When we look around the world we live in, we are often overwhelmed by its complexity and its activity. The world seems never to take a break: businesses, stores and restaurants are open seven days a week, school activities take place at all times, entertainment can be accessed at any hour via the internet and wireless streaming devices and we are often slavishly controlled by all manner of communications: cell phones, emails, text messages and social networking.All of this worldly activity is supposed to allow us more free time and make our life “easier” and “simpler.” But in reality, it only seems to complicate it by forcing us to devote more money and energy to acquiring those “time-saving” and “lifeenhancing” devices and products. Beyond this, all that worldly activity cuts down on the time we spend together as a family, restricts our ability to go to church services and events and chips away at the time that we devote to the care of our soul through prayer, spiritual reading and repentance.
Even those who have the desire for a more balanced and healthy spiritual life find themselves caught in a seemingly endless cycle: feeling weighed down or trapped by the whirlwind of the world and, at the same time, being unable to attain a “simpler” life, a spiritual life free from the cares of the world from the sheer exhaustion wrought by that whirlwind. When the moment for prayer, family activity or even silence comes around, we find ourselves too tired even to relax and halfheartedly pledge to do better “next time.”
And then we check our email one more time…
The experience of the saints throughout the ages knows of this difficult cycle and offers a solution. The solution, however, is not one involving the elimination of the distractions of the world or the artificial construction of a community separate from those distractions. The solution is an ascetical one which finds its path through the effort of overcoming the passions that darken our heart. This ascetical solution is available to us, not through any external force, but through our heart.
One of the great ascetics of the Church, our holy Godbearing Father Anthony the Great, speaks of this through his writings and manifests it through his life. It is often easy to dismiss the great ascetics by saying: “Oh, they could do that because they were saints,” or “I am not as holy as him” or even “those things were possible in those days, but no one does them today.” Certainly the saints exhibited great ascetical efforts and many of them we should not even attempt. But at the same time, it is good to remember not what the saints accomplished, but how they did it and even more, why they did it.Saint Anthony writes: “Let us endeavor to possess nothing except what we shall take with us to the grave, namely, charity, meekness, righteousness and so on. Virtue, that is, the Kingdom of Heaven, needs only our good will, for it is within us. Actually, it consists simply in keeping the spiritual part of our soul in the purity and beauty in which it has been created.”
Saint Anthony may not have known about cell phones and plasma televisions, but he knew what temptation was and he knew how strong the attraction of the world is. His words are simple words from a pure heart that give us courage to devote ourselves to that most sacred task of keeping our heart and soul pure through the practice of the virtues. Through the virtues, we receive the grace of God which does not eliminate the turmoil of the world, but gives us the strength and the desire to seek after Christ and His peace.