For years, I have wondered at my desert experiences, as one cannot learn everything at once from being in strange and isolated areas, without continuity or community.
Having experienced intense communal life four times in my life, I have desired this type of lifestyle, but this has been denied me.
One of the great gifts of communal living, as in Benedictine monasteries, is the Rule of discipline. But, another great gift is that of flexibility. What most Catholics do not recognize, not ever having been “in”, is the real joy of sharing space with others who are not family, but who are working for the same goal-union with Christ.
Within the Rule of St. Benedictine are both the hours, kept religiously, but also the call to be flexible. One’s superior may ask one to do something. Nothing is owned, and therefore, one does not “have” one’s own stuff or even space. To be flexible means dying to self, not having one’s own coffee mug, or one’s own type of bed, or one’s own taste in food or surroundings.
Flexibility is missing among so many Catholics that I understand why God has given me the lifestyle which He has done. I do not have to have “my things” in a certain place, or “my” space a certain way.
The lack of flexibility is a huge block to community living. Perhaps because I lived in community so young, joining at the age of 23, I grew into adulthood sharing with many people from many different backgrounds, but with the same goal.
One could not insist or take over a space, a place, even a chore. No one could claim even work as one’s own.
I find that a detriment to character building in so many people has been this lack of sharing space and things. Either a person has a tendency to “take-over” and be bossy, or one gives up, and joins in the community.
Families use to teach community living, but no longer do so, as there are so few large families, and, too many children grow up never having to share space or things. I did not have my own room until I was fifteen. That was normal in my sub-culture of large Catholic families.
One did not have one’s own phone, so one had to share, or one’s own car, or one’s own bathroom. Sharing was the common way of life, just as it is in a community of monks or nuns.
The cult of individualism has created a society of people who do not know how to share. Too much emphasis is on “privacy” which is not really solitude, as those in private may have their own phones, computers, and t.v.s
So, what has to do with being in the desert? The Desert Fathers, and even St. John the Baptist, learned to do with whatever they found in difficult situations. Building a hut might mean using mud, or rocks, or branches from whatever local flora could be found. One could not have one’s own idea of what one’s domicile was to be like. The same with bedding and the lack of, or food and the lack of.
Going without, not having set ideas of what one should or should not have truly creates spiritual detachment. If one can be detached from things, or space, one learns to rely totally on God and to give up one’s own ideas of comfort, or even of discomfort.
Living in a desert mode mans eating what is before one—not having choices; wearing what is given or what one just can get—not having choices; living in places which one may not prefer—not having choices.
The great danger of the rich and middle class is that those people never have to endure not having choices.
In the desert, there are few or no choices, as in the monastery or convent. One cannot choose the room with the view or the softest bed, and so on….
Desert choices are made by God. As the God of the Desert (see old blog on our God being the God of the Desert), Christ asks those whom He loves to follow Him alone, without baggage, without the little red wagon of stuff.
Detachment from self allows one to become detached from sin, and even the tendencies towards sin.
The more a person is in situations of non-choice, the more dies to self—the ego starves to death without choices. Do I what a living room with this or that color of paint? Forget it—in the desert one either does not have a living room, or the color of whatever is has to be accepted.
This example may sound silly, but too many Catholics have never died to self and have always been able to choose their diets, their decorations, their destinies.
God allows people to go their own way, choosing things which may not be His Choice.
A desert lifestyle means that one follows the God of the Desert into the solitude and loneliness of self-forgetfulness. To really live for God Alone, to really choose His Will, all other choices must be set aside.
That choice is the biggest one of all-will I follow God totally, depending on Him for everything, and that means every thing……?
And why? To kill that self which insists on his or her way daily means that one must give up choices.
When one gets married, one gives up all the other boyfriends or girlfriends one had. When one chooses Christ as the Bridegroom, one gives up all other loves and follows Him wherever He leads.
Whenever I am here in Malta, I am so grateful for my desert experiences. When I am faced with my nothingness and the necessary simplicity of life, I am most happy, truly peaceful.
And, surprise, surprise, when one gives it all up, God gives back even more, as God will not be outdone in generosity.
In a months, I shall be led somewhere else. I have no preconceived ideas of what God wants me to do, but pray and share the Gospel, and not preconceived ideas of where He shall lead me in this new desert experience. All I know, is that God has gone before me and is waiting for me wherever I go.
Yes, I love community. Long ago, a woman in my parish in England told me I was a community builder. I knew that. She also told me that I was one of those persons who could get settled somewhere quickly.
But, I knew the reasons why I could do both things, not only from natural gifts, but because I was, even in 1993, detached enough to be ready to hit the floor running in order to build God’s Kingdom on earth, and to be willing to leave it all if necessary.
Detachment and objectivity come from desert experiences.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall see God.” Detachment clears the brain, the soul, the body.
Someone recently asked me what I ate daily. I said “whatever” not always by choice, but by necessity.
Locusts and honey, the daily diet of St. John the Baptist, may seem boring to most people—the same thing everyday. But, when food is eaten for nourishment in order to do other things, when one can set aside one’s need for novelty and change, the interior life grows. As the outer person fades in desires of the flesh, the inner person grows stronger.
I write this on the edge of Europe. I write this on what I think is the edge of the end of the free world as we have known it for centuries. I write this on the edge of a possible world war, unthinkable, but now, almost inevitable.
Those who understand and have benefited from desert experiences will not only be able to cope with the coming turmoil, but will be able to help others do so.
To endure in order to pass on the Faith and help others keep the Faith will be the call of those who have had the desert experiences. Those who are attached to their ways, their space, their food, their things, their choices, will become dead souls, unable to be flexible in grace.
Garrrigou-Lagrange notes, and all these references to him are from Providence, that the gross cult of individualism has strangled charity. I had noted this on the old blog when referring to the fact that charity is not the duty of governments, firstly, but of individuals called to love their neighbor and the society for the common good. That there are at least two generations which have no concept of the common good, such an idea coming out of both communal conscientiousness or even national pride, means that the virtue of justice is not being practiced by individuals.
I was told by a man here that there are no homeless people in Malta. I have never seen any. The tramp I saw the other day has a place to live, even though he is poor. The community on the island of business The men make sure the homeless, mostly men, are housed, clothed and fed. These men even go out an get furniture for this people. This is all individuals helping individuals, not government offices. These men have taken on the responsibility of helping persons who have names and stories.
One of the great evils which satan orchestrated in our times, and Garrigou-Lagrange also points to this problem, has been the attack on the leader of the family, the husband, to the point where families fall apart, the community falls apart, and the common good is lost amidst chaos. Chaos is always from the evil one, always, and without leadership in the home and in the community, there will be chaos.
Chaos results because the goal of the common good, the goal of justice has been lost, and that is God. Garrigou-Lagrange notes that it is natural for man to want to love his Creator, his God. It is, according to Aquinas and explained by Garrigou-Lagrange, a basic, primordial need—worshiping and serving God. The second primordial movement of a persons’ soul is preservation of the species, of one’s self, of one’s family, of one’s people, of one’s country. This movement of the soul has also been lost through gross individualism and fear.
Fear has captured the hearts of several generations of men, who refuse to take responsibility for being protectors. Here is the problem.
Aquinas and Garrigou-Lagrange tell us that intelligence informs the soul, that intelligence, bringing about reflection, informs men to love God first, and love themselves and their neighbor next.
The middle and upper class idea of pushing charity onto governments is contrary to this type of intelligence informing the soul. What has happened is that men have not stopped and thought, slowed down and reflected, prayed and learned to discern.
Satan has purposefully complicated life by lying to us all about false happiness in the accumulation of things, or the seeking of status. Justice is a lower virtue than charity, but justice, too, has been ignored in the last several centuries of greed and that lack of personalism.
To love God is a desire and faculty of the will, a spiritual faculty informed by grace. Again, grace is necessary for the implementation of both justice and charity. Today, when we witness daily violence contrary to charity, a state of affairs about as far away from the spiritual faculty of the will to love God and neighbor. As Garrigou-Lagrange notes, there is not two kinds of charity moving out from the intelligence of reflection, but one, love of God and love of neighbor.
Sadly, we are now seeing many, many years of gross selfishness, which will destroy our way of life. The enemies on the outside have been added by the enemies on the inside-our own cult of greed and lust.
God has always answered times of evil with fierce correction and that is one reason for the coming persecution. Few are completely innocent of the evils of society, the sins of nations, which have ignored the inner need to worship and love God, and love neighbor.
The lack of flexibility results from this self-centered core of being which refuses to give in the natural call in each person to love God and the other, as well as the supernatural aid of grace.
Without sanctifying grace (although, of course, God is not limited by the sacraments), and without the sacramental life of the Church, without nations focusing on loving God first, we cannot expect even a type of secular humanism, as handed down by the Protestants since the Enlightenment. That just does not work and dissolves into the type of chaos we are witnessing daily.
Those in denial may be lost souls. I pray for those lost souls, who think that life will go on just the same as before, not seeing the signs of the times, not allowing God to create a flexible spirit, a soul responsive to grace.
One of the great crises of our times, of the Baby Boomers and following generations, has been the lack of love in families. Two of my friends have told me how their own siblings manipulated a dying parent to change a hefty will and give all to the manipulating person. Both of my friends were left with nothing out of estates worth millions, because of siblings lying, cheating, denying the love of family to the other. Can one imagine a clearer parable for our times? Siblings no longer love one another in God, may no longer love each other, are estranged, and follow the siren call of gross individualism so common in the West.
That both of my friends now live in poverty and their siblings in great wealth symbolizes to me the chaos satan has constructed to undermine family life. Too many men have become predators, even denying justice to their own sisters, rather than caring for them. That I have heard this story twice from two ladies who are now struggling to live in the direst poverty simply because one or two of their own siblings are greedy does not surprise me.
The family which use to protect the weak and vulnerable no longer does so in many cases.
No flexible grace, no ability to love neighbor, even sibling, and a squashing of the primordial desire to love result in a nightmare culture of death. Even the baby in the womb has been put on the altar of Mammon, sacrificed by comfort, money, greed.
Remember is one is not baptized, one is not an heir of heaven or a child of God, This is taught in our Faith. One cannot pretend that all men and women are in grace. More and more unbaptized people populate the earth. It is our duty to evangelize them, not only for their own salvation, but for the protection of our Catholic identity and the continuation of Western Civilization, founded on Christian principles.
Sadly, we have to admit, it is too late, and all we can do is arm ourselves with heroic virtue. This will be, as Maritain notes above, the norm of survival.
St. John the Baptist, the patron of this land, (with Mary of Malta, our Mother), went into the desert to fast and pray, to prepare for the coming of the Kingdom, to add to the perfection of his sinless state, being the only person is history cleansed from Original Sin while in the womb.
His perfection, honed to a such a high degree that Christ called him the greatest man who ever lived, the truly perfect saint and a great symbol for our times, was brought to a great state of unity with God in the desert.
Ask yourselves today whether you are in a desert. If not, ask God to take you into one, but be prepared for the answer to this prayer. Be prepared, like the Desert Fathers, to face one’s own sins, predominant fault, and to be purged of all that is not from God.
But, in these days, these are the kinds of people we need-Catholics who are willing to be desert people—denying themselves, or allowing God to deny them even basic needs. This will happen anyway.
Remember the words of St. Thomas More, when he saw the proto-martyrs of the Henrecian persecution, the great Charterhouse Carthusians, (see my old blog for bios), seeing them tied to the wooden platforms, singing like bridegrooms going to their wedding. More’s comment included his own criticism of himself, that he should have been fasting and praying like them, in order to withstand the coming evils against the Church members, as he noted that instead of being so involved in the things of the Court, he should have thought more of God.
This is our call, now. To stop pretending that things will always be the same, that we can play in the courts of men, and still become holy enough to face even death, the death of martyrdom.
Flexibility to respond to whatever God brings into one’s life is determined by grace. I would not trade my desert life for anything else in the world. Pray for me to be strong and steady in the coming days, as I pray for you, by blog readers, to be the same.
But look to yourselves. For they shall deliver you up to councils, and in he synagogues you shall be beaten, and you shall stand before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony unto them And unto all nations the gospel must be preached. And when they shall lead you up, be not thoughtful beforehand what you shall speak: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye. For it is not you that speak, but the Holy Ghost. And the brother shall betray his brother unto death, and the father his son; and children shall rise up against the parents, and shall work their death. And you shall be hated by all men for my name’s sake. But the that shall endure unto the end, he shall be saved.
Christ describes here our times. Those is denial need to take time to go into the desert and see what is really happening through discernment.