Have you ever heard the story of St Anthony of the Desert? He is the first of the Desert Fathers of the fourth century in Egypt. I’d like to share with you the story of his calling.
One day, as he enters a church, he reads the classical passage from Matthew 19 which is about the vocation offered to the rich young man. Anthony took this passage as God speaking directly to himself, and immediately went out, sold much of what he had, and gave to the poor and to his sister.
Later, hearing another precept of Christ in the Gospel, “Do not be anxious about tomorrow”, he gives away the part that he was holding back, and goes out into the desert to do what God wanted him to do.
But then the Enemy is soon on the scene to break Anthony’s resolution with temptation.(and we know who the Enemy is!) The order of the temptations is significant.
FIRST: Anxiety hits him. He starts to worry about his property, his sister, how he would survive in the desert, his ability to persevere.
SECOND: violent temptations of the flesh. Anthony responds by meditation on Christ, and by doing this he extinguishes the illusion.
THIRD: Pride. The evil spirit begins to flatter him, praising him for his holiness and telling him that he is not like other men. Anthony doesn’t give in to the pride and eventually Jesus triumphs in St Anthony.
Why do I tell this story? It’s because of the recurring question that appears in the Gospel: “What should we do?” And how does the prophet, John the Baptist, answer the question? By telling the people to pay attention to what God is asking them to do in their lives. Be faithful, avoid sin, and help those less fortunate than you.
Christ has a purpose for each of us. There’s something that we are called to do that’s not necessarily about ourselves but others. But we know that the evil spirit wants to get in the way of us following Christ and what he wants us to do. And those obstacles can often take the form of the kinds of temptations that St Anthony experienced: anxiety, temptations of the flesh, and pride. So, in the face of these kinds of things—-turn to Christ and ask for his grace to make the right decisions.
You see, what the saints experienced are the very things that we experience. But remember, Jesus wants us to listen to him, to fulfill our purpose in life through Him. Although we may not be asked to do what St Anthony did, we are being asked to do something for Christ. And the words of Scripture are meant to speak to us as they did to Anthony. The question is: are we willing to ACT on what what we’ve been asked to do. Very often in the spiritual life we are asked to give up something so that we can be free to do something else for Christ.
This week is our Penance Service. What better way to be free to do something for Christ than to get rid of the burden of our sins. Perhaps that’s the first step to being able to do something for Christ which will be a blessing for ourselves and for others.