Shortly after St. Hilarion’s death, St. Jerome wrote about the life of this hermit who had introduced monasticism into Palestine. Jerome told of Hilarion’s lifelong pursuit of solitude, where he could encounter God in prayer.
And he wrote about the divine irony of the fame that denied it to him because his miracles attracted so many people. In this brief excerpt, Jerome describes Hilarion’s faith and a typical miracle:
Once . . . when he was eighteen years old, brigands tried to find him at night. Either they believed that he had something to steal or they thought he would scorn them if they didn’t intimidate him. . . . From evening till dawn, they hunted in every direction but couldn’t find him. In the broad daylight, however, they came upon him and apparently as a joke asked him: “What would you do if robbers attacked you?” He answered: “A naked person does not fear robbers.” “You could be killed.” “I could,” he said. “But I am not afraid of robbers because I am ready to die.” Admiring his faith, they confessed their folly of the night before and their blindness, and promised to reform their lives...
A woman of Eleutheropolis, despised by her husband of fifteen years because of her sterility, . . . was the first who dared to intrude upon blessed Hilarion’s solitude. While he was still unaware of her approach, she suddenly threw herself at his knees saying: “Forgive my boldness. . . ., he asked her why she had come and why she was weeping. When he learned the cause of her grief, raising his eyes to heaven, he commanded her to have faith and to believe. He followed her departure with tears. When a year had gone by, he saw her with her son.
Like Anthony, Hilarion took only a little food once a day at sunset. When tempted sexually, he ate even less. “I’ll see to it, you jackass,” he said, “that you shall not kick.” He never bathed nor changed his tunic until it wore out. He said, “It is idle to expect cleanliness in a hair shirt.” Jerome relates that even though Hilarion suffered extreme dryness of spirit, he persevered in prayer and cured many people of sickness and demon possession. The parade of petitioners and would-be disciples drove Hilarion to retire to more remote locations. But they followed him everywhere. First he visited Anthony’s retreat in Egypt. Then he withdrew to Sicily, later to Dalmatia, and finally to Cyprus. He died there in 371.
Even for saints like Hilarion who steadfastly pursued God, life is a battle of wills. Hilarion desired solitude, believing it was God’s will for him. But God had other ideas and sent crowds to disrupt his aloneness. Before we get too far along on our journey, we need to check to see if we are following God’s roadmap, not our own. Or we may be like Yogi Berra, who once said, “We’re making good time, but we’re lost.”
Image credit: Temptation of Saint Hilarion by Octave Tassaert, 1857. Public Domain via Wikimedia.