Hope for the Fallen World: St. Mary of Egypt
It seems the demons of impurity are having their day; sexual sin is rampant, and faithful Christians struggle against the tide of pagan sexual depravity. Surrounded by public displays of indecency, it is so tempting to despair, for ourselves, for those we know living in sin, and for the world. Did not Our Lady of Fatima say that more go to hell for sins of the flesh than for any other kind of sin? Yet we must not despair. There never was a golden age of purity; saints of every place and age struggled greatly against the tsunami of an ongoing sexual revolution.
But they persevered. We must look to them, our models. At a time like this, it serves us well to look at those saints and holy ones whose causes once seemed utterly hopeless–for in them we will find the most hope. We must never give up hope: where sin abounds, grace abounds the more.
We need not despair even in our worst, for our failures are forgiven. The only fatal thing is to sit down content with anything less than perfection.
- C.S. Lewis
St. Mary of Egypt, while greatly revered among our Eastern brethren, is less known among Roman Catholics. She became a prostitute at about the age of twelve. She often had to beg for food, but frequently refused payment for “services” because, she said of herself, she was so driven by her passions. After seventeen years of prostitution, she came to Jerusalem with a group of Christians pilgrims at long last, seeking more partners in lust, paying her passage with “favors.” We cannot even excuse her for being desperate for money when she herself admits to refusing money. Not content to sin with other non-believers, she attempted to seduce even those seeking virtue. Such a person seems entirely lost to all goodness and love!
And though He permitted it for many years, God did not leave her so. The depth of her sin serves to show forth His Glory and His Mercy all the more.
For when she arrived at last in Jerusalem, she desired to visit the Holy Sepulcher at Jerusalem. Why would one like her want to enter? Why had she, after years without faith and love of God, come to that holy city?
Perhaps she was simply curious. But, this seems inadequate. No, I believe it was due to that restlessness which we all have within us, as St. Augustine says in his Confessions: “[O]ur hearts are restless until they rest in You.” Indeed, she was so driven by her passions precisely because they did not satisfy her; perhaps she wondered whether she might be satisfied by what lay inside the Tomb.
As all men are touched by God’s love, so all are also touched by the desire for His intimacy. No one escapes this longing; we are all kings in exile, miserable without the Infinite.
- Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen
We, all sinners, are driven by our passions at times, and left unsatisfied. Like Mary of Egypt, those who commit habitual serious sin or suffer from some form of evil addiction are never satisfied, either. They always crave more, seek more, and hope to be satisfied, even though they are aware, at some level, that such satisfactions are only temporary.
If such a one is called to conversion, it is easy to refuse. To the entrenched sinner or addict, conversion seems to mean a total loss of their primary means of consolation. “I am already unhappy; must I lose this as well?”
Yes, the world is deeply unhappy; we can understand why the temporary pleasures of sin hold such allure when little other happiness can be found. However, the world’s stimuli will weary us and make us tired, though they give us temporary satisfaction. Satisfaction is neither peace nor happiness. We know that Mary was not happy; her own words show that she was driven–and desperate.
I can only imagine what it was like when, after so many years of unrepentant sin, she approached Our Lord’s Tomb. When she tried to get in, she could not; rather, she found herself thrown back by an invisible force. She was shocked, and yet, at that moment, knowledge penetrated the depths of her being. She could not approach God as she was. She must have known before that she was miserable; but only then, denied entry as others walked in and out nearby, she was stricken with self-awareness. Mary knew she was a sinner; she knew that she had to change. Her life had led her to misery upon misery, and she had to cast it off and leave it entirely if she was to find peace.
She begged forgiveness from an icon of Our Lady nearby, and, at last converted, she was able to enter the Holy Sepulcher. After venerating a relic of the True Cross, she returned to the icon, where a voice promised her that beyond the Jordan she would receive her true desire: “glorious rest.” Thus she left for the desert to spend the rest of her long life in mortification and harsh penance, and her hagiography is replete with miracles and wonders that lasted even beyond her death.
We need to hear St. Mary of Egypt’s story because she is a model of hope for a world drowning in impurity.
For those completely caught in carnal sins but desiring happiness, there is hope that, knowing our misery, we can repent and God will change our hearts entirely, freeing us from the chains of slavery to fleshly desires. Even years of sin cannot stand against God’s grace, for, regardless of how deep we have buried our desire for God, it is still there.
We need only ask, and beg for the graces to turn away. The Lord does not wish us to sin and despair; He will aid the brokenhearted and embrace the repentant sinner.
For those of us who love others caught in carnal sins–or even those who simply see the world caught in them–St. Mary is hope that even those given entirely over to their passions can and will become great saints. She reminds us that, deep down, we are all made to seek God; for why else would a prostitute have the impulse to go to Jerusalem and enter the Sepulcher? She shows us that we must pray for self-awareness for ourselves and those we love: to know our sin and our unworthiness and yes, our misery. When God’s grace reveals our misery, God’s grace will help us turn to Him in our desperation. So ought we to pray.
St. Mary’s life and holy death renews our dispirited hearts: the most hardened of sinners is still made for God, still desired by God, still loved by God, and, we must not forget, is still given all the graces necessary for salvation by God. This is our hope!
St. Mary of Egypt, pray for our fallen world.
St. Mary of Egypt, pray for those we love.
St. Mary of Egypt, pray for us.