St Paul the First Hermit

(entered heaven in 342)

Dear Herman,

Things have been going quite well for you for a long time, and now you have just received the coveted Student Service Award to top it all off.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the bishop invites you over for a private dinner or something. Congratulations. Personally, I am not impressed by awards.  Sometimes they are merited, but most often they’re not – or at least, they are not justly given. And in every case, they bring with them a temptation that few are strong enough to resist: pride.  Often we begin to think ourselves more important than those around us just because we received certain public recognition that sets us apart. Or, just as bad, we fall prey to vanity, basing our own self-esteem on the shaky foundation of others’ praise.  Both tendencies sap love from our souls, turning us in on ourselves and cutting us off from humble and peaceful intercourse with God and neighbor. I will pray this doesn’t happen to you.

You may want to reflect a bit on the example of today’s saint to inoculate yourself against such spiritual diseases.  Paul fled into the deserts of Egypt when he was only 22 years old – he was attempting to escape the violent persecutions that were poisoning the faith of his fellow Christians in the city.  He found a cave shielded by a palm tree and next to a clear spring, and there he took up his abode. He planned to return home once the persecution abated, but he found such spiritual delight in his solitude and prayer that he began to think God wished him to stay out of “the world” in order to dedicate himself to praying for it.  So stay he did – for a 110 years.

Towards the end of his life, St Anthony the Abbot, another holy hermit and the founder of Christian monasticism, was experiencing a temptation to vanity: he thought that no one had lived in solitude and prayer longer than he had, that no one had reached heights of holiness equal to his own.  But God spoke to him in a dream and ordered him to go in search of a hermit holier than himself. Through uncanny coincidences, St Anthony made his way to Paul’s cave, and dined with him, discovering in him a kindred soul, but one much further along in humility and love for God and neighbor than he had imagined was possible.  Just a few days later, St Paul the First Hermit died, while he was at prayer, and St Anthony had him buried.

The first lesson is: don’t be afraid if you face temptations to vanity and pride – if St Anthony had them, why shouldn’t you?  And the second lesson is: stay humble.

Yours sincerely, Uncle Eddy

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