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The business man too does not lay aside the desire of procuring wares, by means of which he may more profitably amass riches, because he would desire gain to no purpose, unless he chose the road which leads to it: and those men who are anxious to be decorated with the honours of this world, first make up their minds to what duties and conditions they must devote themselves, that in the regular course of hope they may succeed in gaining the honours they desire. And so the end of our way of life is indeed the kingdom of God. But what is the (immediate) goal you must earnestly ask, for if it is not in the same way discovered by us, we shall strive and wear ourselves out to no purpose, because a man who is travelling in a wrong direction, has all the trouble and gets none of the good of his journey. And when we stood gaping at this remark, the old man proceeded: The end of our profession indeed, as I said, is the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven: but the immediate aim or goal, is purity of heart, without which no one can gain that end: fixing our gaze then steadily on this goal as if on a definite mark, let us direct our course as straight towards it as possible, and if our thoughts wander somewhat from this, let us revert to our gaze upon it, and check them accurately as by a sure standard, which will always bring back all our efforts to this one mark, and will show at once if our mind has wandered ever so little from the direction marked out for it.
This is another lengthy quote from John Cassian’s Conferences in which he discusses purity of heart. What I find interesting about this section is his description of what it takes to gain purity of heart – single-mindedness. I think the greatest enemy today to faith, I know it’s my greatest enemy, is getting lost in all the distractions available: too much television, too much internet, even too much Bach, all make a shambles of my very best intentions to spend more time in prayer and sacred reading. But what I find even more interesting is that this isn’t a new problem. Evidently, monks and, I’m sure other Christians, have struggled with this throughout the centuries. Remember, this was written in roughly the 4th or 5th century A.D., over 1,500 years ago. There was no television, no internet, no news magazines or newspapers; there were still distractions, things that make our thoughts wander.
We like to think that those of us living today have somehow evolved and become different from those who lived before us. We think we’re better just for having come later. We think we have nothing to learn from those who went before us. Obviously, we are wrong. We have a great deal to learn from those who experienced life perhaps in its most real form. We can learn from the desert monks, if only we would. Reading them isn’t always exactly easy, and there are no brilliant pictures or graphics accompanying their writing, it takes some effort. I can’t help but feel that the reward would make the effort worthwhile.