St Pachomius

Abbot (entered heaven 348)

Dear Paco,

I was able to see the tape of your debate with the fundamentalists. Quite impressive.  You obviously did your homework. Congratulations. Nevertheless, as your devoted uncle, I have to issue you a sincere warning: your vast knowledge of the faith will do absolutely no good to anyone (not even yourself) unless it is undergirded with an equally vast love for your neighbor.  As St Paul put it: “And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:2)  Wield your wit, your knowledge, and your rhetorical flair not in order to emerge as a prominent apologist, but in order to win more friends for Christ. St Francis de Sales used to say that a single drop of honey would attract more flies than a whole barrel of vinegar; I fear that your performance in the debate was of the barrel variety.  We can simply never overestimate the impact of the simplest act of true Christian charity. Take today’s saint, for instance.

The man was a volcano.  In gratitude for the grace of baptism, he retreated into the deserts of Egypt (where he was from) and apprenticed himself to a hermit in order to learn how best to serve God.  Together they lived alarmingly austere lives – sleeping sitting up, never eating a full meal, frequently praying and working all night long – in order to master their sinful tendencies and put their whole heart, mind, and strength into loving God.  One day Pachomius had a vision of angel instructing him to build a monastery on the banks of the Nile. He obeyed, and soon a trickle of followers filled the few cells, followed by more and more men who felt called to give their lives to penance and prayer.  Soon he founded other monasteries, wrote a series of guidelines for monastic life, and inspired countless other Christians with his humility, patience, and miracles. By the time he died in an epidemic, his nine monasteries housed over 3000 monks, and the monastic movement, which has ever since been filling the world with holiness and wisdom, was underway.  

And how did this whole amazing sequence of events begin?  With a simple act of Christian charity. You see, before his baptism (even before he knew about Christ), Pachomius had been conscripted for the imperial army.  As he and the other recruits were being transported down the Nile under horrific conditions, a group of Egyptian Christians gave them food, fresh clothing, and other necessities.  Pachomius never forgot this, and as soon as his military service was over, he went to the nearest Christian church in order to be baptized. Those Christians won countless souls to Christ through winning Pachomius by a simple act of Christ-like charity – no fancy arguments were needed.  

So, my dear nephew, keep up with your studies, but season them with love.  

Your admiring uncle, Eddy

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