Twenty years ago, I went to Egypt for an International meeting of the Jesus Caritas Priests Fraternity. We spent a few days at the ancient Monastery of Saint Macarius The Great. This is an Coptic Orthodox monastery located in Wadi El Natrun, Beheira Governorate, about 92 km north-west of Cairo, and off the highway between Cairo and Alexandria.
The monastery was founded in approximately 360 AD by Saint Macarius of Egypt, who was the spiritual father to more than 4,000 monks of different nationalities. The monastery has been continuously inhabited by monks since its 4th-century founding. As part of our time there, we each spent a day alone in the desert, with a Bible and notebook. This was an opportunity for prayer, listening to God.
It wasn’t an easy thing to be alone with yourself. As I wandered I discovered also hidden in the landscape a hermit cell. I disturbed the monk because I was inadvertently walking across his roof and he came out to find out where the noise was coming from. The time at the Monastery of St Macarius was truly memorable for me. This all came back to me as I read the words of the Prophet Isaiah in this Sunday’s Liturgy of the Word.
A voice cries, ‘Prepare in the wilderness a way for the Lord. Make a straight highway for our God across the desert. Let every valley be filled in, every mountain and hill be laid low. Let every cliff become a plain, and the ridges a valley; then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all mankind shall see it; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’
From the time of Jesus, men and women have gone to the desert to make the way clear for God to come into their hearts. It was through prayer and repentance that the valleys and rough places of their hearts were made smooth and easy. The figure of John the Baptist in this Second Sunday of Advent is calling us find some desert time to prepare for Christ’s coming. John’s message was one of repentance, metanoia, change, renewal, a return to God.
Let your prayer this week be:
God of our freedom,
Speed our steps as we hasten to meet the advent of your Son;
Remove the cares that block our way, and let the wisdom from on high be our teacher, as we walk as true companions of Jesus.