Wednesday, January 17, 2007

St. Anthony of the Desert

This morning's Office of Readings in the breviary gave this passage from St. Athanasius' biography of St. Anthony:

"...This was all in [Anthony's] mind when, entering the church just as the gospel was being read, he heard the Lord's words to the rich man..."

Was I reading this right? Was St. Anthony of the Desert another one of those who seem to arrive at Mass 10 minutes after Mass has begun? Was there one of the Church's saints who has set the pattern for the crowd who always seem to get to Mass late (which sometimes works out well, since they take the seats of those who are leaving Mass early)?

But as is often the case, I was wrong. Re-reading the passage a few sentences before, I read that "he was on his way to church for his usual visit." In other words, he wasn't going to Mass; he was going to make a visit to the Lord. So Anthony was not being minimal in the minimum that God asks of us, but doing something extra that even today most people don't think to do (even those of us who have a church connected to our rectories). Then I got to wondering whether Anthony was blowing off Mass in favor of a quickie 'pop into a church'?, but I realized sometimes I over-analyze things, and I just shut up.

Yes, I've been reading the Liturgy of the Hours for fifteen years now, but how many times it became just superficial and something to 'get out of the way' so the so-called "real" day's work can begin? How many times I neglect prayer.

But back to St. Anthony: The opening prayer of today's Mass asked God that "By his prayers and example, may we learn to deny ourselves and to love [God] above all things." Deny ourselves? Talk about counter-cultural! Love God above all things? Do I love God more than I love CSI or the New Jersey Devils? Will I plan my schedule so I can spend an hour watching my favorite television show or a sporting event, but the prospect of spending an hour in quiet prayer with the Lord is unthinkable? Impossible? And when I do get myself to go and pray, do I bring enough stuff to read that it looks like I'm waiting for a train at Penn Station? Fortunately the prayer itself gives me hope: It asks God that we can learn to live this way, which means that it doesn't come naturally (which is especially true nowadays). In other words, to deny ourselves is not sliding downhill into some valley; it's a plateau which involves an uphill climb in order to get to.

Has the information society passed by the vocation to be a contemplative? Not so. In my own Garden State (Chester, N.J., to be exact) we have the Bethlehem Hermitage, where there not only exists a "Laura" (community) of men and women consecrated hermits, but the opportunity to experience life without iPods, the internet, and 400 channels of TV.

When I was a teen, there was a popular rap song at the time which said, "You talk too much. Home boy, you never shut-up." Great advice. St. Anthony of the Desert, pray for us!.

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