Famous French author, poet, and aristocrat Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once wrote in his acclaimed masterpiece The Little Prince: “What makes the desert beautiful … is that somewhere it hides a well.”
As I reflected on this profound statement, I couldn’t help but think of the ascetic fathers and mothers who populated the Egyptian desert from the fourth century onwards. In the blistering heat of the day or the bitter cold of the night, in the most adverse of conditions, these saintly figures became wells of holy wisdom and divine grace, exuding sanctification to a seemingly desolate and morally corrupted world.
The desert, literally or figuratively speaking, is not the most inviting place in the world—and yet, it quickly became a welcome refuge for persons who sought a manner of living that made them completely dependent upon the providence of Almighty God. In the world, God can be rapidly forgotten because of an abundance of blessings that man enjoys without seeking out the Source; in the desert, the Source is immediately sought out because of the scarcity of materials. And when man reconnects with the Source of life, the earthly blessings pale in value before the unending relationship we have with God. It is good to have bread and to eat it periodically when we have it; it is far better to know how to make the bread and to have it to eat it at all times.
Our planet contains many remote deserts all over the world. Most of us have never been to any of these geographical places nor will we ever in our lifetimes. We won’t need to. We have a desert much closer to us into which we can descend at any time … in the recesses of our hearts. The spiritual desert within each of us is partly the result of sin and partly the result of God’s providence. In the barrenness and loneliness that sears the very core of our being at times, in the fear and uncertainty that accompanies this emptiness, we realize the words of the Lord to Satan during the three temptations of the Evil One: “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4; cf. Luke 4:4; cf. Deuteronomy 8:3).
In a world that deplores and ridicules dependence in general terms, man ultimately comes to realize that dependence upon God as Father is not a sign of weakness or naiveté but strength and purpose. There is a well in this fallen world that will make all things new again and restore their meaning — it is God. The search for this well is always driven by Christian hope, faith, courage, and love. This well, hidden in the recesses of the desert, was discovered by the ascetics and it transformed them and the throngs who flocked to them for help. This well exists in our world. It is the Church, out of which flows grace into our hearts, and from where we gain strength during those difficult times. It is our lifeline … for this reason we must attend the Holy Liturgy weekly and commune frequently, to replenish our supply, to irrigate the barren desert inside of us, to learn to love God and to depend on Him for all our needs and aspirations.
A blessed Ecclesiastical New Year to you all!
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