Today we continue our regular series called “Learning from the Saints.” Our guide is expert Bert Ghezzi, a dear friend of mine and the author of numerous books including Voices of the Saints, Saints at Heart, and Discover Christ: Developing a Personal Relationship with Jesus.
Today, Bert profiles St. Syncletica, a fourth-century mystic and desert prophetess.
The poignant sayings of the desert fathers have charmed many of us. But I suspect fewer among us have encountered the desert mothers. These dedicated lay women of the fourth and fifth centuries left the world for simplicity and solitude in the wilderness.
When the church scans the centuries for women who could be named doctors of the church, it should take a good look at these desert “ammas.” Their grace-filled writings rival in wisdom those of the fathers. I nominate for consideration Syncletica, a beautiful and gifted woman who lived at Alexandria, Egypt, in the fourth century.
As the daughter of wealthy Macedonian parents, marriage into a high-society family was Syncltica’s expected course. But as a young girl she had pointed her life in a different direction by promising to live single for Christ. When Syncletica’s parents died, she inherited their fortune and responsibility for her blind sister. Like Anthony, she distributed her wealth to the poor and abandoned the seductions of the world. Together with her sister she went to live in an unused burial chamber on a relative’s estate. With a priest as her witness, she cut her hair to signify her break with ordinary society and renewed her vow of virginity.
Many women sought Syncletica’s counsel. Although reticent at first to give much advice, as she matured in holiness, she felt freer to teach others. Here is a sampling of her very practical sayings that she characteristically illustrated with homey metaphors:
“In the beginning there are a great many battles and a good deal of suffering for those who are advancing towards God and afterwards, ineffable joy. It is like those who wish to light a fire; at first they are choked by the smoke and cry, and by this means obtain what they seek. As it is said, Our God is a consuming fire (see Heb 12:24): so we must kindle the fire in ourselves through tears and hard work.
“If you have begun to act well, do not turn back through constraint of the enemy, for your endurance destroys the enemy. Those who put out to sea at first sail with a favorable wind. Then the sails spread, but later the winds become adverse. Then waves toss the ship, and the rudder no longer controls it. But when in a little while there is calm, and the tempest dies down, the ship sails on again. So it is with us, when we are driven by the spirits who are against us. We hold to the cross as our sail and so we can set a safe course.
“It is dangerous for anyone to teach who has not first been trained in the practical life. For someone who owns a ruined house and receives guests there does them harm because of the dilapidation of the dwelling. That one causes loss to those who come. By words a person may convert them to salvation, but by evil behavior, he injures them.”
In Syncletica’s eightieth year, a disease infected her lungs and cancer began to devour her larynx and mouth. Gradually she lost her speech, but her biographer says her calm endurance of excruciating pain spoke plainly to all. She died around 400 at the age of 84.
“We have a most experienced pilot at the helm of our vessel, Jesus Christ, who will conduct us safe into the haven of salvation, if our sluggishness does not cause our own ruin.” — St. Syncletica
(Image Credit: The Practical Catholic)
Read more from Bert at his website www.BertGhezzi.com, or check out his many books on Amazon.