Saturday, January 17, 2009

Feast of St. Anthony of the Desert

Today is the Feast of St. Anthony of the Desert.

St. Anthony is often called, "The Father of Monks" for his role in the establishment of Christian monasticism, and he is among the first of the Desert Fathers (although there were a few Desert Mothers as well). The Desert Fathers were men and women who lived either as hermits or in small communities in the deserts of Egypt, primarily during the fourth century. St. Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria and one of the thirty-three doctors of the Church, wrote a biography of St. Anthony.

I highly recommend a wonderful book: The Sayings of the Desert Fathers by Benedicta Ward, SLG. These sayings are very powerful and give important insight into lives of self-sacrifice, hospitality, penance, forgiveness, and compassion.

One of the sayings of St. Anthony has implications for living the Eucharistic life:

Someone asked Abba Anthony, "What must one do in order to please God?" The old man replied, "Pay attention to what I tell you: whoever you may be, always have God before your eyes; whatever you do, do it according to the testimony of the holy Scriptures; in whatever place you live, do not easily leave it. Keep these three precepts and you will be saved." (3, p. 2)

St. Anthony's distilled advice here is incisive. Whoever you are, whether rich or poor, powerful or powerless, you need to understand that you are a creature and that God is the Creator, and if your focus is ever on God and not yourself, then such humility will put things in their proper perspective. Certainly we can "always have God before our eyes" by thinking about him, but we can deepen that thinking by literally have him before our eyes in Eucharistic adoration, or contemplatively before our eyes through spiritual communion.

In all that you do, make sure your life and your actions correspond with how God has told us in the Bible how we should live and act. Too often in contemporary life we think that we can be "good people" without "having to follow a lot of rules." It is true that following rules will not guarantee that we will become good. However, we must also remember that breaking rules will not make us good, either. Saying, "God, I love you, but I don't think I need to go Mass on Sunday" is like saying to your spouse, "Honey, I love you, but I don't think I need to talk to you during the week." Love is demonstrated through actions. When love is talk only, it is usually used to manipulate another person. Jesus showed us his love through his actions, by laying down his life for us. The Scriptures are God's love letter, and with love, comes responsibilities and obligations, works and sacrifice.

St. Anthony's last point is perhaps the most unusual. I suppose the way I take him here is that wandering often leads to a lack of commitment. In a hermit's context, moving frequently may be an attempt to run away from one's self--one's own sinfulness, forsaking God's mercy and trying to escape God's demands. In a monastic context, moving frequently may be an attempt to run away from others, so that we are not beholden to anyone or anything. The same is potentially true for laity as well. Some people leave spouses and families because they are not willing to take on the daily task of fidelity and all that it requires. Some people date many different people for the same reason. Some people leave jobs frequently, either because they become bored from routine or because they cannot live in "community" in the workplace.

Let us live St. Anthony's words, and may his prayers help sustain us in that life.


thepracticingcatholic said...

Thank you for this blog dedicated to the Eucharist. I found it via the St. Blog's Directory, and look forward to reading more. Have a blessed new year! God be with you. ~Heather

Pete said...

Thanks, Heather, for your kind words. I enjoy your blog too. Thanks for introducing me to it. May God be with you in your faith journey and give you the words to continue to effectively share it with others.