What does it mean to be “all in” with God? If you’re tempted to think you’ve given all to Jesus, be challenged by St. Antony. If you wonder if you can actually live closer to God, be inspired by St. Antony.
If you are like most people, all you know of St Antony is that he was some old Christian Saint who has hospitals or a local church named after him. Here is, as they say, the “rest of the story.”
Antony was born to wealthy parents around A.D. 250 in Middle Egypt. Around the age of 20, his parents died leaving him with both wealth and the responsibility for his younger sister. Some months later, while at church, he heard these words read: “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” These words recorded in Matthew 21:19 are from Jesus to the rich young ruler, which Antony now was. Not wanting his wealth to impair his journey with God, he gave his land and belongings to the locals keeping aside only a small sum for the care of his sister.
Shortly thereafter, again in church and again from Matthew, Jesus’ words were read: “do not worry about tomorrow.” Believing this was spoken to him, he gave away his remaining money and left his sister in the care of some local pious women. Antony left the comfort of his wealth to pursue the ascetic life.
He first moved out of the family home and began practicing asceticism under the guidance of an old man in a nearby town. Antony performed manual labor to support himself, giving away money to the poor. He prayed and read scripture. He helped those around him. He sealed himself in a nearby empty tomb, receiving only occasional bread from friends. He often sought guidance from pious men.
Sometime later Antony had himself sealed in an unused tomb where he prayed, meditated, and battled temptations and demons. This was his life for 15 years. Nearing the end of that time, God appeared to Antony promising never to leave him in times of trial and to make him known throughout the world.
Following the vision, Antony left the tomb to move deeper into the desert to an old fort. Friends, either worried about his welfare or who wanted to copy his ascetic lifestyle, would try to contact him. But Antony would shoo them away without ever opening the door. They would hear him singing. Finally, after 20 years, they broke down the door. Athanasius tells us in his biography of Antony that he emerged from the fort and his friends were “astonished” at his appearance, looking as fit as he had 20 years earlier.
Now in his mid-fifties, he moved yet deeper into the desert to continue to live the ascetic life. However, he would receive those who sought him. He also traveled to encourage fellow monks. He engaged in an early rhetorical battle against the Arian heretics.
After emerging from his fort sanctuary and for the remainder of his life, he never was far from his desert sanctuary. At the age of 105, Antony died in the desert. For over 1,500 years, Antony has been known as the father of the monastic movement.
What You Can Learn From St. Antony
- The lives of saints, such as Antony, are ones of inspiration not imitation. Antony’s life and path with God were his, given to him by God. You can learn much by reading about the saints and you should be inspired in your own struggles, but don’t take on the guilt of not living their lives.
- Focus more on God. Watch one less TV show a week and spend the time in prayer and reading scripture and a book about a saint.
- Rejoice in all things. Learn to see every tribulation, temptation, failure, sadness, tragedy and joy as an opportunity for prayer, which is an opportunity to approach God.
- Don’t be too quick to engage in ministry. Jesus spent 30 years at home in a very small village and then 40 days in the desert before beginning his public ministry. Paul was in the desert for 3 years and then exiled to Tarsus for some time before being called to ministry by the Apostles. Moses lived the lonely life of a shepherd for 40 years before leading the Hebrews to freedom. Our world is 24/7 and performance-driven. Learn to live life at the pace of a desert-dwelling monk.
- Focusing on your own transformation is not selfishness. It takes both good soil and time for a strong tree to grow and bear good fruit. Too many Christians have publicly fallen as they worked hard for God. Spend your time with God cooperating with Him as He transforms you. Then, like Jesus, only do what you see Him doing. But remember, only those with a pure heart see God. For most of us purification is a long, slow, painful struggle.