Saint Anthony of Egypt (251-356), also known as Saint Anthony the Abbot, Saint Anthony the Great, and Anthony of the Desert, is celebrated today. Like Saint Paul the Hermit, who we celebrated last week, Saint Anthony was a man of God, contemplative and ascetic, who preferred solitude and was significantly tested by the Devil. Saint Anthony, often wrongly credited as the first monk, help spread the concepts of acesticism and monasticism by being the first to go into the wilderness (in this case the desert) to contemplate the Lord.
Saint Anthony grew up a wealthy man, and following the deaths of his family at age 20, was moved by the Gospel of Mark: “Go, Sell what you have, and give to the poor” (10:21). Doing just that, Saint Anthony sold his possessions, distributing them to those in need, and wandered into the deep desert to live and pray. He fasted, eating only a small amount of food after nightfall each day, and spent his days in quite contemplation and prayer. Saint Athanasius, who wrote a biography of Saint Anthony detailed that the Devil was so attracted to this prayerful man, he engaged in an all-out fight with him, afflicting him with boredom, apathy, and temptations of the flesh in the form of women. During one of these such temptations, Saint Anthony had a vision that the entire world was full of snares and traps. He cried to the Lord, "Oh good Lord, who may escape from these snares?" A voice said back to him, saying, "humility shall escape them without more." Saint Anthony overcame these temptations through prayer, angering the Devil so greatly that he sent a legion of demons to beat him unconscious. After one particular difficult struggle, Saint Anthony saw a light. Knowing it was God, he called out, "Where were you when I needed you?" and was answered, "I was here. I was watching your struggle. Because you didn't give in, I will stay with you and protect you forever." The villagers who occasionally brought him food found Saint Anthony near death, returning him to the village and offering medical care.
Saint Anthony returned to the desert, inspiring a monastery and attracting followers. While he lived separately from the community, he instructed the brothers through manual work and prayer. Saint Anthony died at the age of 105, and was buried in an unmarked desert grave. This grave was later discovered and moved a number of times to escape destruction and persecution, ending up in France (Saint-Antoine-en-Dauphiné), and held responsible for a number of miracles, including miraculous cures of skin afflictions known as St. Anthony’s Fire.
Saint Anthony’s temptations inspired a book, an opera, and numerous paintings. In art, Saint Anthony is often depicted with a T-shaped Cross, a book, and a pig. The Cross and book represent his tools to fight the Devil, whereas the pig is thought to represent the Devil. One important painting of Saint Anthony was created by Heironymous Bosch, a Dutch painter in the 14th century. As the website of the WebMuseum, Paris describes:
Bosch's spiritual heroes were the saints who endured both physical and mental torment, yet remained steadfast. Among the saints, Bosch's favorite was Saint Anthony, the subject of his triptych The Temptation of Saint Anthony (c.1500; Museo National de Arte Antiga, Lisbon), which features physical punishment on the left wing, a Black Mass in the center, and the blandishments of food and sex on the right wing. St. Anthony's triumph over such trials is mirrored by those of other hermit saints and by the Passion of Christ, whose arrest and carrying of the cross adorn the exterior of the Lisbon altarpiece.
In Bosch's day, temptation not only had the meaning it has today, but also meant physical/mental assault by demons. So St Anthony is not only tempted by the pleasures of the flesh and so on, he is also beaten up and terrorized by the demons.
Why pray the Rosary every day for a year?
Each time the Blessed Virgin has appeared-- whether it be to Saint Bernadette Soubirous at Lourdes; to Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco at Fatima; or to Mariette Beco at Banneux-- she has asserted the importance, saving grace, and power of praying the Holy Rosary on a daily basis. Based upon her words, the Rosary is penance and conversion for sinners, a pathway to peace, an end to war, and a powerful act of faith in Jesus Christ. Pope Paul VI presented the Rosary as a powerful means to reach Christ "not merely with Mary but indeed, insofar as this is possible to us, in the same way as Mary, who is certainly the one who thought about Him more than anyone else has ever done."
To show us how this is done, perhaps no one has been more eloquent than the great Cardinal Newman, who wrote: "The great power of the Rosary consists in the fact that it translates the Creed into Prayer. Of course, the Creed is already in a certain sense a prayer and a great act of homage towards God, but the Rosary brings us to meditate again on the great truth of His life and death, and brings this truth close to our hearts. Even Christians, although they know God, usually fear rather than love Him. The strength of the Rosary lies in the particular manner in which it considers these mysteries, since all our thinking about Christ is intertwined with the thought of His Mother, in the relations between Mother and Son; the Holy Family is presented to us, the home in which God lived His infinite love."
As Mary said at Fatima, "Jesus wants to use you to make Me known and loved. He wishes to establish the devotion to My Immaculate Heart throughout the world. I promise salvation to whoever embraces it; these souls will be dear to God, like flowers put by Me to adorn his throne."