St Sabas

Abbot (entered heaven this day in 1552)

Dear Sabine,

From your latest note, it sounds to me like you’re a bit frazzled (as much as you tried to hide it).  Final exams coming up, fellowship application deadlines, Advent liturgical committee planning sessions, orchestra rehearsals intensifying… no wonder you are feeling tense.  And I bet that amid the flurry of such urgent activity, you made the conscientious decision to cut down on your personal prayer time temporarily – you said to yourself, “It’s just for these couple of weeks – as soon as vacation starts I’ll be at peace and able to spend plenty of time with God.”  Yah, right. Judging from past experience, how peaceful do your Christmas vacations tend to be? Not very. Knowing you as well as I do, I feel perfectly free to point my finger directly at the problem: your priorities are upside down. Peace of mind and soul doesn’t come from calm and ordered exterior circumstances.  It’s exactly the other way around.  Calm and ordered exterior circumstances flow from the peace of mind and soul.  When your heart is grounded firmly on God’s love and the conviction that you are fulfilling his will for your life, even the most chaotic schedule is quickly tamed.  

It’s like today’s saint.  Sabas grew up in Palestine, living in a monastery from the age of 8.  By the time he was 18 he had learned to pray, and he found himself longing for more solitude and sacrifice.  He went in search of a famous hermit near Jerusalem, who advised him to join up with a different monastery instead of becoming a hermit himself, since he was still so young, which he did.  But as he grew older, he received permission to spend five days a week alone in the sparse cliffs of the Kedron gorge, where he devoted himself to prayer and manual labor. Finally, he retired further into the desert near Jericho and lived in utter solitude on the face of a cliff for four years.  

Then began a flow of visitors who desired to be accepted as his disciples, and he organized them into a community of hermits, which became the monastery “Mar Saba,” one of the oldest still in existence today (impressive place, really; looks like a fortress complex clinging to a cliff).  His wisdom, charity, simplicity, and joy became proverbial, and the Patriarch of Jerusalem often defended him from the slanderous attacks of envious monks, as well as sending him on particularly delicate missions of diplomacy and evangelization. Amidst the intense activity, however, he never refrained from spending time alone with God in prayer, whence he drew the supernatural strength and light that flowed gently but forcibly from his lips and eyes.  

Once during a personal retreat, he made his bed in a cave that happened to be the den of a lion, which upon returning dragged him out into the open with its claw.  Sabas awoke, got up, and went back into the cave. Eventually, the lion became almost tame – but not quite. And when the saint rebuked it, admonishing that if it couldn’t live with him in peace, it had better find another place to dwell, it slinked guiltily away.

This latter story may be just a story (but it may not), but the truth it illustrates is particularly applicable to you, my busy niece: a soul whose primary nourishment is prayer, obedience, and love for God will be able to tame the wildest of circumstances.  So don’t let Advent pass you by dizzily running from the lions; rather, set aside your time for prayer every day, and watch how the lions begin heeding your beck and call.

Lovingly, your uncle, Eddy

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