Today in the Desert Fathers:
One day Abba Longinus (later abbot of Enaton) questioned Abba Lucius about three thoughts, saying first, “I want to go into exile.” The old man said to him, “If you cannot control your tongue, you will not be an exile anywhere. Therefore control your tongue here, and you will be an exile.”
Next he said to him, “I wish to fast.” The old man replied, “Isaiah said, ‘If you bend the neck like a rope or a bulrush that is not the fast I will accept; but rather, control your evil thoughts.’” (cf. Isaiah 58)
He said to him the third time, “I wish to flee from men.” The old man replied, “If you have not first of all lived rightly with men, you will not be able to live rightly in solitude.”
Many years ago, as a young Evangelical convert, I wanted to be a missionary – because that was the hardest hardcore way to be a Christian — right? I received nothing but praise and positive reinforcement on that path.
Overseas mission work never came to pass for me, though for a while I had the privilege of pastoring a Vietnamese-language congregation in my town in the US. After seeing several friends sell everything and go overseas with fanfare to the Mission Field, and then watching them become discouraged because nothing was happening there, I realized that you’re not going to do anything as a missionary that you’re not already doing at home. If you’re not making disciples, serving people, teaching, building, cleaning up, or otherwise doing the Gospel here at home, you’re not going to magically become a mighty apostle by virtue of a simple geographical change.
Fast-forward a few years, and I’m newly Orthodox. Monks are the hardest of the hardcore, so of course I have to become one. Once again, nothing but praise, respect, and positive reinforcement from everybody (and a certain amount of envy from married folks and others who fantasize about running away.) And after a few months in a monastery it slowly dawned on me — again — that we don’t do anything at a monastery that we aren’t already doing at home. In a monastery the intensity is cranked up, but otherwise if we’re not fasting peacefully, being kind and gentle and patient with everyone else but ruthless with ourselves — then we’re not going to do any differently when we leave the world for the cloister.
Fast forward again… in 2013 I was a deacon in a small parish, and content to stay that way: All I wanted to do was serve and grow the community God had put in front of me. That is when I was invited to visit the Philippines where a group of inquirers wanted to be baptized into the Church. After I had stopped trying to find a place that would make me the most excellent kind of Christian, and had reconciled myself to working out my salvation without drama or recognition — that is when a door opened to continue the same kind of service and to expand it, as a priest in the Philippines.
Scribbled in the margin of a 9th-century Irish manuscript is a verse on pilgrimage:
Techt do Róim, mór saítho, becc torbai; in Rí con-daigi i foss, manim bera latt ní fhogbai.
To go to Rome is little profit, great labor. The King you seek you will not find unless you bring Him with you.
It’s what we do that matters, not where we do it.