While in church one day, St. Anthony of the Desert (251-356 A.D.) heard a proclamation from the Gospel of Matthew (19:21) that spoke directly to his heart: “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have, and give it to the poor.” For twenty-year-old Anthony, Jesus’ words so moved him that he sold his property, gave the proceeds to the poor, and went into the desert.
As spiritual transformations go, Anthony’s was sudden. However, when considering the difficulties that he faced after arriving there, the Parable of the Mustard Seed (Mk 5:30-32) has much to say about his trust and perseverance: “…To what shall we compare the kingdom of God…It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.”
During his desert experiences, Anthony combated evil forces that manifested themselves in the most frightening of ways. After his dark night of the soul filled with the appearance of bears, lions, leopards, bulls, serpents, scorpions, and wolves, Anthony engaged in a conversation with the Lord. After asking him where He was during this struggle, Jesus pronounced: “I was here, Anthony, but I waited to watch your struggle. And now, since you persevered and were not defeated, I will be your helper forever, and I will make you famous forever.” (par. 10)
And from that moment onward, Anthony became a light of Christ for others. These many centuries later, does St. Anthony continue to be a light for us?
Absolutely! First, Anthony’s ability to trust in the Lord brought about great things; not merely for himself, but for others, too! Second, while Anthony’s call is different than ours, it does provide us with knowledge of the ways in which a “holy path” may be navigated. Having been rooted in love and trust, we are called to move forward in friendship and relationship with the Lord. But still, what if we are shaky and fearful of taking that first step? Then we should consider ourselves as the smallest of seeds and trust that, through perseverance, the Lord will transform us into the “largest of plants.” And even if we don’t think this is being accomplished, we don’t necessarily see as the Lord sees. And third, St. Anthony’s desert spirituality calls us to a more intensive interior reflection that will assist us in developing greater courage so that we might walk more closely with God. Through his life and writings, this Desert Father…
- Encourages us toward a way of life that leads to happiness.
- To have faith in the Lord and love him.
- To not be deceived by the feeding of the belly.
- To remember the deeds of the saints, so that the soul, ever mindful of the commandments, might be educated by their ardor.
- To daily recount our actions of the day and night, and if we sin, let us stop.
- To always give thanks to the Lord.
- To seek wisdom first and remember that Letters (e.g., academic degrees) are not automatic guarantors of wisdom.
Lastly, may the Life of Anthony provide guidance for those who seek to serve God in this world:
“Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ glorifies those who glorify him, and not only leads those who serve him to the end in the kingdom of heaven, but even here, though they conceal themselves and seek to retire, he makes them known and celebrated everywhere, both because of their own virtue and because of their assistance to others.” (par. 94)
Where should we begin? With St. Anthony as our guide, may we ponder the ancient and yet present words that St. Paul wrote in his Letter to the Philippians: “Forget about what lies behind, rather, strain forward to what lies ahead.”