“God is able to make children of Abraham out of these stones”
Like a master stonemason, God carves saints out of many different kinds of stone. Just as the beautiful pearly lustre of white marble differs fromt he sullen, brooding roughness of a dark granite, the Master Craftsman uses the natural properties of each type to bring out their beauty and achieve the desired effect.
Stones are hard, and so are some people’s hearts. That God is capable of producing hearts of soft flesh from these stones is nothing short of a miracle. Consider these three hard-hearted stones He had to work with:
St Moses the Black
The giant of slave could not be tamed. That he would escape to live a lawless life was inevitable, for his spirit was as fierce and fiery as his face. Everyone who met him feared him – and he knew it. He did deprive himself of anything he desired, much to the loss and suffering of many others, for he did not attain them as other people do, through hard work and effort. No, a man like him simply took what he wanted, whether food or riches or women, and woe to the man or woman who tried to stand in his way!
Yet there was one desire he could not satisfy so easily. Homes and shops and travelling caravans he could loot with ease, but the sun was out of his reach. The sun – the greatest thing in all the universe, the giver of life to the world – surely the sun was the god of the universe? Yet he could not be sure. He could not find an answer. His uneducated and violently physcial mind could find no way to answer this question.
Having no other way, he would cry out with his voice in supplication to the sun, yet the sun never answered him, never seemed even to look towards him, there, the little speck on the ground.
And when finally he recieved a response to his cries, it was one he had never suspected; “Go to the monastery, and there you will find the God your heart desires.” The mighty man of action, seeking help from those softly spoken cowards who hide behind their thick walls in the desert? But his desire to find the real God was greater than his pride, and amazingly, that violent and selfish heart humbled itself to submit to gentle spiritual moulding at the hands of the abbot Daniel. The years to come would show that of all the monks of the desert, there was none so compassionate, none so gentle, none so unselfish and humble as the former superthief, Moses the Black.
St Mary the Egyptian
It has always been true that a beautiful woman, if she lacked an overactive conscience, could use her beauty to attain riches, power, and influence. The deader the conscience, the greater the gain.
By that measure, Mary of Egypt was very beautiful, very successful, and had very little conscience. Why would God care about this heart hardened to the hardness of diamonds by continual sin? Perhaps it is because He saw also the potential beauty of this diamond in the rough. Not the beauty she daily abused to achieve her selfish ends, but the beauty of a simple and upright spirit that had fallen into a coma underneath the mound of filth and sin that had become her life. How to dig it out and revive it?
She seeks clients and customers – let her follow the crowds, then. But these crowds are leading her, unknowingly, to Jerusalem. She sees the crowds milling to enter through a great door – let the natural curiosity that first led her to sin lead her now to the turning point of her life. She seeks to enter through the door, but is prevented by some unseen force while others pass through easily. Why can she not pass? What is this place? Why is she alone barred from its pleasures?
She discovers the truth: it is the Church, the place she had long ago abandoned, perhaps after a brief friendship with it in the innocence of childhood. And now, suddenly, her eyes are opened. She sees herself as she has never seen herself before. Not as the wily, worldly-wise manipulator of men and events, but as the evil temptress, the selfish fool, the lost little girl who sold everything that mattered for a few worthless coins … suddenly she sees herself through the eyes of God.
NO, NO!!! Is this what I have become, so rejected by God that He will not even allow me to enter His House while all these people go in and rejoice to dwell with Him? Tears … despair … pain … and then, decision. If He will but give me a sign that He accepts me, I will give Him all that I have, everything. She takes the step one more time, and this time, she too passes, passes through the door with tears, now of joy, not sorrow.
And many more steps does she take, far, far away from the cities of men, out into the desert, where the sun burns her soft skin and bleaches her long hair, where cold and hunger and loneliness make her resemble a skeleton more than a siren. She loses everything, but finds the Lord of Everything, and with Him lives in a peace and joy she had never dreamed of before. A simple door achieves what thousands of words of criticism and blame could never have achieved. The Master Sculptor plies His craft again.
Having a loving and pious mother and a father who did every thing possible to give him a good start in the world did little to soften the heart of young Augustine. As a young teenager he would fight with his desires. But he had already chosen which side he wanted to win: “Give me purity,” he would pray, “but do not give it to me yet!”
He proceeded to live a life of liberty and sin as only a young, talented and wealthy bachelor can. What did he lack in life? His career proceeded successfully, he had more than enough female company to suit his needs, friends to share his life with … and yet …
In the midst of this heart hardened towards the True God by being engorged with the world, there was a small, niggling unrest. As a young boy, he had read the Roman philosopher Virgil and been inspired to seek Truth above all else. But this life he lived did nothing to satisfy this hunger for Truth. Moved by this restless hunger, he explored every philosophy and religion he could find. Soon a pattern developed. He would run to a new movement with enthusiasm and hope. He would ask his questions of the leaders of that movement with anticipation. He would be disappointed by their answers, and leave them heart-broken, saddened that his hope of finding Truth had again been forlorn.
Yet every disappointment was a stroke of the chisel struck by the Master Sculptor. After twenty years of disappointment, his much battered and crumbling heart finally found what it longed for; in the sermons of St Ambrose of Milan, Augustine finally found a Truth he could depend upon, could build his whole life around.
He would convert to Christianity and become one of the most learned, saintly and eloquent teachers of the Gospel in history. His worldly ambitions turned to heavenly ones, and instead winning debates and court cases, he turned to winning souls for Christ.
Three very different hearts. The first hard through ignorance. The second, hardened by continual sin. The third, hardened through pride and self. Yet all of them softened and moulded lovingly by the hand of the Master Sculptor, who fashioned them indeed into true sons and daughters of Abraham the righteous.