Saint Anthony of the Desert
251- 356 AD
Holy Spirit increase in me a greater passion for God and detachment from the things of this world.
Saint Anthony of the Desert was born in Middle Egypt (about 250) of wealthy parents. After their untimely deaths, he dedicated himself wholly to acts of mortification. One day while in church he heard the words of the Gospel: "If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have, and give it to the poor" (Matt. 19:21). It seemed as if Christ had spoken to him personally, giving a command he must obey. Without delay he sold his property, gave the proceeds to the poor, and went into the desert (at the age of 20). When overcome by fatigue, his bed was
the hard ground. He fasted rigorously, ate only bread and salt, and drank only water. Nor would he take food before sundown; at times he passed two days without any nourishment. Often, too, he spent whole nights in prayer. The saint suffered repeatedly from diabolical attacks, but these merely made him more steadfast in virtue. He would encourage his disciples in their struggle with the devil with such words: "Believe me; the devil fears the vigils of pious souls, and their fastings, their voluntary poverty, their loving compassion, their humility, but most of all their ardent love of Christ our Lord. As soon as he sees the sign of the Cross, he flees in terror." He died in 356 on Mount Kolzin by the Red Sea, 105 years old. A year later his friend, the fearless bishop St. Athanasius, wrote his biography, which for centuries became the classic handbook of ascetics. As seen by St. Anthony, the purpose of asceticism is not to destroy the body but to bring it into subjection, re-establishing man's original harmonious integrity, his true God-given nature.
St. Anthony lived in solitude for about twenty years. "His was a perfectly purified soul. No pain could annoy him, no pleasure bind him. In him was neither laughter nor sadness. The sight of the crowd did not trouble him, and the warm greetings of so many men did not move him. In a word, he was thoroughly immune to the vanities of the world, like a man unswervingly governed by reason, established in inner peace and harmony."
Listen to these words he addressed to monks. "Let it be your supreme and common purpose not to grow weary in the work you have begun, and in time of trial and affliction not to lose courage and say: Oh, how long already have we been mortifying ourselves! Rather, we should daily begin anew and constantly increase our fervor. For man's whole life is short when measured against the time to come, so short, in fact, that it is as nothing in comparison with eternity. . . . Therefore, my children, let us persevere in our acts of asceticism. And that we may not become weary and disheartened, it is good to meditate on the words of the apostle: 'I die daily.' If we live with the picture of death always before our eyes, we will not sin. The apostle's words tell us that we should so awaken in the morning as though we would not live to evening, and so fall asleep as if there were to be no awakening. For our life is by nature uncertain and is daily meted out to us by Providence. If we are convinced of this and live each day as the apostle suggests, then we will not fall into sin; no desire will enslave us, no anger move us, no treasure bind us to earth; we will await death with unfettered hearts."
See: The Church's Year of Grace, Pius Parsch.
Loving Father, in St. Anthony of the Desert, you teach me to place You before all earthly goods and pleasures. Grace me with a total love of You so all else will dim in Your presence.
In Jesus name. Amen.
Sayings of St Anthony of the Desert
"Abbe Pambo asked Abba Anthony, 'What ought I to do?' and the old man said to him, 'Do not trust in your own righteousness, do not worry about the past, but control your tongue and your stomach.'"
"Abba Anthony said, 'I saw the snares that the enemy spreads out over the world and I said groaning, 'What can get me through such snares?' Then I heard a voice saying to me, 'Humility.'"
Abba Anthony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, "You are mad, you are not like us."
"Abba Anthony said, 'I no longer fear God, but I love Him. For love casts out fear.'
"He also said, 'Obedience with abstinence gives men power over wild beasts.'"
Sayings taken from - (c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.