Every spiritual journey has to pass through the desert. Once Israel crossed the Red Sea (symbol of baptism) they had a long journey through the desert, made much longer by their sinful behaviour. They were fed and watered from God’s generous hand, and only through trial and warfare did they make it to the Promised Land. That seems to be the way it has to be for all of us.
When St. John of the Cross wrote the Dark Night of the Soul, he was writing of the spiritual journey through the desert to the Promised Land. It’s a beautiful and deep meditation and I highly recommend it. I’m reading it very slowly because it needs time to go over.
Today we celebrate the feast day of St Anthony Abbot (of Egypt). Although he wasn’t the first monk, he is considered the father of monasticism because of the way he devoted his life to Christ. He was left very wealthy when his parents died. He had a younger sister for whom he became guardian and to begin with he and his sister set about living the life that had been left to them. After a while Anthony wanted to find a way to give his life to God.
As he entered Church one morning to hear Mass, he heard the Gospel being read in which the young man asks Jesus, “Rabbi, what should I do to gain eternal life?”
Jesus answered him, “Sell everything you have and give it to the poor, and come and follow me.”
Anthony went out and did just that. He then went and lived in the desert praying and making sacrifices and getting closer to God.
The desert could have been a very dry and isolating place, but Anthony’s holy life drew people to him. He was busy with visitors a lot of the time. Even with the busy ministry God had given him, Anthony maintained the quietness of soul needed for his life of prayer and service.
We are not all called to religious life, but we are all called to accept that part of life that means the desert journey. We need Faith to know that He will feed and water our souls with the Bread of Heaven and the water of life. Whatever happens in that desert we have to trust He has a plan and can make the rocky way smooth as we carry whatever cross He has given us.
This is not easy. Christianity is a very difficult road to take, but it’s the road to the Promised Land.