Lifelong CatechesisForming Catholic identity across generations
For a large part of the liturgical year, we devote ourselves to listening to the mystery of Christ in all its aspects unfolded as we seek God's truth and understanding.
Anthony the Abbot, Ascetic, 251-356
The death of his parents while he was still a teenager left Anthony with a large estate and a younger sister to care for. Some months later while attending Mass, Anthony heard in the Gospel, Christ’s word to the young man, “Go, sell what you have, give the money to the poor, and follow me” [Mt 19:21]. Although the young man in the Scripture did not follow Jesus’ advice, Anthony knew that those words were directed at him.
Signing over the best of his lands to his neighbors, Anthony sold the rest and gave most of the money to the poor, keeping only enough for the care of his sister and himself. They began to live an austere life of prayer and sacrifice.
Again, a few months later, he heard the words of Jesus, “Do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat...” [Lk 12:22]. Anthony gave away his few remaining possessions, put his sister into a convent and became a hermit. He lived a life of prayer, penance, and the strictest austerity, eating only bread and water, and that only once a day. Even this he considered too soft and so, after a few years, he moved to an old fort on top of Mount Pispir in Egypt. Here he lived in complete seclusion, eating only what was thrown over the wall to him.
According to the writings of St. Athanasius, Anthony was constantly engaged in struggles with temptation during this time. In 305, after twenty years on the mountain, he came down from the mountain to organize his followers into what became the first Christian monastery. While loosely organized, the followers lived in solitude except for worship and were guided by a rule.
In 311, at the height of the persecution of Christians by Emperor Maximinus, Anthony again temporarily gave up his reclusive life and traveled to Alexandria to visit the prisons and encourage those Christians being held there. He had expressed the desire to suffer martyrdom himself, but that was not to be. When the persecution subsided, he returned to Mount Pispir, organized another monastery, and then retired to a cave near the Red Sea.
Around 355, Anthony again returned to Alexandria, this time to fight the Arian heresy (the denial of Christ’s divinity). Here he worked with his friend, St. Athanasius, for a time before returning to his cave where he lived out the remainder of his long life.
St. Anthony is the patron of many things. Among them are domestic and farm animals, basket makers, and butchers. His Memorial is celebrated on January 17.
Anthony’s message today: Like his friend, Paul the Hermit, Anthony chose a life of contemplation, and put himself entirely in the hands of God. It is never easy to trust in God to take care of our needs unless we have strong faith in his goodness, something we can only develop through prayer.