the Christians more than anything else, here is put in brackets. It is assumed that the real truth about God, ultimately, is unattainable and that at best we can to make present that which is ineffable only with a variety of symbols. This renunciation of the truth seems realistic and helpful to the peace among the religions in the world.

And yet it is deadly to the faith. Indeed, faith loses its binding nature and its seriousness, if all boils down to basically interchangeable symbols, able to postpone only from afar the inaccessible mystery of the divine.

Dear friends, you see that the issue of mission places us not only to meet the basic questions of faith but also in front of that of what man is. Within a short welcome address, obviously I can not groped to analyze this issue in a comprehensive way that profoundly affects all of us today. I would, however, at least hint at the direction that should take our thinking. I do this by moving from two different starting points.


1 The common opinion is that religions are as it were side by side, as the continents and individual countries on the map. However, this is not accurate. Religions are moving at a historic level, as they are moving peoples and cultures. There are religions in waiting. The tribal religions are of this type: they have their moment in history, and yet they are waiting for a larger meeting that leads to fullness.
We, as Christians, we believe that, in the silence, they await the encounter with Jesus Christ, the light that comes from him, which alone can bring them fully to their truth. And Christ awaits them. The encounter with him is not the intrusion of a stranger who destroys their own culture and their own history. It is, however, the entrance into something bigger, to which they are on the way. So this meeting is always at a time, purification and maturation. Moreover, the meeting is always mutual. Christ expects their history, their wisdom, their view of things.

Today we see more and more clearly another aspect: while in the countries of its great history of Christianity in many ways has become tired and some branches of the great tree grew from the mustard seed of the Gospel have become dry and fall to the ground, the encounter with Christ of religions in waiting comes new life. Where before there was only fatigue, manifest and bring joy to new dimensions of faith.

2. The religion itself is not a unitary phenomenon. In it are always more distinct dimensions. On one side is the magnitude of reaching out beyond the world, to the eternal God. Yet, on the other hand, there are elements in it arising from the history of the men and their practice of religion. Where we can (rivenirsi) rediscover, re-find, certainly noble and beautiful things, but also low and destructive, where selfishness of man has taken possession of religion, and instead of an opening, turned it into a closure in their own space.

For this reason, religion is never simply a phenomenon only positive or only negative: in it one or the other aspect are mixed. At its beginnings, the Christian mission felt very strongly, especially the negative elements of the pagan religions in which he met. For this reason, the Christian message was at first extremely critical of religion. Only by overcoming their traditions and in part also considered demonic faith could develop its renewing power. On the basis of elements of this kind, the Protestant theologian Karl Barth put in opposition to religion and faith, judging the first in an absolutely negative as arbitrary behaviour of the man who tries, from himself, to grasp God. Dietrich Bonhoeffer has taken answer to this setting in favor of a Christianity "without religion. "It is without doubt one-sided view that can not be accepted. Yet it is fair to say that every religion, to stay in the right, at the same time must also always be critical of religion. Clearly this is true, since its inception, and according to its nature, the Christian faith, which, on the one hand, looks great compared to the deep hold and the deep richness of religions, but on the other hand, sees a critical Also what is negative. It goes without saying that the Christian faith must constantly develop the critical force also in relation to its religious history.

For us Christians, Jesus Christ is the Logos of God, the light that helps us to distinguish between the nature of religion and its distortion.

3. In our time becomes ever stronger voice for those who want to convince us that religion as such is outdated. One critical reason should guide the actions of man. Behind such views is the belief that the positivistic thought the reason in all its purity has finally acquired the domain. In fact, even this way of thinking and living is historically conditioned and tied to certain historical cultures. Consider it as the only valid belittle the man, taking away essential dimensions of its existence. Man becomes smaller, not larger, when there is no space for an ethos that, according to its true nature, to over pragmatism, when there is no more space for our gaze fixed on God. proper place of reason positivist is in the major areas of action of the technique and the economy, and yet it does not exhaust all that is human. So, it is up to us again and again that we throw open the doors, beyond mere technique and pure pragmatism, leading to all the greatness of our existence, the encounter with the living God.


1 These reflections, perhaps a little 'difficult, should show that even today, in a world profoundly changed, it remains reasonable to the task of communicating to others the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
And yet there is also a second way, easier to justify today this task. The joy demands to be communicated. Love demands to be communicated. The truth demands to be communicated. Who received a great joy, he can not simply keep it for themselves, they must pass it on. The same applies to the gift of love, for the gift of recognition of the truth that is manifested.

When Andrea met Christ, he could not help but say to his brother: "We have found the Messiah" (Jn 1:41). And Philip, who had been given the same meeting, he could not help but say to Nathanael that he had found him of whom Moses and the prophets had written (John 1:45). We proclaim Jesus Christ to bring to our community as many members as possible; and much less power. Let’s talk about Him because we feel we need to transmit the joy that was given to us.

We will be credible proclaimers of Jesus Christ when we have truly met in the depths of our existence, when, through the encounter with Him, we will have been given the great experience of truth, love and joy.

2. It is part of the nature of religion, the deep tension between the mystical offer to God, in which we totally over him, and responsibility for others and the world he created. Martha and Mary are always inseparable, even if, from time to time, the emphasis can fall on one or other. The meeting point between the two poles is the love in which we touch at the same time God and his creatures. "We have known and believed the love" (1 Jn 4:16): This phrase expresses the true nature of Christianity. The love that is achieved and is reflected in multifaceted way in the saints of all time, is the authentic proof of the truth of Christianity.

Benedetto XVI

The language does not flow well because it was translated from Italian by and online translator.


Monday, October 27, 2014

How do Law and Love relate, by John Bergsma

When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees,
they gathered together, and one of them,
a scholar of the law tested him by asking,
"Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?"
He said to him,
"You shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart,
with all your soul,
and with all your mind.
This is the greatest and the first commandment.
The second is like it:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments." 
Matthew 22:34-40:

Let’s recall where we are in the Church year.  We have been working through the Gospel of Matthew throughout Ordinary Time in Year A.  We have moved from the beginning of the Gospel all the way to Passion Week, and now we are in Jerusalem listening to Jesus teach and debate before he goes to his death.  Last week we read about the Pharisees and Herodians questioning him about paying taxes to Caesar.  After that, the Sadducees came and questioned him about marriage and the resurrection—although that unit is not read in the Year A cycle.  Now, one of the better scholars among the Pharisees tests him with a question about the Law.

We should note that there is Davidic kingdom typology going on in this passage.  Solomon sat on his throne in Jerusalem and was tested with hard questions from a great number of people, most notably the Queen of Sheba, who came for that very purpose (1 Kings 4:34; 10:1).  The whole scenario of Jesus sitting in Jerusalem and defeating all comers with his divine wisdom fulfills the image of wise King Solomon of so many centuries before.  Jesus is the greater son of David, and that concept ties in with our responsorial, Psalm 18, which was a royal Davidic Psalm.  We also recall that the Law of Moses required the King to meditate constantly on the Law (or Torah; Deut 17:18-20) and thus become an expert in its concepts and application.  This is what we see Jesus doing: he has brilliant insight into the interpretation of the Torah, and a very clear view of which laws express principals of primary hermeneutical importance, and which are of lesser significance.  He is the Davidic king who has meditated on the Law.

Although the text says the Pharisee meant to “test” him, this question is not asked with the same ill will as the previous questions from the Pharisees and Sadducees.  There is not necessarily a trap here.  Rabbis debated which laws within the Torah carried precedence, and discovering the way an individual Rabbi prioritized or ranked the Mosaic laws gave insight into his interpretive approach or legal system.

Jesus replies that the greatest commandment is love of God, followed closely by love of neighbor.  Our Lord’s reply is not entirely unique: other Rabbis might have given a similar or identical answer.  In fact, in Mark’s fuller account of this passage, the Pharisee who asks the question agrees enthusiastically with Jesus’ response (Mark 12:28-34).  Our Lord takes the first and greatest commandment from Deut 6:4-5.  This is a famous passage known as the Shema, which to this day is recited multiple times a day by pious Jews, similar to the way the Our Father is recited by Christians.

The second, Love your neighbor as yourself, is taken from the so-called “Holiness Code” of Leviticus (Lev 19:18). Many think Jesus invented this law, but he is actually quoting from the Pentateuch.

It is a common misconception that by summarizing the Law with the two commands of love, Jesus was somehow making the law less challenging or demanding.  That is hardly the case.  Perfectly to live out love for God and love for neighbor is all-consuming and very challenging.  It is also a common misconception that the Pharisees had high moral standards, and Jesus criticized them for their high standards and instead dumbed things down to a generic “niceness” to everyone.  This is also a completely wrong view.  The Pharisees did not necessarily have high moral standards, although some among them (like the Pharisee asking this question) were decent men.  The Pharisees had rigorous ritual standards, but frequently low moral demands.  Jesus primarily criticizes them for (1) hypocrisy, in holding to high ritual standards but neglecting matters of morality, or (2) using legal reasoning to create loopholes in the moral law that allow them to evade the high demands of love of God and love of neighbor.

By emphasizing that the whole law is summed up in the two commands of love, Jesus does not make it easier to fulfill the law, he makes it more challenging, because there are no loopholes in love!  If the criteria for evaluation of moral behavior in any given situation is the imperative of love rather than some external physical criteria, it becomes impossible to create legal ways to evade God’s will.

Of course, love has to be properly understood. Many reduce love to an emotion, or confuse love with “niceness.”  There is an emotional component of love, and love can express itself in being nice.  But love has to follow truth, and it is not ultimately loving to tell people falsehoods or encourage them along a false path that will not lead to their happiness.  The difficulty arises when we love someone who is engaging in self-destructive behavior, but does not realize it.  And when we point it out—motivated by love—they perceive us not as loving but as hostile or narrow-minded or “traditional” or intolerant or some other category.

Let’s discuss what it means to love God with all one’s heart, soul, and mind.  The heart (Gk. kardia) can be understood as the seat of the emotions or affections, so loving God with the heart means cultivating our affection and emotional attachment to him.  The soul (psyche) can be understood as our spiritual nature, so loving God with one’s whole soul is seeking spiritual union with him, the “unitive way.”  Loving God with the mind (dianoia) is an intellectual endeavor, seeking to know God, to understand the truth about Him, his nature, and his creation.  An anti-intellectual spirituality would be a failure to love God with the mind.  We can observe a rough analogy to the classic three stages of the spiritual life: the purgative involves learning to love God with the heart vs. disordered passions or desires; the illumanitive involves loving God with the mind, as our minds are enlightened with the knowledge of God; and the unitive involves spiritual union, loving God with the soul.

Jesus wasn’t a lawless hippy or an anarchist revolutionary.  He respected the role of law in human society and personal life.  He and his parents were careful to observe the laws in force at the time, as we see from the infancy narratives in Luke.  However, Jesus stressed that the law was ordered to love, and has to be interpreted in light of love, which is more than an emotion, but fundamentally an act of the will in which we will the good of the person who is loved.  Love needs to be understood as an act of the will based on truth—this is where our culture misunderstands love.  In any event, Jesus taught that law was ordered to love and had to be interpreted in light of love.  This is more than we can humanly live up to, which is why we need to exercise faith and receive the sacraments.  Through faith and the sacraments, Jesus can fill us with his love, such that St. Paul will say:

God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us. (Rom 5:5)

Rom. 13:8   Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.  9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

But the love of the Holy Spirit poured into our hearts is key.  We can’t live up to the command of love until we learn to love with the love of God which has been given us.  Our own feeble efforts are not going to be sufficient; that would be Pelagianism.

John Bergsma

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Hermitage pictures.

A few more across the valley pictures.

"Divino amore ferventes"

THE SACRED HOST BY edward emery

Ours it is to learn from the contemplation of the Sacred Host how to be silent, how to disappear, how to leave the world. I look at Our Lord in the Sacrament of His redeeming love. There He is silent. There He is hidden. There He is separated from all things and, at the same time, present to all things. The Host is the pattern of Pope Benedict XVI’s cloistered life. The Host is the pattern of our life here. “One thing is necessary. Mary hath chosen the best part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42).

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Desert Experience in Mongolia

by Father Peter Turrone

“I am going to allure her and lead her out into the wilderness and speak to her heart.” Hosea 2:16

The desert is an arid and lonely place. It is hostile to all forms of life. It requires a great deal of patience, suffering and sacrifice to survive. Few people are willing to live in the desert. In fact, the population density of the Gobi desert is 0.3/sq km compared to 195/sq km in Ulaanbaatar . Metaphorically, however, the desert refers to any place of retreat from everyday life. This can be either an ancient monastery, the mountains, the beach, a chapel, one’s own room, and, most especially, one’s heart.

Throughout the Old Testament, the desert is seen as a testing ground for God’s chosen ones. It is the place where each person is called to come face to face with his or her own truth in the presence of God. There is literally nothing else but us and God. Everything that lies hidden within our hearts will eventually manifest itself if given enough time. In the New Testament, the importance of the desert is once again underscored. Our Lord himself retreats into the desert to be tempted by the devil before beginning his public ministry . The desert becomes a testing ground for the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity himself. Furthermore, the Evangelists also record other incidences of Jesus retreating into the desert to remain in solitude and prayer with the Father .

The desert also occupies a central part in the early Christian spiritual tradition. The Desert ‘fathers’ and ‘mothers’ were those people who abandoned everything related to the world in order to draw into a deeper intimacy with God. The lessons they learned continue to be of value for each new generation of Christians because the wisdom they learned was given from above, and, moreover, emerged from having learned to live in solitude and silence.

Called to be Evangelized

Speaking to a missionary a few months back he had mentioned something very interesting. When he first learned of his destination to Mongolia he had thought that his main work was to evangelize the Mongolian people. While this will always hold true for each of us missionaries, the most surprising discovery for him was the fact that God wanted to first evangelize him in this land of mission.
In The Inner Voice, Father Henry Nouwen mentions something along these lines which bears repeating over and over again:

“The more you are called to speak for God’s love, the more you will need to deepen the knowledge of that love in your own heart. The farther the outward journey takes you, the deeper the inward journey must be. Only when your roots are deep can your fruits be abundant”. (p. 35)
The question we are then faced with is to figure out how to go about entering into an authentic journey which goes beyond mere words.

Interior Evangelization 

There is an excellent book entitled L’evangelizzazione del profondo. This work is the fruit of several years of prayer and psychotherapeutic experiences of several people who were not afraid to enter into themselves and begin a process of self-discovery and healing. They took seriously St. Augustine’s observation that by really knowing ourselves we are better able to know God.

The opening line of the Introduction begins with a question. “Are we really evangelized right down to the depths of our being, in all of our components?” (p.11). Each one of us has our own personal history whose entirety is only known to God. We are born into an environment which, for good or bad, shapes our personality. Over time, we either make choices, or have them made for us, which has a further impact on our identity. For the most part, each of us comes out unscathed, at least on the exterior. However, each one of us carries one or more wounds resulting from others, or from those we have inflicted upon ourselves through sin.

Each of us passes through various stages of life that are common to all, although our past will influence how we are able to cope with these transitions. These transitions include leaving home, beginning a new career, being destined to a particular mission, being diagnosed with an illness, growing old etc. What is crucial here is that these bio-psycho-social milestones unmasks our personality structure and, more importantly, how we understand and relate to God. They can often present themselves are “crises” or difficulties. What is remarkable about them is that they are given to us by God as opportunities for human and spiritual growth.

It is important to recognize that being aware of what lies hidden within ourselves requires solitude and silence. If we spend more time on the internet or in superficial conversations than in prayer and contemplation (which does not mean living in the chapel day and night) we will remain at a superficial level of existence. This is not meant to be an exercise in self-absorption but as a means to draw closer to the Lord, and moreover, to be more compassionate towards our neighbor. In this regard, knowing our weaknesses and strengths is still not enough to mature. We have to accept them too otherwise we will be slaves to them or project them unto other people. If, however, we recognize and accept our identity in its totality, we are more likely to advance humanly and spiritually. We are more likely to live in relative peace with ourselves, God and other.

This process requires a free decision to open ourselves to God. When we are caught up with many activities on a regular basis without being grounded in solitude and silence we might find ourselves becoming further removed from our core. For some people, they cannot stand silence and solitude because their whole identity is based on their work or relations with others. Being alone feels like being with a stranger. Moreover, many men often become sick with cancer and depression immediately after retirement. Their whole life was spent building their identity on what they did instead of on who they are .

For us here in Mongolia, we find ourselves in an unique situation. It is difficult to understand the culture and the language. We may be used to a certain style of mission which is not feasible here. We may find ourselves in a sort of desert. We are down to the essentials.

However, God was always calling us to enter into a deeper more authentic intimacy with him by virtue of our religious consecration (and ordination), however, we are now ‘forced’ to enter into it. Yet, we need to want to enter into it. Jesus is helpless in front of our freedom. He knocks at the door. We have to let him into our hearts. We need to be able to want God to empty us of all the idols and masks we have developed over time so as to be transformed into “new” men and women .

The struggle for holiness occurs within the privacy of the soul and we will not be aware of this without a certain measure of solitude and silence. When we are driving a car and want to give full attention to something up ahead we always lower or turn off the music. If we want to pay attention to what our hearts and God are telling us we need to do the same. This is why solitude and silence are essential to self-awareness and spiritual growth. God does not shout, He whispers.


An essential element of the desert is silence. The only noise we often hear is that produced by the wind. This is good because we are likely to become more self-aware. It is usually in these circumstances that all of the inner noise within us begins to emerge. We become more conscious of our thoughts, basic drives and feelings. The Desert Fathers often wrote of their experiences with the devil. While some of the devils they fought with were real rebellious evil spirits that sought to ruin them, there are also those ‘devils’ which were personifications of interior negative sentiments and thoughts.

While many of those at the beginning of their spiritual journey often have a romantic view of silence, we know that it can be rather heavy at times. We can think of the dramatic example of a prisoner who lives alone in his or her cell. This experience can lead to depression or despair if it is not grounded in God. It is only when we fill our silence with prayer and contemplation can we transform it into a spiritually profitable experience.

If we have the courage to live in silence we will eventually come face to face with our deeper self. It sounds frightening at times because we may not know who we are going to meet. We may have constructed an image of ourselves that is not real, or only partially real. There, we will find out the truth about the extent of our conversion. There we will find out how much we are in need of salvation.


The deeper we enter into ourselves, the deeper will be our experience of solitude . We go beyond our affective attachments with others which form a large part of our identity and enter into that part of ourselves where we stand alone. Again this can be a painful experience. In Arvaiheer, we see several cases of women remaining in abusive relationships for fear of living alone.

In reality, the experience of solitude can be very positive. We are Christians and know in faith that at baptism we were drawn into the life of the Holy Trinity and have become Tabernacles of the Most High. Jesus never leaves us alone. He is always present in us. Therefore, the experience of silence and solitude can give rise to joy and peace of heart because we discover that we are not alone, and that we are loved by God as we are and not as we think we would like to be. Jesus’ love for us in without measure. It is in this experience that hope is born and we even begin to live in right relationship with our neighbor. The other person is no longer sought out so as to fulfill an emotional need but to love for their own sake.

This is important for us working here in Mongolia, but also everywhere in the world, where we are called to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. By allowing God to heal us and transform us we begin to become not only hopeful, but, as Pope Benedict XVI once wrote, become hope itself in a world where many of its citizens live without hope and are dominated by fear and cynicism.

Prayer as Mission In Mongolia

Prayer and liturgy are the centre of the Christian missionary life . During the Asian Assembly most of us participated in last year in South Korea, we were almost unanimous in stating that prayer is necessary for our own personal growth as consecrated men and women, and, moreover, it was a form of evangelization itself.

One example used by Father Paul Devreux would be useful here. He states that “if I begin to look at a painting in a museum, the painting will slowly begin to evoke the curiosity of others who eventually might stop to take a look themselves. The people will not stop to look at me, in fact, they may not even care whether or not I exist. However, they will stop to look at the cause of what is drawing so much attention and honour the painting itself” . The above example is an excellent metaphor for our daily Prayer of Adoration held each morning after the Eucharist in our ger church in the mission of Arvaiheer.

The central importance of prayer and contemplation in missionary life is evident when in 1927, Pope Pius XI declared Saint Therese of Liseux the patroness of missionaries. Even though she never left the cloister, she dedicated her entire existence to bringing all non-Christians before the Holy Trinity in prayer.

While we may not live in a cloister, we are all called to enter into an authentic journey of transfiguration in order to become holy missionaries. This does not mean that we are going to be without faults and stop sinning altogether, however, our main goal will be to let God work through us and with us for our own salvation and of those we serve.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

“In the Heart of the Desert” by John Chryssavgis.


“‘Desert’ (eremos) literally means ‘abandonment’; it is the term from which we derive ‘hermit’.  The areas of desertedness were where the demons bred. . .There is no water in the desert, and in the mind of the Jews that was the ultimate curse.  No water also meant no life.  The desert signified death; nothing grows in the desert.  Your very existence is, therefore, threatened.  In the desert you will find no one and no thing.  In the desert you can only face up to yourself and to every aspect of your self, to your temptations, and to your reality.  You confront your own heart, and your heart’s deepest desires, without any scapegoat, without any hiding place.”

“Yet the desert was also endowed with sacred significance for Jews and Christians alike.  The Israelites had wandered in the desert for forty years.  It was there that Moses saw God.  It was there that John the Baptist preached the coming of the Messiah.  Indeed, it was in the desert that Jesus Himself began His ministry; it was in the wilderness that He was first tempted by the demons. . .  .”

“So the desert, while accursed, was never seen as an empty region.  It was a place that was full of action.  It was a space that provided an opportunity, and even a calling, for divine vision.  In the desert, you were invited to shake off all forms of idolatry, all kinds of earthly limitations, in order to behold – or rather, to be held before – an image of the heavenly God.  There, you were confronted with another reality, with the presence of a boundless God, whose grace was without any limits at all.”

“The desert is an attraction beyond oneself; it is an invitation to transfiguration.  It was neither a better way, nor an easier way.  The desert elders were not out to prove a point; they were there to prove themselves. . . Nothing should be held back in this surrender.  It is all or nothing.  The abandonment to God is absolute.”

“The desert is a place of spiritual revolution, not of personal retreat.  It is a place of inner protest, not outward peace.  It is a place of deep encounter, not of superficial escape.  It is a place of repentance, not recuperation.  Living in the desert does not mean living without people; it means living for God.  Anthony and the other desert dwellers never forgot this.  They never sought to cut off their connections to other people instantly.  They rather sought to refine these relationships increasingly.”
However, Chrssavgis is quick to point out that the meaning of the desert extends far beyond the sands of Egypt.  It speaks of a personal way applicable to each of our lives.  It is a “spiritual way that was present everywhere, including the large and busy cities.  ‘It was revealed to Abba Anthony in his desert that there was someone who was his equal in the city.  He was a doctor by profession.  Whatever he had beyond his needs, he would give to the poor; and every day he sang hymns with the angels.’

“It is the clear understanding of these elders that one does not have to move to the geographical location of the wilderness in order to find God.  Yet, if you do not have to go to the desert, you do have to go through the desert. . . Everyone does go through the desert in one shape or another.  it may be in the form of suffering or emptiness, or breakdown or any other kind of trauma that occurs in our life.  Dressing this desert up through our addictions or attachments . . . will delay the utter loneliness and inner fearfulness of the desert experience.  If we go through this experience involuntarily, then it can be both overwhelming and crushing.  If, however, we accept to undergo this experience voluntarily, then it can prove both constructive and liberating.  The physical setting of the desert is a symbol, a powerful reminder of a spiritual space that is within us all.”

The deserts of Egypt and the experiences of the elders may seem far removed from those who live many centuries later, but in reality they speak of that which is closest to us – to the desert within the human heart, the place where we too must make the ultimate surrender to God and abandon ourselves to Him, the place where we must fight the good fight of faith, struggle with our own inner demons and wait for God in the silence of prayer.

Being fully alive.

The writings of the Desert Fathers have always had a special hold on me.  Although I have been exposed to many other great writings in the spiritual tradition, I have found myself returning again and again to their works.  It is, I believe, their focus on the practical that speaks to me – their focus on the lived faith.  Paradoxically, while they removed themselves from all contact with others and retreated to the barrenness of the desert, they also seemed to enter more fully into the depths of the human heart to discover not only the hidden mysteries therein, but the mysteries of the kingdom.  Their writings, or most often simple sayings, speak with the clarity that only the silence of the desert could produce.  Having stripped themselves of so many of the things that clutter our lives and hide the truth from our view, they came to see with utmost clarity the truth of their own poverty and the mercy of God.  Naked, as it were, they came to know the naked Christ – the richness of crucified Love. In this their lives speak to us about who we are and who God is.

John Chryssagis in his book “In the Heart of the Desert” speaks of this special and very personal appeal of the Fathers:
“There is a fourth century Eucharistic prayer of Sarapion of Thmusis that expresses the center of the experience for the early Christians and of what their faith means for them.  The prayer addresses God: ‘We entreat you, make us truly alive.‘  All of us know about the deeper longing to be truly alive. We have all felt the need to be more than ‘mere survivors‘ or ‘mere observers‘ in our world.  Through the centuries people have had the same hope, the same dream. . .”

“One place, where men and women sought aggressively to understand the deeper meaning and the fuller measure of human existence, was the desert of early Christian Egypt.  That dry desert . . . became the laboratory for exploring the truths about Heaven and earth and a forging ground for drawing connections between the two.  The hermits who lived in that desert tested and studied what it means to be human – with all the tensions and temptations, all of the struggle beyond survival, all the contacts with good and the conflicts with evil.  And in the process, some of them made many mistakes; others made fewer mistakes.  Whoever said that there is a clear and simple answer to the questions of life?  Yet, these men and women dared to push the limits, to challenge the norms. . .”

“The stories from the Egyptian desert are more than just a part of the Christian past.  They are a part of our human heritage: they communicate eternal values, spiritual truths.  Theirs is a silence of the deep heart and of intense prayer, a silence that cuts through the centuries and cultures.  We should stop to hear that heartbeat.  Sometimes, in fact, we shall need to stoop low in order to hear the sounds of their past.  For, while they present us with models of the spiritual way, they do so in peculiar ways and with strange examples.  In fact, these stories and sayings offer not simply models for imitation, but witnesses of a fullness and freedom to which we all aspire. . .”

“The words of these Egyptian hermits resemble flashes of light; they are sparks of fire.  And the reader should neither be overly impressed nor even be greatly distressed by their comments.  Instead, the reader is supposed to catch alight, to catch afire.  It is critical to remain open enough, to be sufficiently vulnerable to their austere yet suggestive counsel. . .”

“The words of these elders smash the structures of complexity and rationalization with which we often clutter and confuse our lives.  Their lives somehow seem to locate pockets of deadness in our lives, enabling us to become truly alive  What they are in fact saying to us most of the time is quite simply: be what you are called to be!”

****All quotes taken from “In the Heart of the Desert” by John Chryssavgis, pp. 1-13.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


In the eyes of the Lord giving a detailed explanation to the Father of all the needs of all we have been asked to present to him is not what matters; what matter is that we should stand before Him with a pure heart, and with boundless trust in His tender love for His children. This attitude is no easy way out; it is far more reassuring to rely on our words or activity than to have complete and blind trust in the love of the Father known in faith. We should be bearers of the poverty of mankind not by spelling it out, but by experiencing it, in the vivid awareness that we are in the presence of God with empty hands, and that we must count totally on Him.