Reflection on a Saying of a Desert Christian: Abba Isaias the Anchorite

“A Christian has great difficulty in attaining three things,” Abba Isaias the Anchorite says, “grief (over sins), tears, and the continual memory of death. Yet these contain all of the other virtues.”

Of the remembrance of death specifically, he writes: “He who succeeds in saying each day to himself, ‘today is the last day of my life,’ will never willingly sin before God. He, however, who expects to have many years to live, without fail entangles himself in the nets of sin. God sanctifies the soul which is always prepared to give an accounting for its deeds. Whoever forgets the Judgment remains in the bondage of sin.”

How many of us who follow Jesus have these three things: grief over sin, tears; and the continual memory of our death?

Grief over sin is something I talked a bit about yesterday. Seems to me that most of us excuse sin as being part of human nature as if Jesus doesn’t call us to become better people than human nature allows. Possibly this is because, at least in western society, we are so hepped up on self-reliance and self-sufficiency that we forget that following Jesus is really a communal venture and that we really should be relying on the Holy Spirit.

As for tears… I don’t know if your experience is anything like mine but I was taught that it is bad to cry.  “Big girls don’t cry,” I was told when I was three.  “Be a man, don’t cry,” my parents told my brothers at around the same age.  These messages were repeated throughout our childhoods.

And yet isn’t there something cleansing about a really good cry?  Don’t those tears wash away something too painful for words? If we were to truly grieve over ou sins, maybe our tears would make the grip of sin less strong?

Remembering that we are going to die might have been easier in the days before the so-called miracles of modern medicine.    My mother is ninety-two years old and going strong. She has some health issues but tells me that at her age a person knows death is around the corner so she isn’t too concerned.  I am younger than she and I don’t think about death at all.

As a practicing Benedictine, I should engage in memento mori every day, but I forget to reflect on the hour of my death.  I could die before I finish this sentence.  I suppose that would be a good thing because my mind is focused on what it means to follow Jesus and be a daughter to God.

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