Reflection on a Saying of a Desert Christian: anonymous young man

“A young man, led astray by the fearful power of bad habits, often fell into deep sin. He did not quit struggling, however. After each fall, he shed burning tears and prayed to God with these painful words: “Lord, save me, whether I desire it or not. I, like the dust that I am, am easily dragged down by the mud of sin. You, however, have the power to stop me. It is not wondrous, my God, if You have mercy on the righteous, or if You save the virtuous, for they are worthy to taste of Your goodness. Show Your mercy and benevolence to me, a sinner, Lord, and save me in a wondrous way; for, in all my wretchedness, I, unfortunate man that I am, flee only to You.”

“The youth said these things with contrition, both when he was taken over by passion and when he was calm. A certain time, when he was once more conquered, after an agonizing resistance, he kneeled and repeated the same words, shedding a river of tears. His invincible hope in divine mercy irritated the devil. He appeared before the youth in a total rage and shouted:

“Wretch! Do you not feel a little ashamed when you dare to pray and bring God’s name to your lips, in such a state as yours? You should learn once and for all that there is no salvation for you,”

“The brave struggler was not afraid, nor did he abandon his hope, as the devil expected.

“And you should know that this room is like a forge,” the young man boldly answered him. “You make a strike with the hammer and then you receive one. I will not cease battling you with repentance and with prayer, until that time that you are weary of battling me with sin.”

“Let it so be, then,” the devil shouted with malice. “From now on I am no longer battling you, so as not to increase the spoils of your patience.” Then he became invisible.

“From that moment, the youth’s struggle ceased. However, not for a moment did he cease watching over himself, crying frequently when he would recall his sins.

“Bravo! You have won,” the enemy sometimes whispered in his mind, in order, now, to pull the youth down into pride.

“I curse this accomplishment,” the youth would answer scornfully. “Do you really suppose that God wants a person to lose the purity of his soul by foul deeds and, afterwards, to sit and weep?”

This young man appeals to me.  He is so very human. He is also a good role model.  *He sins, he repents, he tries to do better.* Repeat from asterisk. What I like about him is that he doesn’t give up.  He continues to struggle against sin. He doesn’t say “Oh, what does it matter if I give in on this little point?  I’ll be so much more comfortable if I do.” Nope.  He turns his heart, mind, and spirit away from temptation, even though he does stumble. But he also gets up and continues to want to do what is pleasing to God.

This is very like our own lives, isn’t it, if we are paying attention as St. Ephraim recommended yesterday.  How many of us compromise?  How many of us take pride in our virtue, forgetting we have virtue only by God’s grace?  This young man never ceased to be vigilant in self-examination even when he was no longer tormented.

An example of how we must always be vigilant might be found in those who are in recovery from an addiction.  They never claim to be cured, they claim to be in recovery never taking it for granted, always working to stay in recovery. This is how the Desert Christians viewed the spiritual life. It takes work to live a holy life, hard work. We can’t take it for granted.  We must always work and strive for holiness in our doings.

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