Palm Sunday the people had it right, perhaps for the very first time. Jesus was indeed the “Son of David”, the Messiah. They were right to cry out to him for salvation, but in the fervor of the moment they lost the point. The salvation they needed was not external to them, the changing of rulers, a hope in some person alone, but a change in themselves. The salvation Christ offered was more profound than the salvation of politicians. It was the total transformation of the world beginning with the total transformation of the person. The revolution was to begin within.
St. Mary of Egypt Sunday
We live, for the most part, in an unexamined state. In the affairs of life few of us ever have much time, frankly, to look at our lives with any kind of clarity at all and certainly not with the pure vision that only God possesses.
We see ourselves basically in shadows, blurred images, a face we see in the mirror for a few minutes and then it is gone. For the most part the world is simply filled with varieties of noise, a hundred things trying to get our attention at any one minute and we hardly pay attention to any of it, or to ourselves.
For the most part its only a crisis of some kind that forces the potential for reflection on our lives. When a somber doctor says “It’s cancer, and we’ll do the best we can”, or you take the long walk out of the office with your desk in a cardboard box there is suddenly space for clarity.
In the case of St. Mary of Egypt, whose Sunday we are calling to mind, it came at the door of a church. In a moment she saw the trajectory of her life in all its infamy and pain and in that moment the Holy Spirit spoke to her about her life, her sins, her potential future, and everything else that really mattered.
Her response to this moment of insight was tears and the complete renunciation of her self in the embrace of God. It was in that moment that the woman who had given herself to everyone understood that only God finally mattered and every hunger would find its satisfaction with Him. It was in that moment when she stepped away from death into life.
The season of Lent is quickly coming to an end and with it the invitation to self examination and repentance. The truth is that it can be a terrifying thing to stand naked and exposed before God with the whole of our lives subjected to His vision. For the most part we’re glad to let the business of life keep us from taking a truthful and honest look at ourselves. Embarrassment, pain, a fear of the unknown, all of this and more prevents us from coming to God with a clear perspective of who we are.
Yet just as a doctor needs total truth from us in order to properly diagnose and treat our illnesses so we, too, need complete honesty about ourselves before God as the first step to curing the dark sicknesses of our soul. And while God, in His mercy may allow a crisis to help focus on the true state of things we can also willingly engage in this process choosing to live a life of complete honesty towards God each day.
The remarkable thing, of course, is that our fears in these things are groundless. We may think that somehow we are hiding from God, that His vision of us can be blurred or distorted like our own. Such is not the case. Admit it or not God knows us to the depths of our being. God knows us better then we know ourselves. Nothing is hidden. When we go to confession we tell God nothing new.
Yet it is precisely at the moment that we expose every hidden corner of ourselves to God that we discover love greater then we could possibly imagine. In one moment St. Mary of Egypt, who had been filled with the insatiable desire for men, came to her senses and her troubled heart, her arms so often full of empty love, came to know the love that endures and cannot be quenched. Her wandering through life ended and she was filled with pure, clear, and holy purpose.
While there is still time in Lent we can ask God for this great gift, to see our lives as they truly are, to be exposed in every hidden corner and yet in doing so to begin the healing we crave, the grace we need, and the love that never fades. There is but a week before Holy Week yet so much good is still possible if we are willing to say “Here I am, God, take everything I am, give me eyes to see what is true and right and good, eyes to see you and see myself with clarity, and like St. Mary of Egypt heal this broken sinner who stands before the doors of your temple seeking what I lost in Eden so long ago.”
I stand in your fire
but remain unconsumed
and for the moment the world is still.
Only the words matter, as old as time,
offered for the world and bright with your presence.
How dark the night can be, and yet how precious this moment,
this day, this time when eternity is in my hand and I
stand in the flames of forever
but remain unconsumed.
It’s morning before a late day at work. The TV is on.
Click. Someone is trying to sell me zircons. Click. There’s a preacher telling me God wants me to be rich but before that I have to send him an “offering”. Click. Re-runs of shows so old that everybody on them is dead. I guess that’s what they mean by eternal life. Click. Some football star is busted for sexual assault, again. Click.
The electronic soul of the world is wasted, dry, a desert, and not the kind where saints are formed in the heat and prayer. At the heart of things is a wasteland of our own making. We’ve not only left our first garden but we’ve pulled up and consumed every green thing that remained and now our horizon is sand.
Our mouths are dry. Our skin is parched and red. Every oasis is a mirage as our blistered feet stumble from empty place to place. We are destined to be skeletons bleached by a cruel sun.
Except O Lord, for you. How would I wander if you were not my destiny? How would I pass through a world of lies if you were not my truth? How would I perish from hunger if you were not my bread? How would I die of thirst if you were not my living water?
Do not forget me, Lord, walk with me and guide me until I am safely home.
Thou, O Christ our Savior, hast become for me the path of life which leads to the Father. There is but one path, and it is my joy, and at the end of it is the heavenly kingdom.
Thou, O Master, Jesus, Son of God, hast become for me the path of life and enlightenment.
In the heart of Thy servant Thy grace has become light and joy, which are sweeter than the honey of the honeycomb to the lips of Thy slave.
In the soul of Thy servant Thy grace has become a treasure, which has made his poverty rich and driven away misery and corruption.
For Thy servant, Thy grace has become a refuge, strength, a defense, ennoblement, praise, and food for the whole of his life.
How can Thy servant be silent, O Master, after having tasted the great sweetness of Thy love and grace? How could I dare once again to obstruct the waves of grace which pour forth into the heart of me, a sinner, and which are replete with sweetness according to the multitude of Thy gifts?
I shall sing of the glory of the Master of heavenly powers and shall magnify Thy grace, O Christ our Saviour, and my tongue shall not cease to chant of Thy love.
Thy love draws me to Thee, O Savior, O praise of my life.
Thy grace makes it sweet for me to follow Thee with my mind.
May my heart be as a fertile field for Thee, and may Thy grace sprinkle the dew of eternal life upon it.
May Thy grace reap a good harvest on the field of my heart: humility, reverence, sanctity, and all that is ever pleasing to Thee.
Return my soul to the sweet garden of paradise, and may it abide in light that, surrounded by the delights of paradise, I too may say with all the saints: Glory to the Immortal Father; honor to Him Who presents heavenly gifts to this worthless one, that he may bring a tithe of glory to the King of all!
attributed to St. Ephrem the Syrian, 4th century
of goodness in the world is more than a mere kindness. It is a militant push back against the darkness. It is the retaking of our humanity from its fall and struggle and returning it to God.