There is a lot that we can learn from a saint whose feast day it is this Friday; a man who at the age of twenty sold all of his possessions. St. Antony lived in solitude in a deserted fort for twenty years from the age of 35 to 55, before leaving his hermitage to teach disciples, eventually becoming an Abbot while working as a gardener and a mat-maker. The Egypt-born saint was known as a miracle-worker and was a hugely popular figure in the Middle Ages, known for healing people and animals. His extraordinary life might seem a little bit far-fetched or perhaps even alien to us today, living in busy suburban London. So is he worth bothering much about?
It is true that God uses all of us in so many different ways, whether in a vocational, professional or ministerial sense, yet we all share the same calling to holiness. We are not all called right now to sell everything material we possess in a literal sense, but we are all called to give everything to God, to make sacrifices and to fast. We are not all called to be hermits, but we are all called to pray. And we might ask ‘what made Antony so special to live the life he lived and to have worked miracles?’ The answer is simple: Jesus.
The more time we spend with Jesus, the holier we will become; the more spiritually in-tune we will be; the more aware we will be of others and ourselves. For prayer is not only coming to Mass, nor is it simply praying the rosary or making a list of those who are in need – these are wonderful things, the former most especially! But we are called into a personal relationship with God, to spend time with Him; to listen to Him; to talk to Him; to know Him. And without time in solitude, this is incredibly difficult, if not impossible.
So I encourage us today, not to go into the desert in solitude for 20 years necessarily, but to take some time out of the day, it could be only 5 or 10 minutes to start with, and to still ourselves, doing nothing but focusing on God; seeking Him; waiting on Him. It might help to call upon His name, saying “Come, Lord Jesus”. As Scripture says “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). St. John of the Cross might help us when we pray for he urges us to bring the understanding, the memory and the will into silence. God, then, can make Himself known to us
Back in 1963 Moscow Radio made a concerted attack on religious practices. Its theme was religion’s threat to health. According to the broadcasters, Christian baptism was a ‘health menace’ and ‘a senseless and dangerous rite’. The claim was that thousands of babies had died of pneumonia following baptism services and that weak hearts and lungs in adults were the result of baptism when they were younger. The truth of the matter was that the authorities would do anything no matter how ludicrous to undermine the Christian Faith.
Whether we were babies or not when we were baptised the sacrament of Baptism should not just be a highly significant event in our lives but something that is ongoing, a way of life, a vibrant relationship with God. In his letter to the Romans St Paul tells us that we have been baptised in Christ where the old sinful ways are buried and a new life, a new creation is raised up. This means that we are able to live lives no longer dominated by the old ways. Sin is no longer our master, God is. Of course, we do sin but as long as we keep cooperating with the grace of God and renewing our commitment to our baptism, sin will no longer be the dominant force.