Out of all the traits of the Desert Fathers and Mothers, the trait that intrigues me the most is their humility. Not a fake, pious humility, but a genuine absence of pride. They offer a refreshing alternate perspective in a culture where brashness is almost always celebrated as a virtue. Political debates are deemed to be won by the candidate that has the best one-line zinger. Great sports plays are merely the prelude to an extravagant, chest-thumping celebration. Even in the Church, Christians have had to constantly battle against the temptation to believe that bigger is always better.
This story is illustrative of the alternate mindset of the Desert Fathers and Mothers:
"The devil appeared to a monk disguised as an angel of light, and said to him, 'I am the angel Gabriel, and I have been sent to you.' But the monk said, 'Are you sure you weren't sent to someone else? I am not worthy to have an angel sent to me.' At that the devil vanished."
(From p. xvii of "The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks" translated by Benedicta Ward).
As a footnote to this week's post, there was an interesting news story a few days ago about Pope Francis' visit to the monastic cell of an American woman, Sister Nazarena of Jesus (formerly known as Julia Crotta) who became a modern-day Desert Mother. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/kathyschiffer/2013/11/pope-francis-visits-the-cell-of-nazarena-of-jesus-an-american-anchoress/