“… it is very important that individuals, desiring to advance in recollection and perfection, take care into whose hands they entrust themselves, for the disciple will become like the master, and as is the father so will be the son. Let them realize that for this journey, especially its most sublime parts (and even for the intermediate parts), they will hardly find a guide accomplished as to all their needs, for besides being learned and discreet, a director should have experience. Although the foundation for guiding a soul to spirit is knowledge and discretion…” (St. John of the Cross O.C.D., The living flame of love, stanza 3, n° 30, OCD editions, Rome 2010.)
Like the Carthusians the Hermit of Saint Bruno has no external apostolate and dedicates himself to prayer, which is unceasing, which rises like incense from the altar of his heart. Prayer of adoration, praise and intercession through the Divine Office by which the Church prays through his voice. The prayer of Christ. The prayer of an intimate union with Our Lord, dwelling in his heart. The ‘ineffable sighs of the Holy Spirit too deep for words – which expresses the profound aspirations of men and their suffering, and indeed of the whole creation’.
The Hermit of Saint Bruno pray’s always for those who never pray; he pray’s for those who have done you wrong; he pray’s for those who sin every hour and every day of their lives; he pray’s for all sorts and conditions of men, no matter what their colour, no matter what their creed; he pray’s that God will remove all doubt and all scepticism from the world, in the hope that He will open all human eyes to the path of faith and salvation. Such is the supreme obedience of the Hermit of Saint Bruno. He therefore ‘remains seated in his cell in the hope that it will teach him everything‘ just as Abbot Moses has counselled.
From the very beginnings the Hermit of Saint Bruno set out to pursue this spirituality by making himself utterly free for God (vacare Deo) in solitude. For this and under the guidance of Bishop Jukes O.F.M. Conv., Auxiliary Bishop of Southwark and with a Trappist Spiritual Director, and the writings of the Church Fathers as a guide has developped a distinct spirituality in the sense that his Rule of Life is aimed not so much at dictating the content of spiritual theology but to lay the foundations of a way of life under which the Hermit of Saint Bruno could resolutely free himself for God alone by sitting diligently in his cell (a small bungalow). With the consent of his Bishop the Hermit of Saint Bruno left the world in order to know it more profoundly by gaining distance from it and by reordering both knowledge and love of God and neighbor in a way someone distracted by mundane responsibilities and attractions could not. This in turn required him to establish a way of life that dealt rationally and authentically with the temptations to leave the cell and the obstacles to living joyously within it.
That said, there is absolutely no reason why what has been learned by him cannot be shared with others through telematic means for the benefit of all of mankind in the hope that they too will find the occasional time to contemplate ‘in a room within their home in the hope that it will teach them what they need’.
Spiritual direction is widespread within Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and Judaic religions: normally a person with wisdom and spiritual discernment, but not exclusively a priest or consecrated in general, provides counsel to a person who wishes to make a journey of faith and discovery of God’s volition within their own life. The spiritual guide aims to discern, understand what the Holy Spirit, through the situations of life, spiritual insights fruit of prayer, reading and meditation on the Bible, tells the person that is being accompanied. The spiritual father or spiritual director may provide advice, give indications of life and prayer, resolving doubts in matters of faith and morals without replacing the choices and decisions for the person that is being accompanied.
“One of the elders asked Abba John Colobus (the Dwarf): What is a monk? He said: Fatigue. For in every action the monk must strive. This is the monk!” (Life and Sayings of the Desert Abbas.)
In the beginning (of monasticism)
Monasticism is a spiritual movement that arises in some religions which, albeit in different forms, is united by the search for a reality that transcends the present life, through ascesis, prayer and contemplation, living in solitude or in community more or less restricted. Great monastic movements are found in Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism.
In the Christian world, monasticism originated between the end of the III and the beginning of the IV century, in a particular period, in which the so-called ancient world ended, and the Roman Empire was already divided between the West and the East. At that time, the Church possessed a fairly grounded organisation, a hierarchy, a cult, a literature. With monasticism begins a form of life entirely consecrated to prayer and penance, in isolation from the world.
Some Christians, especially in Egypt, Palestine, Syria and Mesopotamia, began to retreat to the desert with the intent of reaffirming “the kingdom of God is not of this world” and to claim the highest values of the spirit, together with a protest (more or less explicit) against the dangers of worldliness. In reality, its origin dates back to the first converts whom, in the cities, lived their faith in a radical way in search of an intimate and exclusive union with Christ. Their ideal was to please God alone and to somehow anticipate on earth that transcendent life in which God is “all within all”.
The etymology of the term “monk” (from the Greek μοναχός — monachos = single, solitary) has a long history that begins with Plato. It has had several interpretations: Jerome understood it as “solitary”; the Eastern Abbas with “unified person”; Augustine with a person aiming at “unanimity” with his brothers; in the Syriac world, thinking of the monk as an imitator of Christ, “the only begotten”.
The first expression of monastic life is certainly the hermitic or anchoritic one. Jerome defines the anchorites as those whom live alone in the deserts and take their name from the fact that they have withdrawn away from men. The original Greek term anachoréo “I withdraw” means the flight into the desert of insolvent debtors. Anchorites are characterised by their almost total isolation, sexual abstinence, penance, manual labor and the absence of a superior. In the absence of reliable sources, it is not possible to know details about the establishment of this type of life. Only later will an associated or cenobitic life follow (from the Greek κοινός βίος — koínos bíos — common life). It was Pachomius (292 — †May 9, 348) whom, after a personal experience of a hermit’s life, gave shape to cenobitism based on coexistence in the total sharing of goods and in common prayer, in the observance of the same rule, in manual work and in obedience to an abbot. His first community was founded in 323 in Tabenna, in upper Egypt (in the modern hamlet of Al Rahmaneya Qebli, 5 km east of Nag Hammadi). His Rule of 194 articles was observed in just over twenty years by nine male and two female convents.
Even Anthony the Great (January 12, 251 — † January 17, 356), after a period of anachoresis, became the “Abba” of some small monasteries that belonged to him. Saint Basil the Great (330 — †January 2, 379), thanks to the monastic experiences that had preceded him, began to make changes and corrections to the cenobitic forms already in place. He based community coexistence on a type of friendly relationship, convinced that only the cenobitic life guaranteed the exercise of charity. Indeed, cohabitation constitutes a testing ground, a continuous exercise, an uninterrupted meditation on the precepts of the Lord. Basil limited the number of monks whom lived together and included the monasteries within the social and ecclesial reality, aggregating hospices, schools, orphanages. He reduced the commitment of manual work, placing greater emphasis on prayer and study. Finally, Jerome of Stridon (347 — † September 30, 420) was able to export these forms of ascetic life that had arisen in the Eastern world to the West.
The Desert Abbas
We have seen that the Desert Abbas are the hermits whom, from the end of the third century, retreated to isolated places in upper and lower Egypt, sometimes in the desert (in Greek, ἐρῆμος — erēmos — desert, uninhabited) with forms of solitary life (ἀναχώρησις — anachoresis — Retreat from the world into a solitary life —), but also common (κοινόβιος — cenobitism — koinóbios, “communal living”), from κοινός (koinós, “common, shared”) + βίος (bíos, “life”). The IV and V centuries were the periods of maximum vitality, then there was a progressive decline until the VII century, in which the Muslim conquest interrupted it.
The Desert Abbas lived in almost total poverty, in huts or caves; they lived thanks to the work of their hands weaving palm leaves to make baskets or other useful objects. Sometimes they were hired as seasonal labourers by Nile Valley farmers.
Among the most important monastic centres we find Nitria (south of Alexandria) with the hermitages of the Cells and the solitude of Scete, the Thebaid, where Pachomius founded the first monastery between 318 and 323. His elder brother John joined him, in a short time more than 100 monks lived in the vicinity.
The Desert Abbas did not have written rules, so their life was free as well as subject to some inevitable variations.
In the cenobios, the monks gathered for a liturgical assembly “Σύναξις — syntaxis”, the communities Eucharist celebration and other divine offices.
For short periods, a monk would, as a religious discipline, withdraw into total solitude and absolute hermitism. Different types of life often alternated although community life took over.
Brief spiritual profile
Early monasticism and therefore that of the Desert Abbas has a formidable link with Sacred Scripture. This is evident in some precise choices, which recall the path taken by the people of God, especially in the Old Testament: the desert, as a place of trial, of temptation, of abandonment to God, of the fight against demons, of the precariousness and transience of everything (see below); the reference to Abraham and his abandonment of his homeland; the holy places such as Sinai and Carmel; virginity as a response to Christ’s invitation to follow him in an ever more perfect life (which has more connection with the New Testament).
The spiritual path taken by monasticism was in the first place to rectify the positions of the beginning that led to some degenerations: poor ecclesial sense, moral disorders, theological errors, forms of fanaticism. The spiritual path was seen as a passage from sadness to joy. On the basis of the first experiences of the Desert Abbas, a common patrimony of doctrine and ideality was formed. We can identify some stages of the ascetic ideal, according to the following themes:
pénthos (πένθος) — mourning, grief, bereavement — a theme of compunction;
apótaxis (ἀπόταξις) — renunciation;
anachóresis (ἀναχώρησις) — retreat from the world into a solitary life;
áskēsis (ἄσκησις) learned borrowing from Late Latin ascesis, or directly from its etymon, Ancient Greek ἄσκησις áskēsis, — exercise, training;
agon (ἀγών) — a struggle or contest, the spiritual battle;
apátheia (ἀπάθεια) — a state of mind free from emotional disturbance; the freedom from all passions, self-mastery;
diákrisis (διάκριση) — from Ancient Greek (διακριτικός) diakritikós, to distinguish, discernment of spirit;
parrhēsía (παρρησία) — Ancient Greek parrhēsía (παρρησία), from πᾶν (pân, “all”) (English pan-) + ῥῆσις (rhêsis), ῥῆμα (rhêma, “utterance, speech”). the regaining of a colloquial spirit with God;
theopoíesis (θεοποίηση): deification.
And yet, these spiritual themes do not permit us in deriving a theology of the Desert Abbas. The specific experience of the Abbas presupposes a certain Pelagianism, at least insofar as it emphasises the need for personal commitment, and also on the autonomous capacities of man and his effort, to achieve salvation. Herein lies the ascetic hardness of the Egyptian monks, always struggling with the insuperable distance that separates man from God: a distance that no ascetic practice, however rigorous to the point of impossibility, can be able to bridge. Without wishing to make the slightest attempt to formulate a judgment, it is clear that Augustine’s (and later Luther’s) polemics against monastic Pelagianism are justified if only one looks at that sort of balance of give and take towards God that, at times, it appears in the ἀποφθέγματα τῶν πατέρων — (lit. Sayings of the Abbas). In its best aspects, however, rigorous monastic asceticism is functional only for the destruction of carnal man, old man, exterior man and the birth of spiritual man, new man, interior ma№ In this case, asceticism does not imply any claim to merit, no judgment upon others who are not ascetics, but underpin the clearly expressed primacy of charity, which is the true sign of perfection, it is what distinguishes pagans virtue from Christians grace. Asceticism achieves the total destruction of the determined psychological element and bring to bear ‘true self’, universal of man, whom is deprived of amour propre — egocentricity, one’s will, and thus becoming one — merging — with the Divine Will, united with God within the spirit.
Deviating from the “desert”.
The word desert evokes contrastive resonances within diverse ethnic cultures, in philosophy, religions and spirituality. We follow of our own volition what is treated in a broader sense by The New Dictionary of Catholic Spirituality (Michael Downey Ed.), under the heading “desert”. Starting with the poetry of the pre-Islamic Bedouins, singing of the struggle between a desert whom spurns mankind and mankind whom attempts to conquer him regardless. Mankind truly becomes aware of their nothingness and of the absolute nothingness of everything within the unstoppable dispersal of time. There is no doubt that the desert mourns mankind, as it mourns everything else; but mankind’s revenge also appears indubitable, whose rational uncovers the desert in its fundamental substance, which is nothing if not nothingness… within its distinctiveness, it’s an accumulation of nothingness, that is, a manifestly pure, capricious and overbearing desolation.
With ethnological differences of opinion, the discovery of the distinctiveness of God has been attributed to the desert. Mankind, becoming a nomadic shepherd, progressively develops, with the help of the desert, the idea of the one God. This seems to be true both in the ancient Eastern pastor and in the civilisation of America after the discovery of Columbus. The Jews themselves had to be educated in the desert in order to come to the idea of the one and only God. Desert love is found in India, China, Central Asia, Africa and America through experience of the anchorites, similar everywhere. It is not always a question of the desert as a geographical place, with its rocks, the arid sands, the barren expanses, where everything dies, which requires reflection and the feeling of the nullity of man, always striving in search of an oasis of green where the life appears again. In fact, there are other places that ensure solitude, withdrawal from worldliness, silence, listening.
The attraction of the desert was felt in an original way by Christian mystics, not only because they felt they were strangers and pilgrims in this world, where they do not have a stable, permanent city (cf. 1 Pt 2:11 and Heb 13:14), but also to prepare oneself for the future city, through the penitential asceticism of the desert. Anthony the Great is the emblematic figure of this choice: solitude, hiding, the desert were the place where the conflict of the passions, of the dark and occult forces, operating within every man, was best discovered. It was believed in fact that it was the devil who brought about this conflict, wandering like a master in the solitude of the desert. Therefore, for the most determined and courageous souls, the desert became the training ground for a more demanding and often decisive struggle against the enemy of the spirit.
Anthony goes through a test of darkness in the course of which he has the impression of being abandoned by God to the diabolical power: nevertheless he perseveres, even in the most naked faith. And only at the end of the test, a luminous vision of the sky console him. That’s when the question is: where were you? Why did you not appear at the beginning to put an end to my sufferings? A voice replies: I was there, but I was waiting to see you fight (Athanasius the Apostolic, Life of Anthony).
Summarising, we can understand the desert as a spiritual place according to the perspectives traced in the previously cited dictionary:
Dynamics Of The Transitional: the desert, according to when it arises from biblical teaching, as a geographical place and as an attitude of separation from the rest of men, cannot be considered a permanent condition. For God’s Chosen People, the desert represented a transitional phase on either side of slavery and The Land of Milk and Honey “the promised land”. For Abraham, Moses, Elijah and for Jesus himself, the sojourn in the desert is part of the spiritual journey, as a powerful juncture for the evolution of one’s choices, for a privileged encounter with God and how to establish the conditions towards which one is endeavouring.
Education Of An Absolute: the desert is more than just a place for retreats — says French Catholic priest, theologian and founder of the Little Brothers of Jesus congregation René Voillaume —, because man is incapable of supporting himself unaided when facing the desert. It is therefore an attempt to advance stripped naked, weak, devoid of any human support whatsoever, in the fast of material and spiritual nourishment, towards the encounter with God. The desert necessitate a break with one’s own environment: one leaves the normal world of relationships, social interactions and comforts to be alone in a harsh and rigorous environment, where one’s essential needs are roused, which replace inessential or non-existent needs. Just as the Israelites were, a Christian is called to show, beyond any doubt, evidence of his unwavering faith in the one Lord, to rely only on Him, and to place one’s own freedom from danger in Him alone. We must choose the Absolute, proportionate to the other values and renouncing all the idols we progressively constructed in our lifetimes.
The Sayings of the Desert Abbas
The Collection of Sayings of the Desert Abbas and Mothers belongs to the literary genre called apothegmata (in Greek, ἀποφθέγματα Apophthegmata = maxims or sayings [a short cryptic remark containing some general or generally accepted truth; maxim]), known to ancient culture and in particular to Hellenistic culture. The literary form normally provides a brief example of life, an essential dialogue between disciple and teacher, a concise answer that summarises or condenses a profound moral and religious teaching. It was normal for anonymous copyists to collect and pass on the most important and famous episodes and sayings of the Abbas and Mothers, which had previously only been handed down orally.
Over time a collection of material was formed which were subsequently reworked and rearranged in different languages (Greek, Syriac, Latin, Coptic, Armenian). The most important compendium is the Alphabetical Collection (Αλφαβετικον – Alphabeticon), translated into Latin (from Greek) in the VI century. This is the oldest, most authoritative and widespread collection.
In the collection of Sayings we find that a basic element of prayer, life and doctrine of the desert Abbas were composed by means of memorisation of numerous passages of Scripture.
Biblical references developed within the dialogue with a certain recurrence and spontaneity as well as a great freedom in detaching oneself from their original context. At the core remains a great faith and reliance in the authority of the Bible, as in its sacred mentality, in a real and privileged presence in the Lord and in the particular benefits of the Word as a mechanism or conduit of grace. This faith in the transcendent reality of the Word and in its supernatural strength is expressed in two attitudes: approaching the Bible to receive essential indications, the strength of conversion, comprehension of God’s will; second, a reticence to scrutinise its mysteries, to lay claim to interpreting them, to talk about them. This results in exceptional circumspection in the manner that the scriptures are used and in the counsel of its use that are given by the elders. Often they show reluctance and restraint in talking about them, they advise a good deal of prudence in using them and do not always respond when questioned about them.
Short anthological commentary
This is not a broad anthology of the Sayings of the Desert Abbas, but a simple “snippet” that will allow you to deepen your interest through a more apodictic study thanks to the various published anthologies. Specifically, I would recommend The Desert Abbas: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks by Sr. Benedicta Ward SLG, published in 2003 by Penguin Classics, and by the same author with a Preface by Metropolitan Anthony The sayings of the Desert Abbas: the alphabetical collection published in 1984 by Liturgical Press which are substantial in material. These two happen to be my most used resource books in English but I also quite frequently use Vita e detti dei Padri del deserto edited by Luciana Mortari and published by Città Nuova in 2012, obviously this does not prevent you from looking for and finding other books on the subject and I would also therefore recommend The Internet Archive where I’ve complete a search for you which is available Here.
1. THE CARE OF SOULS
“In a monastery, a brother was falsely accused of impurity: and he went to his Abba Anthony. Then the brothers came from the monastery to cure him and take him away. They accused him: “You did this.” And he defended himself: “I did nothing of the kind.” Luckily it happened that his. Paphnutius of Thebes was there; he told this parable: “On the river bank e I saw a man knee-deep in mud; and some came to give him a hand, but they made him sink up to his neck”. And Abba Anthony, referring to Paphnutius, tells them: “Here is a real man, capable of healing and saving souls.” Contrite due to the word’s of the elders, they bowed to their brother; then, urged by the Abbas, they brought him back to the monastery.” [Anthony the Great, № 29]. He also said: “Life and death come from our neighbour. Because, if we gain a brother, it is God we gain; and if we scandalise our brother, it is against Christ that we sin”.
In the care of souls, much tact and caution, attention and tenderness are needed. Often the attempt to redeem a person has the result of burying him more and more, sometimes even without the triggering reason being present (i.e., without the sin, but only the accusation, which tends to be repeated). This attitude of care and attention towards sinners or the weakest appears completely lost in modern times and in the spiritual direction of many, who prefer to surround themselves more with “righteous” (or presumed to be such) than with “sinners”, more in need, distorting thus the message of salvation brought by Christ.
2. RECOMMENCE ALWAYS
“One day the demons attacked Arsenius in his cell to torment him; Meanwhile those who served him arrived and, standing outside the cell, they heard him cry out to God: “Oh God, do not abandon me; I have done nothing good in your eyes, but in your goodness allow me to begin”.” [Arsenius, № 3.]
Every moment is a good time to say the first time (or repeat, if necessary) our “yes”, to reaffirm our commitment to begin God’s work or to start again, according to the help of his mercy. Always starting over, always starting anew to do something good in our life. Never surrender to the forces of evil, the torments of the soul, difficulties and anxieties, but always entrust oneself to God, imploring him, in his mercy, to be able to begin a story with him again. And he will certainly not abandon us.
3. SPEAK WITH THE HEART
Abba Poemen said, “Teach your mouth to say what your heart contains”. [Poemen, № 63].
Spiritual research must establish certain stages. Among these are the wonderful harmony between the depths of the heart and what we affirm with our mouth. A word is never empty, this is what the Desert Abbas teach us, and therefore let the heart always speak through adequate words, which come from the depths. Thus giving a sense of truth to words that otherwise would sound empty.
4. SENSE OF SOLITUDE
A brother asked Abba Matoes: ‘What must I do? My tongue causes me distress: when I come among the others, I cannot hold it back, but in every action of theirs I find to judge and accuse them. What must I do then?’ The old man replied: ‘Flee into solitude. In fact, it is weakness. Whoever lives with brothers must not be a cube, but a sphere, in order to roll towards everyone’. And he said: ‘I live in solitude not by virtue, but by weakness; in fact, those who go among men are strong.’ [Matoes, № 13].
The real strong is not the loner, but the one who lives among men. This is what Abba Matoes confirms to us. Yet today the opposite seems to be true. We live easily in the world and hardly in solitude, but we are not all strong, quite the contrary. We have become more and more ‘cubes’ that roll, with the sides slightly blunted by the continuous conflicts, but we will never be ‘spheres’ able to direct ourselves with truth and love towards everyone. The invitation is to accept moments of weakness, recovering the sense of true loneliness, as a training in total and unconditional openness to others.
5. THE EFFORT OF DRAWING CLOSE TO GOD
Mother Syncletica of Alexandria said: “For those who approach God at first there is struggle and great effort, but then unspeakable joy. Like those who want to light the fire: first they are disturbed by the smoke and tear, then they reach what they seek. Because, he says, our God is fire that consumes (Heb 12:29). So we too must kindle the divine fire with tears and hardship”. [Syncletica, № 1].
The struggle distinguishes every spiritual path, especially at the beginning: “Strive to enter through the narrow door, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough” & “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many” (cf. Lk 13:24 or Mt 7:13) is the invitation that Jesus himself addresses to walk the road that leads to salvation. This section of the discourse is composed of a series of antitheses, contrasting two kinds of life within the Christian community, that of those who obey the words of Jesus and that of those who do not. Most of the sayings are from Q and are found also in Luke.And if it is true, as stated at the beginning of this page, that the term “fatigue” is what best defines a monk, it is nevertheless not exclusive to the monk, but to every person who takes his life seriously and wants to be “ablaze” with God.
6. SUBTLENESS OF THOUGHTS
Abba Poemen said, ‘Many of our Abbas became valiant in ascesis. But, as for the subtlety of thoughts, which is reached through prayer, only one or two.’ [Poemen, № 106].
Ascesis does not allow, however extreme and hard it may be, to inevitably reach God. Man’s effort, set out in this way, will remain disappointed in the end. This does not at all mean that it has no meaning or that it is harmful, far from it: ascesis allows us to better understand the meaning of things and of life, through renunciation and detachment. And surely the road to salvation also passes through these things: “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses it will save it”. (cf. Lk 17:33), that is, whoever desperately wants to be himself will never be true himself (see Søren Kierkegaard, The Sickness unto Death). But the true subtlety of thoughts, that is, being one thought with God, is obtained through prayer, which is an uninterrupted and constant dialogue with him, made up of words and silences, of possession and renunciation. And few, even among the desert Abbas, manage to obtain such insightful, acute thoughts.
7. THE TRUE MASTER
Abba Poemen said: “A man who teaches, and does not do what he teaches, resembles a spring; he drinks and washes everyone, but he cannot purify himself”. [Poemen, № 25].
The true teacher is not the one who teaches without realising what he believes and transmits. First he must put his theories into practice. First, he must live what he believes. But this difficulty of personally translating what is believed and taught is a frequent situation for most people. “Knowing that what you need is the fullness of needing, not satisfaction” (Giovanni Romano Bacchin, Su l’autentico nel filosofare (1963)), just as knowing some truths and knowing that you can teach them is not getting to possess them or live them fully. There is no value judgment regarding the fact that a man who teaches cannot live what he is aware of, but a kind of negative connotation for himself: the teacher is still a spring that washes and gives drink to many , although he cannot, if he does not put into practice what he says, to purify himself. In this lies only a great personal tragedy, which is that of being of help to others without knowing how to help themselves, on which the Abbas invite us to reflect, in order to overcome it.
8. SPEAKING AND SILENCE
A brother asked Abba Poemen: ‘Is it better to speak or to be silent?’ The elder said: ‘Whoever speaks for the love of God does good, and whoever is silent for the love of God does equally well.’ [Poemen, № 147].
We often ask ourselves what is best to do: speak or be silent, act or abstain, ask or remain silent, help or not. In reality, what one does, does not matter much, or rather the work by itself does not count as much as does the original intention that animated it. For this reason, whether we speak or keep silent, whether we act or remain inert, what must worry us is whether our every action comes from our love for God. Only love knows how to act (in silence like in word, in action as in stillness) and only those who truly love can do what they want (Augustine), without worrying whether it is right or wrong (Meister Eckhart von Hochheim OP (c. 1260 – c. 1328)). Man must always be master and not slave of what he accomplishes, and this can only be accomplished if he entrusts himself to the love of God, who makes all his works good.
9. LIVE BEFORE YOU SPEAK
A brother came to Abba Teodoro and began to talk and deal regarding matters he had not yet experienced. “You haven’t found the ship yet — the old man tells him —, haven’t you loaded your baggage yet, and have you already arrived in that city before you’ve even left? First complete the work and then you will reach what you are now talking about”. [Theodore of Ferme, № 9].
It is a common evil: that of speaking before realising something or talking about something and dealing with it before even knowing it and having lived it. The Abbas invite you to have an experience that involves the whole person, a life experience that is as “absolute” as possible. In addition, they invite you to always measure your words in every moment and not to say beyond the normal saying and the essentiality of what is necessary. Do not exaggerate your experiences, do not become masters of life (especially spiritual) before having a true and profound experience. And even then always have a modesty in introducing yourself to others. Abba’s do not normally speak or give advice, unless they have been questioned. Daily reality is quite another thing: we live in a world that grows our lives prematurely, that frantically cultivates our anxieties to reach a goal (soon) and then immediately leave again, without limits or satisfaction. In truth, nothing is achieved, because one does not live deeper. We live in another dimension, that of extension, of breadth and the direction is not that which approaches the depth of the soul, but that which moves away from it. Or rather, our soul is not scrutinised at all. Even modern psychology is a simple culture of the exterior, of the behavior that appears or of mechanisms, always exterior, made of osmosis, of cellular exchanges, of substances that do not give reason to our truest and deepest demands.
10. THE TENDERNESS OF GOD
Some elders went to Abba Poemen and asked him: ‘If we see brothers dozing during the liturgy, do you want us to shake them, so that they remain awake during the vigil?’ But he said to them, ‘Truly, if I see a brother dozing, I’ll put his head on my lap and let him rest.’ [Poemen, № 92].
The extraordinary care and great tenderness of the Abbas is revealed in this saying by Poemen. It suggests that, beyond any written or otherwise observed rule, everything must pass (= be filtered) by simple common sense, which is beyond all rules and norms and which cannot be taught. Common sense which is tenderness, in fact, kindness in ways and thoughts, shrewdness, care, attention to others as “being other”, with a dignity that goes beyond the established laws and norms. Thus should be understood any moral theology that is confronted not with a fact, but with a person who has done something. A person whom needs that tenderness and that kind of mercy, which only God truly knows how to give: which is a love that surpasses justice. In every moment, I like to entrust myself to this tenderness that belongs to God, more often than to men, to his mercy that welcomes my soul on his knees and lets it rest.
To aid others we have attached various articles written by Fr. Ugo-Maria Erem. Dioc., and others to aid as a telematic accompaniment for the person undertaking their spiritual journey. Additionally we have prepared a list of of books downloadable in pdf. format or on Internet Archive of books that will help as a guide in your spiritual journey. We hope you will find them of use.
Articles by Dom. Ugo-Maria: