Ordinary Time: January 17
Anthony "the Great", the "Father of Monks", ranks
with those saints, whose life exercised a profound influence upon
succeeding generations. He was born in Middle Egypt (about 250) of
distinguished 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 (about 270). 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 and confessor 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
Here are a few of his famous sayings 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
Excerpted from The Church's Year of Grace, Pius Parsch