St Anthony Distributing his Wealth to the Poor, Master of the Ozzervanza, c.1440
St Anthony the Abbot, also known as St Anthony of Egypt and St Anthony the Hermit has had an enormous influence on the life of the Church, touching the lives of nearly all of us. When he went off into the desert as a young man he had no idea that this would lead to the spread of monsticism, which in turn led to other forms of religious life of which there are many variations. He died in 356 at the great age of 105. There were monasteries before St Anthony, so he didn't start this but his life helped to spread it.
There is a lovely reading in the Office of Readings today from the Life of St Anthony by St Athanasius. It ends with these words: And so all the people of the village, and the good men with whom he was associated was what kind of man he was, and they called him 'The friend of God'. Some loved him as a son, and others as though he were a brother.
It's conventional enough to describe a saintly man as a brother or as a father, though St Athanasius didn't use the latter. However, I'm always touched by the words Some loved him as a son. There must have been something very special about St Anthony that led St Athansius to describe him in that way.
St Athanasius also lets us know that the young Anthony was late arriving at Mass when he heard the words of the gospel that changed his life: It happened that the gospel was then being read, and he heard what the Lord had said to the rich man 'If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me'.
This passage is from Matthew 19:16-26, which is recommended for the Mass of the saint. Here it is in the Revised Standard Version - Catholic Edition.
And behold, one came up to Jesus, saying, "Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?" And he said to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments." He said to him, "Which?" And Jesus said, "You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself." The young man said to him, "All these I have observed; what do I still lack?" Jesus said to him, "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions. And Jesus said to his disciples, "Truly, I say to you, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." When the disciples heard this they were greatly astonished, saying, "Who then can be saved?" But Jesus looked at them and said to them, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."
O God, who brought the Abbot Saint Anthony
to serve you by a wondrous way of life in the desert,
grant, through his intercession,
that, denying ourselves,
we may always love you above all things.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.