One of the greatest works of the early Desert Fathers is The Ladder of Divine Ascent. It is considered to be a masterpiece of ascetical theology, but it is primarily for monks. Thus, I was surprised when a married man with children started telling me about how this is one of his favorite books. This layman (about my age) usually does one hour of mental prayer a day and lives very impressive asceticism. (He was not bragging to me, but he admitted he and his family try to make their home a little monastery.)
Nevertheless, I still wondered if The Ladder of Divine Ascent should be the goal of the average Catholic layman who has so many other duties in life, including family prayer like the Rosary and catechesis of his children. Happily, the man I was describing in the first paragraph also informed me that there’s an entire section in The Ladder that distills down the Gospels for lay people in just one paragraph. I later found that paragraph on how that Desert Father saint instructs lay people to get to heaven:
Some people in the world living carelessly have asked me, “We have wives and many social concerns, how could we possibly lead a life of solitude?” I answer them, “Do as much good as you can; do not speak ill of anyone; do not steal; do not lie; do not be boastful; do not hate; go to Church; have mercy on the poor; do not be a stumbling block to anyone; do not draw near the bed of another; and be satisfied with what you receive from your wives. If you do these things you will be close to the Kingdom of Heaven.—St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, chapter 1.
Let me repeat some of the most important commandments from the New Testament as distilled out by that great desert saint on how we can all get to heaven (clergy or lay) in just a few sentences:
Do not speak ill of anyone; do not steal; do not lie; do not be boastful; do not hate; go to Church; have mercy on the poor; do not be a stumbling block to anyone.