Matthew 19: 16-22
16 Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”
18 “Which ones?” he inquired. Jesus replied, “ ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony,
19 honor your father and mother,’and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”
20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
How many times have you heard this Gospel, or one of the other Gospels that are a variation of the same story? Quite a few, I suppose…we all have, if we attend Mass, or even if we just read the Gospels. It seems to be one that comes up several times in the Liturgical year. It has an important message for us. We are reminded that we are not to seek our treasures of this world…but rather, seek those things that we shall find in the next… However, many of us do spend much of our lives working to accumulate many earthly treasures, things we want…not out of necessity, but out of desire. Most of these ‘treasures’ we’d rather not give up… And unfortunately, many of us easily identify with the young man’s dilemma, and understand why it was such a difficult choice.
Do you ever ask yourself how easy it would be to walk away from Jesus’ challenge? Do you ever think about how you would honestly respond if Jesus found you at home with all of your belongings and actually asked you to give away everything. What if He came tonight and wanted you walk away from all of your possessions…Unfortunately, many of us would respond in the same way as the young wealthy man. After all, our things our important to us…. we have worked hard for them…we have spent not only our time and our money, but also our energy accumulating them…Some of us, measure our self worth by our stuff….Surely, Jesus doesn’t expect us to give away everything….. does He?
Saint Anthony thought so, and when his parents died when he was around 18 years old, he heard the Gospel of Matthew read during Mass… At once, he was inspired not only to say he was a Christian... he wanted to become a Christian as well…Just like the one Jesus spoke about in the Gospel. When his parents died, Antony inherited over 300 hundred acres of land and a sizeable about of money. Almost immediately, he gave to the poor; most of what was left to him, selling the house and land, keeping just enough to make sure that his younger sister would be well cared for at a nearby convent. But Anthony himself wandered out to the desert and found his home there, alone with the wild, harsh elements and the animals. He prayed and fasted surviving on bread and water. He worked hard and devoted his life to living entirely for the Lord. He wanted to live the challenge Jesus had given the rich young man … and he did.
Even though Anthony was trying to live a prayerful life, he was often attacked by demons and devils who tried unsuccessfully to drive him away from his devotion to the Lord. The devil cannot stand when a person dedicates themselves to the Lord, and St. Anthony suffered much at the hands of the evil one. He tried to seduce him with pleasures, and when that didn’t work he attacked his ego…and his mind. At one point, he was even physically beat and thrown around by demons. It was a tough battle for Anthony, but with constant prayer, he was able to over come the temptations that were laid before him. At one point he was so exhausted that he cried out to God, asking Him why he did not save him. It was then that God replied to the saint, that He had been with him all along, but He was watching him do battle, and since he had succeeded, that God would never abandon him.
Anthony continued to live an ascetic lifestyle, which means he practiced self denial, often fasting and denying himself any comfort. He lived alone for many years, separating himself from the world and all of her distractions. Moving every so often as to escape the crowds of people who searched for him, wanting to imitate him. Although after living in the desert for many years, he heard about Saint Paul and went to find him. When he found St. Paul, the two men talked and shared stories with one another. At some point a black crow flew over head and dropped a loaf of bread for the men to eat. Saint Anthony was astonished to hear that this crow came every day, and brought St. Paul a half a loaf of bread for him to eat, but this day he had brought a whole loaf for the men to share.
Saint Anthony enjoyed his time with the Saint and planned to visit him again, but when he arrived at St. Paul’s cave the next day, he found that Saint Paul had died while in prayer…saddened, St. Anthony cried out to the Lord, wondering how he would bury his friend. At his cries, he immediately heard a loud roar from outside, as he ran outside to see what was making the noise and was met by two lions. Though they were rather large in size, they were as gentle as lambs, and intended Saint Anthony no harm. The two lions dug a whole so that he could bury St. Paul and disappeared.
Saint Anthony continued to live an austere monastic life in the desert, depriving himself of human companionship and worldly pleasures for many more years. Finally reaching his just reward when he was over one hundred years old. He died on January 17th where he lived as a hermit in Mount Qolzoum. On his tomb, which is now the object of veneration by the faithful, a church and a monastery were built; his relics were brought to Constantinople in 635, then to France between the 9th and 10th centuries.
As we contemplate the life of this holy saint, and meditate on the message that prompted him to leave all of his belongings behind… we must realize that the message found in Matthew’s Gospel is not just an abstract idea… but a call meant for each and every one of us… Not just those saints of old… In our desire to simplify our life, we should read more about these austere men who lived their days united to God. We should be looking into the lives of Saint Anthony the Abbot and Saint Paul, not only for inspiration, but for intercession as well. That with God’s mercy and grace, we may somehow gain St. Anthony’s zeal for a simpler, more unencumbered relationship with God… a relationship that is void of the many worldly distractions that occupy so much of our daily lives. And that with God’s help, we too, may respond to His call with the same level of enthusiasm that St. Anthony had when he left his worldly treasures, and walked the path that would eventually lead to his eternal reward… instead of walking the path of the young man who could not leave his possessions behind. Let us pray for the courage to follow the Lord, regardless of the cost.
Prayer from Catholic Novena Prayer to Saint Anthony
St. Anthony the Abbot, the ancient and noble saint, we honor you as our intercessor and model of Christian love and total abandonment. In your love and dedication to the Lord, you left everything and followed our Lord to the desert.
The Church honors you greatly for your devout and austere way of life; a life dedicated to God and humanity. By your devotion to the master, you vanquished the evil one and with your eloquence, you rebuffed the heretics.
Because of your close friendship with God, the early church invoked your intercession with great benefit for the salvation of souls and against the onslaught of all kinds of diseases and sicknesses.
May we who strive to follow the same Lord and Master, have your special intercession and help against the onslaught of the evil one and against all temptations of the flesh, sicknesses, epidemics and pandemics and every kind of division and heresies, both within and against the Church of God and be able to lead a life of close union with Jesus our Lord. Pray that we may be a true witness to the grace of Baptism, renewed at every Eucharistic encounter and respond to His constant call and invitation by leading a life of austerity and self sacrifice, a life dedicated and devoted to God and His holy will. we ask this in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.