St. Anthony, Father of Monasticism and Face of Joy

Today is the Memorial of St. Anthony. No, not Anthony of Padua, who lived in the 13th Century, to whom we pray when we lose things. (“St. Anthony, St. Anthony please come round; something is lost and can’t be found.”) But the Anthony who was born in Egypt in 251.

Moved by Jesus’ message to “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor,” Anthony gave away a large inheritance and lived an ascetic life. It was not completely solitary; he developed many followers, who lived in scattered hermitages near to his own. What has been described as this “primitive organized life” earned him the name “father of monasticism.”

One of Anthony’s biographers wrote that “Strangers knew him from among his disciples by the joy on his face.” I was reminded when reading that line of something Pope Francis wrote in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. An evangelizer, Francis wrote, “must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral!” Rather, Francis tells us that the most effective evangelization is to “appear as people who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet.”

I think Pope Francis is absolutely right in his observation that “There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter.” People who get the suffering part of Christianity, but not the joy. How can such a person evangelize effectively?

This is not to say we don’t have difficult times; I’m going through one right now as I continue to mourn the death of my friend John. But we are resurrection people and must transmit our joy in the resurrection. Anthony, it seems, was someone who did exactly that.

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