St. Anthony the Abbot

January 17

Seek God in the desert.

Perhaps sometimes we all feel a need to do just that, to be able to spend time with God without interruptions and distractions. Yet most of us would not be willing to give up everything and live almost completely alone, as did St. Anthony the Abbot.

Also known as Anthony of Egypt and often called ‘The Father of Monks’, Anthony the Abbot was born in central Egypt about 250 AD to peasant farmers who were Christian. When he was a young man he heard the Gospel read in church and took to heart the words, “Go, sell all that you have and give to the poor and come follow me.”

 He devoted himself to a life of asceticism under the guidance of a recluse near his village. He lived this way for many years and then went alone into the desert to live in complete solitude. He fought constant temptations and at times appeared to be physically attacked by demons. His reputation attracted followers, who settled near him, and in 305 he came out of his hermitage to act as their spiritual father. All the advice he gave to others was based on Scripture and the need to become Christ-like. Five years later he again retired into solitude. He lived a life of work and prayer, tending to his garden and weaving. He died at the age of 105.
(Adapted from “Sayings of the Desert Fathers” by Sr. Benedicta Ward.)

Saints and our lives
What can we learn from the spirituality of St. Anthony the Abbot? Most of us cannot leave everything and hole up in a desert cave. But we can all make time to be aware of the presence of God more often, whether we are alone or in a crowded space. This is easiest to do if we start our morning with some quiet prayer time, and ask God to order our day. We can also ask to see Him in the faces of others, and look for the guidance of the Holy Spirit throughout our day. Finally, we can visit a chapel where there is adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and spend time with Christ there. In these ways we can all have our “time in the desert” with God.

People walked for many miles to ask Abba Anthony for guidance. If friends come to us for advice, what do they hear? Do we give them the wisdom of the world, which might be to put themselves first, or seek revenge, or remain angry with someone? Or do we offer the wisdom which comes from listening to God: to forgive, to put others first, to seek peace? We should always pray before we counsel another and ask for God to speak through us.

From an early age, St. Anthony the Abbot knew the value of good spiritual formation. He spent years learning from his desert master, and then more years in prayer, work and fasting. How much time have we given to our own spiritual formation? Our diocese and parishes offer many opportunities to learn more about our faith with classes, seminars, workshops and Bible studies. There are also many fascinating books and videos available from reliable Catholic sources to uplift and encourage us. Investing some time to have a better understanding of our Christian faith will benefit us all, as our faith should have a definite impact on our daily lives. The more we read and absorb the life of Christ and His Church, the more we will grow in holiness and love.

St. Anthony of Egypt said, “Our life and our death is with our neighbor. If we gain our brother, we have gained God, but if we scandalize our brother, we have sinned against Christ.” Here this desert father teaches us the importance of our life in community with others. Even if we live in solitude we are part of the Body of Christ, and in a spiritual way our actions affect others, either lifting them up or dragging them down. God created us to be in community with one another, as He is in the relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The love which flows within the Trinity should also flow in our lives, connecting us to others and helping them to reach heaven.

Taken from “Evangelization and the Lives of the Saints: St. Anthony the Abbot,” produced by the diocesan Office of New Evangelization. For the complete pamphlet, visit the Office of New Evangelization at www.drvc.org.