Yesterday after liturgy, my friend and fellow parishioner, Steve, gave a brief lesson on Saint Mary of Egypt. He told about her enslavement to her lusts and addictions, and her impulsive trip to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, throughout which she continued to gratify her rampant sexual desires. Once she finally arrived at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, however, she was prohibited from entering by an invisible force.
Moved by an icon of Christ and the Theotokos to sudden, overwhelming remorse for her impurity, she prayed for forgiveness and promised to live a life of continuous repentance, if only she could enter the Church and receive the Eucharist. St. Mary’s wish was granted and, true to her word, she spent the remaining years of her life in penitent prayer, wandering the desert as a hermit.
It’s a remarkable story, especially in this day and age where an ascetical dedication to selflessness is looked upon as strange and disempowering. St. Mary gets under my skin with her all or nothing commitment to cutting out of her life that which was sinful and damaging to her soul. Her devotion is mind blowing – so very, very difficult to comprehend.
What I should do, is be inspired by St. Mary to make even more of an effort to eradicate from my own life ungodly lusts and passions. What I often do, however, is squirm in discomfort at the huge intimidating chasm between her uncompromising interpretation of “obedience” and mine, which is considerably less extreme to say the least.
And that is why Steve’s insightful takeaway on St. Mary of Eygpt’s striking journey toward salvation was such a blessing to me. “St. Mary was already an intense person before her conversion,” he said. “After her transformative experience in Jersusalem, she didn’t change who she was but redirected that intensity toward repentance. “
He went on, unknowingly, to speak directly to my insecurities by referring to the temptation to try and deny who God made us to be for the sake of piety. In other words, mistakenly believing that St. Mary’s path to redemption, or your path to redemption, should look exactly like mine, and therefore the quirks and characteristics that make us “different” must be holding us back from reaching our full spiritual potential.
Steve helped me see St. Mary of Egypt’s severe fervor not as an act, or an attempt to hide from her true nature, but rather as a beautiful offering to God of her first fruits, including earnestness, ferocity, energy and wildness. She did not squelch her passionate personality, it metamorphasized into an act of worship, a gift of gratitude, a stirring illustration of salvation as a, distinct to each human being, lifelong process.
Now it just so happens I am the opposite of intense. It takes A LOT to get me riled up. I am timid and easily distractible. I’m a “Why can’t we all just get along?” type of person. This is my default mode. This “go with the flow” vibe that courses through my blood stream is both my strength and my weakness. I’m not prone to divisiveness or anger, but neither am I prone to consistency and discipline. I have battled, and will continue to battle throughout the rest of my days on this earth, worry, sloth, and inattentiveness.
Nevertheless (Praise be to God!), I can, just as I am, be used to further Christ’s Kingdom and spread His Light in my own unique way, using my own particular gifts, if I surrender to Him my whole self, my entire Molly Ann Sabourin being, idiosyncrasies and all. Time is too short and precious to waste on comparing myself to others, either pridefully or despairingly. Mercy does not judge, only serve and support, and seek out the goodness in one’s neighbor.
Maybe I am the elbow of the Church Body and you are the ear, and he is the tongue, and she the hands. What a radiant image of God’s mysterious and colorful grace! As together we enter Holy Week, making our way as a community toward the cross and empty tomb, may we lay aside our earthly assumptions and self-doubts so Christ can resurrect within us renewed awe for His limitless and unfathomable love for ALL of humankind.
St. Mary of Egypt, pray for us, that we too might respond boldly to our deliverance from death and despondency, trusting even our own feeble and imperfect efforts to become more like Christ every day can be multiplied and utilized by God to feed thousands.