Today we remember Saint Mary of Egypt and Saint Mark the Anchorite of Athens. They both struggled for many years in the loneliness of the desert. St. Mary said the first 17 years were the hardest as she struggled fiercely with passions. St. Mark said much the same, except his extreme trial lasted 30 years. It puts me to shame because I often complain when my trials last more than a few minutes.
About half of the worlds population is in quarantine right now due to the COVID-19 virus. It’s been difficult for us even though we’ve only been at it for a couple of weeks. Fortunately, most of us have sufficient food, drink, clothing, and ample entertainment. I can’t even begin to imagine struggling in an actual desert in complete isolation with no material comforts, people, hardly any food or drink, and no entertainment for decades. But the unique desert-dwelling calling is not for most of us, at least not in its literal form.
The calling that God has for our lives right now is to live in the desert of quarantine. Unlike Ss. Mary and Mark, we didn’t choose this desert voluntarily. Yet our task is to endure it. Great amounts of grace are given to us when we patiently endure trials we didn’t ask for, and when we endure something brought upon us that isn’t a direct consequence of our actions.
It’s been a terrible struggle for many of us due to loneliness, boredom, restlessness (acedia), and anxiety about what the future holds when this is all over. The saints also struggled fiercely with their isolation and the temptations that came with it. It’s ok for it to be difficult for us, that is to be expected. We’re going to cry, scream, get agitated and anxious; we’re going to struggle, we’re going to miss all the things we used to have (including the church services), and that’s ok. The saints felt the same way while getting used to life in the desert. Building character is a messy process.
We just have to keep struggling, we have to keep getting up whenever we fall into darkness or gloominess or old sinful habits. Don’t be afraid to reach out to others, whether it be people in your parish or your priest. We may have orders from the civil government to “stay at home,” but that doesn’t mean we have to do it alone. We are here for each other.
Even more than calling a friend, I have found that reading the lives of saints who underwent similar tribulations has been a great source of comfort and courage to me during this time and other times of my life. I would recommend reading the lives of St. Mary and St. Mark.
May God preserve us and strengthen us during this time.
Photo credit: image of St. Mark created by Lifelong Acolyte, a friend and fellow seminarian whose work can be found here.