When Saint Anthony – and this is not the Saint Anthony who helps us find lost things – was about eighteen years old, his parents died, and left him to care for his young sister and the family home. They had left him with an inheritance to take care of this. Saint Athanasius writes that one day, as Anthony was praying in church, he was reflecting on how the Apostles had left everything to follow Jesus when he heard this verse from Scripture: “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor – you will have riches in heaven. Then come and follow me.”
So that’s what he did: he went out and gave most of the family property to the local villagers, and sold off all of his other possessions, giving the money to the poor. He wanted no distractions for his sister and himself in living the Christian life. The next time he visited church, he heard “Do not be anxious about tomorrow.” At this point, he gave away everything he had left, and put his sister up in the local convent, and went off to dedicate himself to living his call.
Anthony devoted himself to asceticism, living in poverty, reflecting on Scripture, and growing in friendship with Christ. He was a fearless leader of the Church through the Arian controversy, and spoke out boldly, hoping for martyrdom. He founded a sort of monastery with scattered cells (as opposed to a great building), forming a fusion of the solitary life with community life. He is known to be the father of monasticism. Saint Anthony is said to have died at the ripe old age of 105 in solitude.
In a day when we spend a lot of time and energy on the stuff that we have, and the care of our possessions, Saint Anthony’s life comes as a challenge. He gave up everything to follow Christ, trusting that God would take care of him. He left a great mark on human history, and his rule of monasteries has been the basis of many monastic rules ever since. His challenge to us today is this: what do we need to give up to follow Christ more closely?