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Homily for 1/30/05 - St Anthony

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  • David Moser
    Luke 18:35-43 One day, the brethren came to St Anthony (the Great) and asked him to deliver a discourse on the monastic life. He began, let no one ever relax
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 30, 2005
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      Luke 18:35-43



      One day, the brethren came to St Anthony (the Great) and asked him to
      deliver a discourse on the monastic life. He began, "let no one ever relax
      his labors. We must all maintain our original zeal, or rather increase it
      daily" These words of Saint Anthony apply not only to the monastic life
      but to the Christian life in general and so are not only for monastics, but
      indeed, for all of us. In the Gospel today we heard the account of the
      encounter of Christ with a man who was blind. Upon hearing that our Lord
      Jesus Christ was passing by, this blind beggar began to call out "Lord have
      mercy upon me." He continued to cry out with a loud voice even as the Lord
      drew nearer and nearer. Some of those around him, thinking his cries to be
      disruptive, tried to get him to be quiet, but the blind man cried out all
      the more, "Lord have mercy on me." Finally our Lord Jesus Christ heard the
      man crying out and came to him and restored his sight. This kind of faith
      and persistence is the same as that which St Anthony instructed the brethren
      to have.



      In the Gospel, the blind man by the side of the road is each one of us for
      we all sit blindly by the side of the spiritual path. Because of our
      inability to see, we cannot follow the road on our own, but require a guide.
      Our Lord Jesus Christ is the One Who can not only guide us but Who can also
      heal us comes by and we cry out constantly to Him "Lord have mercy". There
      are those who would prevent us from coming to Christ, who discourage us from
      this prayer. These are the demons who hate God and who do everything in
      their power to prevent us from praying and to keep us from the path of
      salvation. They cannot withstand Christ, but they try to keep us from
      calling out to Him in the first place. They try various means to do this
      and their victory is when we give up, when we cease to call out to Christ
      for any reason and sink back into our blindness.



      The life of St Anthony is instructive for us in unmasking some of these
      attempts by the evil one to dissuade us from crying out to God. St Anthony
      was born into a noble and well to do family. He grew up in a pious home
      until he was about 20 years of age. At that time his parents died. This
      is the first struggle that he faced in his spiritual life for as the eldest
      son the responsibility of the family fell upon his shoulders. Instead of
      being able to pursue the spiritual life unencumbered, he now was distracted
      with the cares of the world. Upon hearing in Church the words of Christ "If
      thou wilt be perfect, go a sell all that thou hast and give it to the poor
      and come and follow Me." St Anthony considered that this admonition was
      given to him personally and so he did as the Gospel suggested - he sold all
      that he had, liquidated the family estate so that he no longer had the care
      of it. He gave nearly all of the proceeds to the poor, keeping only one
      small sum for his sister's care and a small sum for himself. Upon returning
      to Church he heard again the Gospel "Take no thought for tomorrow". In
      response to these words which he held as Christ speaking directly to him, he
      gave away the remaining small sum which he had kept for himself, gave his
      sister into the care of virgins who would care for her and rear her in piety
      and virginity for Christ and then devoted himself to a life of asceticism.



      Here we must stop and look for a moment at St Anthony's actions. The first
      barrier placed in his way was that of the cares of the world. We are all
      faced with various worldly responsibilities that seem to keep us from living
      the Christian life. Whether we go to the extreme that St Anthony did or
      whether there is some other means by which we reorder our priorities, it is
      necessary for us to somehow set aside those earthly cares which distract us
      from following Christ. To follow Christ, to cry out to Him, "Lord have
      mercy on me!" must remain the primary priority and activity of our lives.
      We cannot let the world or any other power distract us from that single
      path.



      In addition we must also note St Anthony's first reaction. He did as the
      Gospel suggested - he sold all that he had and gave it to the poor, keeping
      only that which was necessary for his own life. Anyone would have thought,
      "that is enough - I have done enough, now I can rest" But this too is a
      temptation. In the Christian life we can never do enough by our own
      efforts, but must constantly be renewed by the grace of God. We can not
      simply just think, "Oh, I have found the true faith, now I am saved" or "I
      pray twice daily, I keep the fasts, I give to the poor, I have found favor
      in God's eyes" No effort or achievement on our own is sufficient - our Lord
      Jesus Christ has given to us His life and He expects from us our whole life
      in return.



      Continuing with St Anthony's struggle, having assured his sister's care and
      upbringing and having given all that he had to the poor, he sought out those
      who lived in solitude for Christ's sake and learned from them what they
      would teach him of the ascetic life. He then took up these same labors. He
      devoted his whole life to prayer, labor and self denial. As a result he
      attracted the attention of the evil one who hates God and those who would
      follow Him. The evil one began to tempt him - first by reminding St Anthony
      of all those things he had forsaken - his former possessions and way of
      life, his sister, his nobility and the various pleasures of the world that
      he had experienced in his youth. This was the first attempt of the evil one
      to prevent St Anthony from crying out "Lord have mercy on me!" But just as
      did the blind man in the Gospel, the Saint simply redoubled his efforts and
      cried out all the more "Lord have mercy on me!" Now the devil does not
      remain idle and so he brought a new round of temptations - this time seeking
      to tempt Anthony with lustful thought and even sending a demon appearing to
      him in the form of a beautiful woman. But St Anthony refused this
      temptation as well, continuing in his prayer with increased fervor.



      The evil one changed tactics here and appeared to St Anthony as a repulsive
      looking black imp and said, "I have deceived many, but your asceticism is my
      downfall...I have done my best to beguile you, but you always ignore me."
      St Anthony praised God but did not lower his guard or cease his spiritual
      labor for he rightly presumed that the evil one, thwarted by his efforts to
      conquer him by allurements of the flesh would assail him again with more
      subtle and dangerous temptations. For a time, the evil one did not approach
      him, but St Anthony did not lower his guard, rather he redoubled his
      efforts.



      This part of the saint's life is instructive for us as well. Sometimes the
      evil one seeks to convince us that we have prevailed over him. He praises
      our spiritual effort and convinces us that we have repelled him. Then he
      leaves us alone for a time. All this is to get us to lower our guard, to
      rest from the labor of working out our salvation and to provide him an
      opening, an opportunity of pulling us away through our pride and neglect.
      If he cannot distract us by temptations from calling out to God, he then
      tries to deceive us by our pride and thereby trick us into neglecting our
      prayers and our spiritual life, thinking that we have "won the battle" and
      "completed the race" and that we have now arrived in the kingdom of heaven
      and can spend the remainder of our days in rest. As soon as we do this - he
      will attack us again, and utterly defeat us for we would have laid down our
      spiritual armour and our spiritual weapons and will be taken as if by
      surprise.



      But even this deceit did not keep St Anthony from his prayer and spiritual
      struggle. Finally the evil one, failing in distracting St Anthony or in
      deceiving him, began to try to intimidate him. The evil one, assembling his
      demons began to attack St Anthony and to beat him with blows that left him
      senseless. When St Anthony recovered they then took the form of wild beasts
      and again attacked him seeking to destroy him. But St Anthony did not
      despair, he did not succumb to the fear of the evil one - but rather he
      simply prayed to God, relying not on his own strength but simply on the
      grace of God to repulse the attacks of the evil one and preserve him. During
      all this, St Anthony held fast only to his faith in God - he was not given
      any miraculous encouragement, any feelings of God's presence or anything
      other than his own faith. This is in accordance with the words of the
      Gospel in which our Lord said to those who asked of him a sign that no sign
      would be given to them except the sign of Jonah (that is the resurrection).
      St Anthony did not ask for, nor did he require any sign from God, but held
      firm to his faith in the Resurrected One.



      But the Lord looking down upon Anthony finally did wish to encourage his
      servant and in the midst of the demonic attack he looked up and the roof
      opened and he was surrounded by the divine light. The demons disappeared in
      an instant, not able to withstand this manifestation of the divine presence
      and Anthony was restored. St Anthony cried out "Where were you, my
      compassionate Jesus? Why did you tarry?" to which our Lord replied, "I was
      ever at your side, Anthony, but wanted to see you prevail. I will be with
      you always."



      Often we too are constantly asking this question of God, "where were you in
      my hour of temptation, why did I not sense your presence, why did you not
      send your angels to fight for me?" and the reply is always the same for God
      says to us "I was ever at your side and wanted to see you prevail." Our
      spiritual battles in this life bring to us great spiritual strength, growth
      and development and great spiritual riches in the eternal Kingdom of God.
      In His great love for each one of us, He does not wish to deprive us of our
      reward and so allows us to struggle with the evil one to the limit of our
      strength. He only restrains that which is beyond our ability so that we are
      not overwhelmed - for as the scripture tells us "No man is tempted beyond
      that which he is able to bear" Although we may not see God, or sense His
      presence, or hear His voice, He is ever with us, never forsaking us, always
      at our side.



      The evil one tries again and again, by many and varied means - some overt,
      some subtle, through every avenue of passion and trying every weakness - to
      prevent us from crying out "Lord have mercy upon me!" But like the blind
      man, like St Anthony, it is a necessity to persist in our prayer, persist in
      following Christ, not turning aside to the right or to the left but always
      trusting in God's care and provision, always crying out "Lord have mercy on
      me!" until He comes and heals us. He never leaves us, He never forsakes us
      but says to us, as to St Anthony, "I was ever at your side, I will be with
      you always."
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