For All the Saints: Macarius the Great

When I was going through the RCIA program as a candidate, the need to choose a Confirmation name came up. The director of the program and my sponsor both gave me some suggestions (including St. Francis Xavier, as I recall).

I liked what I read about him, but he didn’t seem right for me. I thought a lot about it. I realized that I was choosing a friend in heaven whom I could ask to pray for me. That is a special trust, so choosing this person haphazardly wasn’t in the cards for me.

By this time in my journey, I had come across the Desert Fathers & Mothers. I love these people! Such stories, such sacrifice, such practical sayings! All very motivating to a guy who, despite all my earlier objections to Catholic Christianity, found himself standing in the recruiting office saying “sign me up.”

I really enjoyed what they had to say about living our faith. But one of them stood out to me most, and I knew he was the patron saint for me: St. Macarius the Great. His feast day was yesterday (January 15, so I humbly apologize for not getting this post up sooner, Abba!).

St. Macarius is known by other sobriquets as well: Macarius the Great; Macarius the Wonder Worker; Macarius the Elder. As for me, I just call him Abba Macarius when I ask him to pray for me. He once said this about prayer:

Abba Macarius was asked, “How should one pray?” The old man said, “There is no need at all to make long discourses; it is enough to stretch out one’s hands and say, ‘Lord, as you will, and as you know, have mercy.’ And if the conflict grows fiercer say, ‘Lord, help!’ He knows very well what we need and he shows us his mercy.”

Amen to that! Here a few other stories and wise sayings to give you a taste of my patron:

A brother once came to the abbot Macarius and said to him, “Master, speak some word of exhortation to me, that, obeying it, I may be saved.” St. Macarius answered him, “Go to the tombs and attack the dead with insults.” The brother wondered at the word. Nevertheless he went, as he was bidden, and cast stones at the tombs, railing upon the dead. Then returning, he told what he had done. Macarius asked him, “Did the dead notice what you did?” And he replied, “They did not notice me.”

“Go, then, again,” said Macarius, “and this time praise them.” The brother, wondering yet more, went and praised the dead, calling them just men, apostles, saints. Returning, he told what he had done, saying, “I have praised the dead.”

Macarius asked him, “Did they reply to you?” And he said, “They did not reply to me.” Then said Macarius, “You know what insults you have heaped on them and with what praises you have flattered them, and yet they never spoke to you. If you desire salvation, you must be like these dead. You must think nothing of the wrongs men do to you, nor of the praises they offer you. Be like the dead. Thus you may be saved.”

Wow, talk about learning to be dead to the world. Sheesh-ka-bobbers!

The same Abba Macarius while he was in Egypt discovered a man who owned a beast of burden engaged in plundering Macarius’ goods. So he came up to the thief as if he was a stranger and he helped him to load the animal. He saw him off in great peace of soul saying, ‘We have brought nothing into this world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.’ (1Tim.6.7) ‘The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’ (Job 1.21)

Ahem, I get a lump in my throat just reading that one. I personally am so far away from this level of spirituality that any help I can get from a friend like this is more than welcome! And then I found out he wrote twenty-two homilies too. Did he really write them? Or did someone else write them and use his name (much as the writer of Ecclesiastes leads us to believe he was King Solomon)? I don’t know, and I really don’t care. They are powerful homilies, and I feel duty bound to share them with you.

They have titles like the following:

That God alone is able to deliver us out of the bondage of the wicked ruler.

Christians ought to go over the course of this world with care, that they may attain the praise of God.

There is a wide difference between Christians and the men of this world.

The gifts of grace are preserved by a humble mind and a ready will, but destroyed by pride and sloth.

How the soul ought to demean herself in holiness and purity towards her Bridegroom, Jesus Christ.

Christians that are willing to improve and increase ought to force themselves to every thing that is good.

If you think these titles are wise sayings unto themselves, you owe it to yourself to read the homiles yourself here. You’ll be glad you did!
Happy belated Feast Day Abba Macarius!

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5 Responses to For All the Saints: Macarius the Great

  1. Warren Jewell says:

    Why do I get this image of Macarius and Barbara arm in arm singing "Praise the Lord, and Pass the Ammunition"? Of course, meaning the singular ammunition of the 'powder' of God's will and the potent 'shell' of His graces.Those of this world so hate themselves as to hate their Creator and Savior. Thinking to leave mines in His path, these mines are in our path, too. Only being guided by God and His Church can we make our way carefully, and yet doing good as we can. Saint and Abba Macarius is an exemplary lesson of how God will do that for any of us. Saint Macarius, pray for us.


  2. Frank says:

    Amen to that Warren! What a picture you paint.When I was confirmed by my parish priest, he stumbled over my confirmation name because he had never heard it used before.I told Webster, with tongue in cheek, but half seriously, that I also chose St. Macarius because, since no one else knew him, I figured he could always pray for me right away whenever I asked. I know I need a lot of prayers so…Reading his homily's sealed the deal though. They are rich in scriptural knowledge and depth. And again, St. Macarius left this world in 390 AD, before the Canon of the New Testament was fully determined.


  3. Anonymous says:

    If you ever wonder why some non-Catholics such as myself read this page, this is a good example. The story is good, but there was a word in there for me, as someone whose job involves listening to people curse and praise me all day long. (Mostly curse, I confess.) Occasionally it gets to me. So, you can imagine how the story of the tombs affected me. Thank you, Abba Macarius! 🙂


  4. Warren Jewell says:

    I am surprised I didn't think right off of my own 'unique' Confirmation name story.When I was to be confirmed, I read all the books on saints named 'Francis'. When I told the good Sister I couldn't pick between Saint Francis Borgia, Saint Francis de Sales and Saint Francis of Assisi, she said 'take all three – there's some of all of them in you'. (I was SUCH a teacher's pet among teaching Sisters.) I did and now have one potent triumvirate of Confirmation mentors to pray for me. No wonder I have such a closeness to the Holy Spirit – three saints pester Him for me.There may have been – can't remember, now – no book about Saint Francis Xavier, or I may have had him there, too, when the bishop called me 'Francis'.


  5. Frank says:

    Anonymous 02:43. Thanks for your comment and welcome! I am glad you found a nugget of wisdom to help you. Indeed, the practical instructions that can be applied to living the faith is what I like most about the Desert Fathers and Mothers, and all the saints in general.It turns out that John Wesley(founder of the Methodist Church) was a big fan of St. Macarius too.


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