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January 17

FOCUS:    The Lord delights more in our obedience than in sacrifices and fasting.

Reflection

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In her liturgy today, the Church honors St. Antony (Anthony) of Egypt.

 

Antony was born around 251 AD, and died in 356 AD.  He was an early and celebrated champion of the ascetic life as well as a pioneer of Christian monasticism.  Born in Egypt to wealthy Christian parents, he was transformed one day after hearing the Gospel story in which Jesus instructs the young man to sell all he had, give it to the poor, and find treasure in heaven.   To Antony, it seemed this message was addressed personally to him.

 

After selling his property, Antony set out for the desert where he embraced a solitary and ascetic life.  Aside from hunger and lack of sleep, he contended with many psychological and spiritual ordeals. Constantly assailed by demons, which appeared in various guises – some hideous and others alluring – he sought to still his passions and tap into the source of life.  After 20 years of isolation, he welcomed a community of monks, who were drawn by his magnetic example.  He served as the abbot of this early monastery and eventually established a network of similar communities.

 

Despite his deprivations, Antony remained a picture of health, “neither fat from lack of exercise, nor emaciated from fasting and combat with demons,” and lived to the age of 105.  Soon after his death an account of his life by St. Athanasius (bishop of Alexandria in Egypt) became hugely popular, feeding an appetite for stories of spiritual heroism, and serving as a prototype for later saints’ lives.  Aside from dramatizing Antony’s adventures in self-denial, it also emphasized his humanity, his psychological insight, and his capacity for compassion and joy.