St. Makarios of Alexandria, who Tradition says was a successful merchant of fruits and pastries, left everything in 355 to be a monk. It is said about Makarios that ‘for seven years he lived on raw vegetables dipped in water with a few crumbs of bread, moistened with drops of oil on feast days.
It is also said that he once spent 20 days and 20 nights without sleep, burnt by the sun in the day, frozen by bitter desert cold cold at night. “My mind dried up because of lack of sleep, and I had a kind of delirium,” the hermit admitted. “So I gave in to nature and returned to my cell.”
If that was not enough, it is said that he spent six months naked in the marshes, attacked by blood-sucking flies and mosquitoes, in the hope of destroying his last bit of sexual desire. The terrible conditions and attacking insects left him so deformed that when he returned to the monks, they could recognize him only by his voice. It is also said that he had powers of healing.
Even St. Benedict threw himself naked into a brier patch. Oh, and John the Baptist ate locusts.
What do we learn from ascetic practice? In a world of consumption and indulgence of all kinds, are these saints not living parables?