The urban fathers


There was a beloved holy woman who everyone knew as Mother. When she was young she went to see her friend Joseph, a very well respected holy man, to ask him a question: "When I feel tempted should I resist the temptations and keep them out of my mind or think about them so that I can understand where they are coming from?" Joseph replied "Yes, certainly, consider them carefully and you will overcome them". It so happened that someone else had asked Joseph exactly the same question but the answer he had received was exactly the opposite -- he had been told to keep the temptations out of his mind. Mother heard about this and immediately went to see Joseph and said "You are confusing me, you said I should examine my temptations, but to other people you are saying exactly the opposite. I don't know what to make of this and whether I can trust you with my heart". Joseph replied "Some people need to resist temptation, but I have found for myself that if I examine my temptations and struggle with them in my heart then I am able to overcome them and through this I become stronger. If you wish to follow in my way then you must do the same and, indeed, I believe you will".

Mother also told this story about holy Joseph, when he was old and couldn't get about. Where he lived there was a beautiful Mulberry tree which was heavy with fruit. She happened to be going to a wedding nearby and so dropped in to see him. When Joseph saw her he asked her to pick some mulberries for him, mother wanted to do what he asked but was worried about staining her new wedding dress so she hesitated and said "I am sorry Joseph I am unsure what to do. I want to help you but I am worried about staining my dress and not being presentable for the wedding. You know how messy the mulberries are so I don't understand why you're asking me to do this". Joseph said to her "Do not worry. You like to think of yourself as my disciple but I wanted to see whether you would be honest with me or just do something because I told you to. Now I can see that you will be honest with me so I am happy to have you as a friend".

The sayings are updated occasionally for further background see this paper  ,
Further reflections on the desert fathers, can also be found here