Leave All Behind And Pray Like St. Anthony

On January 17th we celebrate the feast of St. Anthony of the Desert. His life of radical dedication to following Jesus was extreme, and yet is something that we can all emulate.

This is because his life was not defined by a rejection of the world–but by a clinging to all things Christ.

I often wonder whether it is better to leave the world and flee to the mountains with my family or stay in the world. While this is never a serious consideration the thought process revolves around the countless challenges that we face raising a family in our broken culture and flawed society. There seem to be more and more hurdles to living a faithful life with each passing day. Whether it is the rejection of the importance of faith or the denial of truth it sometimes feels like the world is against everything Christian.

St. Anthony reminds me that following Jesus is not about rejecting the world and running from it but falling more in love with him so that we can give him more access to change the world.

Anthony’s parents died when he was about twenty years old. Their inheritance fell to him and he was left with the responsibility of caring for his younger sister.

One day, on his routine visit to pray in a local church, Anthony began to reflect on how the disciples of Jesus deserted everything to follow him. The radical love and commitment they showed to Christ captivated him. Arriving at church he heard the passage “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor–you will have riches in heaven. Then come and follow me” (Mt 19:21-24).

Anthony took this as a sign that Jesu was inviting him to live differently. He viewed these words as spoken for him and to him. So, he sold the land he had inherited and began to give away most of his possessions to the poor, retaining a few so his sister would be cared for.

On his next trip to church, he heard the words “Do not be anxious about tomorrow” (Mt 6:34) proclaimed. He then sold his remaining possessions and placed his sister in the care of religious sisters who had started a convent. Anthony devoted the rest of his life to prayer and fasting. Every second of his would-be intentionally handed over to Jesus Christ.

I wonder what it would have been like to be inside the mind and heart of St. Anthony after he heard those words in church. He must have felt that he must act. He was convicted of what he must do. That conviction is something, I think, that we all pray for and desire. We want to be a disciple who acts on the words of our teacher and our God. The difference between myself and Anthony is that he acted. His conviction was followed by a choice to move.

That does not mean that we sell our homes. Anthony’s call was unique. It was special.

But so is yours.

How can you radically follow it? Is there something you know you need to do to be more faithful, but you are holding off on it?

Is there something you know you need to do to be more faithful, but you are holding off on it?

Maybe there is a conversation you have been pushing off with your spouse or one of your kids. Maybe there is something at work that is unjust that you know you have to act against, but it will cost you something. Maybe you simply just need to pray more and commit to waking up earlier.

Whatever conviction you have deep inside of your heart, act on it like Anthony.

Anthony is known to have said the following: “The fruits of the earth are not brought to perfection immediately, but by time, rain and care; similarly, the fruits of men ripen through ascetic practice, study, time, perseverance, self-control, and patience.”

Choosing to act radically as a disciple takes courage (and I know I need to grow in it). However, knowing the holy actions we are being invited into cannot occur if we do not live like Anthony in one specific way: we must be devoted to daily prayer. This “ascetic practice” is not for the few monks on the planet but for every single one of us.

This is the desert we are being called to enter: leave everything behind and be with God – every single day. Carve out time to bask in His Presence.

Only when we enter our internal desert (away from the world) can we live radically for God.

Make prayer your desert, and enter it each day with St. Anthony.


Image: Depositphotos

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