St. Macarius the Egyptian – January 19

This homily was given by Fr. Herbert Nicholls on January 19that the Mother of the Light Convent.

St. Macarius is remembered as one of the pre-eminent desert ascetics, who followed the example of St. Anthony the Great, moving into the Egyptian wilderness along the Nile Delta. Desirous to serve God with his whole heart he forsook the world, living in a small desert cave in continual prayer and the practice of austerities. He spent nearly 60 years in the desert in penance and contemplation.

The austerity of these desert monks was extraordinary. But Macarius went far beyond the rest. God had given him a body capable of bearing the most extreme rigors. His fervor was so intense that whatever spiritual exercise that he heard or saw another practice, he would adopt for himself.

Macarius routinely would eat once a week on Sunday. One day when he was tortured with thirst, a disciple begged him to drink a little water, but Macarius chose to content himself with repose in the shade a while. Macarius said, I have never eaten, drunk or slept as much as nature requires. But to go against his own inclinations he did not refuse to drink a little wine. But then he would punish himself by abstaining from drink for two or three days. He used to often say in prayer, O God come to my assistance, O Lord make haste to help as you know best!

Macarius became a spiritual father to a great number of monks, who accepted his direction. One young man came admitting to the saint that he was routinely struggling with temptations of impurity. Macarius was convinced that the trouble was due to indolence. Accordingly, he advised the man never to eat before sunset, and to meditate fervently at his work, to labor vigorously without slackening. The young man faithfully complied and in a short time was freed of his spiritual struggle.

In another instance, a wealthy young man, seeking spiritual advice from Macarius was told to go to the burial place and “upbraid the dead”! And after a short time to go back and “flatter them”. When the young man returned Macarius inquiried, What answer did they give you?To which the young man replied: None.Macarius replied, Then go and learn neither to be moved by abuse nor by flattery. For if you die to yourself and to the world, you will begin to live in Christ. Receive from the hand of God poverty as well as riches; hunger and want as readily as plenty.

There was still another grave temptation with which Macarius had to struggle. A woman falsely accused him that he had threatened her with violence if she did not submit to him. For this alleged crime, Macarius was dragged through the streets, beaten and insulted as a “hypocrite hiding under the garb of a monk”. Macarius suffered these indignities with patience saying, Well Macarius, now you must work the harder for you have another to provide for…But in turn God revealed his innocence. The woman falling into labor in extreme anguish was not able to deliver until she named the true father of the child. The furor of the crowd against Macarius turned to admiration for his humility and patience.

Macarius knowing that the end of his life was approaching made a pilgrimage to the neighboring desert of Nitria and exhorted the monks who were living there. These young men were so moved that they fell at the knees of the holy man of God. Macarius advised them, Woe my young brothers. Let your eyes pour forth floods of tears, lest we fall into that place where tears will only feed the flames in which we shall burn.

The great saint of solitude died in the year 395. I could find no formal date of canonization but his name is commemorated in the anaphoras of both the Coptic and Armenian rites.      


Alone with the Alone

 A Poem by Sr. Natalie Sayde Salameh, MSCL

As human beings, we fear to be alone so much,
We crave the tongue that speaks, a hand to touch.

We move mountains to drown the quiet,
To erase the silence rather than try it.

Why do we fear to be on our own?
Perhaps to forget that within we sigh and moan.

Perhaps to forget the gaping hole,
The cravings that burn like red hot coal.

Why do we fear to be alone?
Perhaps we don’t want to hear ourselves groan.

Faced with ourselves, what can we find?
A soul that yearns, a heart that pines.

Perhaps a sadness that we could never fill,
An emptiness, so gnawing it hardly thrills.

But someone is there, waiting for you,
Who seeks you and speaks only what is true.

His name is Jesus, encountered in solitude,
He is the Bread of Communion, the soul’s true food.

He is there, waiting to meet us and bring us to Himself,
But to many He remains a stranger, a picture on a shelf.

We drown His voice with so much noise,
And distract ourselves with gadgets and toys.

But He is ever so close, so near to our hearts,
His love sets us on fire and pierces like darts.

He is waiting for us in the quiet of the Tabernacle,
Waiting to heal our wounds and release us from our shackles.

We may have periods of loneliness, but we are never alone,
He is always with us and by Him we are intimately known.

Do not be afraid to encounter Him in silence,
Do not run from Him in fear or defiance.

He loves us and wants to transform us into Him,
And our lives will be gloriously changed into one endless hymn.


Our Dignity -- The Word Became Flesh

In the beginning before God began to create, before there was anything, the Word was….the Word was with God. The Word was turned toward God. The Father and the Son were embraced in love, long before anything was created. From all eternity they were Father, Son and Spirit.

In the beginning was this Word, this Logos, and through Him, through this Word of God, all things were made. There is nothing, nothing at all, that was made apart from Him. 

Through Him God created everything in heaven and on earth, things seen and unseen, spiritual and material. God created the whole universe through Him and for Him (Col 1:16). All beings in the heavens and on the earth and under the earth will fall on their knees and proclaim that He, the Logos is Lord (Phil 2: 10 – 11).

And whoever come to Him finds life, finds light. This eternal Word of God who always has been and always will be, came into the world to enlighten the minds of everyone who seek Him in order to lead them to the Truth.

This Word, by whom everything was made came into our world as a light, as a light penetrating into the darkness, and the darkness was not able to grasp it or snuff it out.

Even though the soldiers of Herod were searching for Him, not to worship the child but to kill Him, they were not able to do so. When the hour arrived years later for His passion and death, Satan tried to extinguish His light, but the darkness of death itself could not hold Him.

 He came into this world that was made by Him, yet the world did not recognize Him. The Word of God who was present to every mind from the beginning of creation was not recognized. He came to His own people, but they did not accept Him, but to those who did receive Him, he gave them power to be called children of God, sons and daughters of God. 

As we celebrate the birth of this child, we recognize the power of life to change others. Whatever anxieties and concerns may come, they seem for the moment to find another place. Mary and Jospeh knocked on the doors of several inns, but all the lodgings were filled. The heart and the door of the stable were open. Though there was no room up-front in the inn, there was this secret little place in the back. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could keep this spirit of Christmas alive throughout the year, throughout the day for just 5 minutes?

So often our lives become so filled with business, busyness at home, at work, wherever. If only Christmas peace could last forever.

Have you ever seen a baby bound up hands and feet swaddled? That’s not the baby we see in our mangers today. The baby we see is only diapered, virtually naked, because this child is the new Adam who has come to restore the grace of paradise.

This child whom we honor did not come with a ready wrapped gift of peace. He had to pay a price for that peace. The baby we see in the manger lies on wood with His hands outstretched seeking to embrace all who will come to Him.

I read this story in the paper, I wish I could say that it was mine:

As I walked down the street, I noticed a dirty, filthy guy holding a cup of coffee, screaming and yelling at someone who was not there, except in his mind. But when he spotted me, he said calmly: “Mister, do you want some of my coffee?” Cringing, I knew I would have to acknowledge the poor man’s generosity. So I took a sip, and then supposed that he wanted something from me, like a $10 bill. But he put his arms up and said: “No money! A hug. Give me a hug.” Oh I wished at the moment that he would have taken the $10. The hug was a very long-lasting bear hug! I then asked him why he had offered me a cup of coffee. He replied: “The coffee this morning is exceptionally good and when God gives you something good, you have to share it”. I could hear the voice of Jesus telling me: “feed the hungry, heal the sick, take care of the homeless, this man who has just given you an embrace of love in a bear-hug”. I then realized that we should not look at the poor with pity, but to have this eerie sensation that Jesus is looking back at me with His mercy! That’s a hug!

But not all who come will embrace Him. For the gift which He offers requires the experience of pain – and of suffering, rejection, even hatred. Years later He will again be on the wood with His arms outstretched and nailed and mocked and ridiculed until He dies. This is why the Word Became Flesh – to embrace our humanity, even death.

When we are able to see with the eyes of faith, a new dignity surrounds our home, our work, our neighborhood, and our world. Isn’t our world desperately searching for the dignity that was lost in the original garden, the dignity that this child is born to bring.

A homily by Fr. Herbert Nicholls at the Mother of Light Convent on Monday, December 31, 2018.