St Thais

of Egypt (entered heaven this day around the year 348)

Dear Theo,

I detected a trace of comfort-seeking in your last note.  Could it be that you have become a bit self-satisfied now that you’re a senior?  True, you have accomplished a lot in three years working with Compass and Campus Ministry.  No one can fairly doubt it. But if God hasn’t yet taken you home to heaven, there’s a reason: you’ve still got more work to do.  Is everyone on campus in love with Christ? Are all the campus leaders committed to the Kingdom? Until they are, you have no cause to relax your efforts.  Perhaps today’s saint can inspire you to expand your horizons.

She was a beautiful Egyptian noblewoman who grew up as a Christian.  Unfortunately, however, the pleasures of court life flattered her vanity and drew her into their sticky web.  She frolicked and indulged, stifling her conscience and scandalizing her fellow citizens with her wholehearted embrace of the most sensual of sins.  Her reputation for ill behavior spread throughout the region, and, with the help of God’s grace, moved a holy hermit by the name of Paphnutius to begin interceding for her conversion.  He wept continually for her sins, did penance for them, and eventually concocted a pious plan to retrieve her soul from the road to perdition. He left his cave in the desert, donned courtly garb, and approached her residence for an interview.  She invited him into her parlor, but he asked to be shown an even more isolated room. At that request, she countered, “If you wish to avoid the eyes of men, this is sufficient; if you wish to avoid the eyes of God, no room is beyond his all-piercing gaze.”  Paphnutius was shocked to find that she still remembered the truth of God’s presence. When he expressed his surprise, she explained that she also knew about heaven and hell and the punishments of sin. Flabbergasted, he queried: “Is it possible you should know these great truths and yet dare to sin in the eyes of him who knows and will judge all things?”  At that moment, her heart was touched by grace, given deep contrition for her sins and a bottomless desire to make amends for them.

She begged the holy hermit to give her three hours to put her affairs in order, then she would meet him wherever he wished in order to receive her penance and begin her return to intimacy with God.  She used the three hours to gather all her jewels and clothes and even her luxurious furniture – all the trappings of her sinful past – and burn them in the city street, expressing both her intention to repent and her hope to undo the scandal caused by her bad example.  Then Paphnutius brought her to a convent, where she was closed up in a cell and given only bread and water to eat while she prayed for mercy: “You who have created me, have pity on me.” She persevered in her penance for a long time, and after St Anthony and St Paul the simple were both consulted, she was eventually extracted from her cell in order to join the community of religious.  Fifteen days later she went to her reward, having burned the perishable wealth of this world in order to inherit the everlasting wealth of the next.

I can’t help thinking that you have one or two (or many more) such souls there on campus.  In the back of their minds they still here the gentle voice of God, but they need someone to help them break with the evil habits they have formed.  Perhaps that’s where God would like you work this semester: praying and doing penance for the big sinners, and winning them back to the cause of Christ.

Your devoted uncle, Eddy

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