Yesterday, as I wrote about Saint Anthony, I looked at both his biography and his iconography. In his life there was that burning desire to follow Jesus, and he was guided by one simple line of scripture; “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasures in heaven; and come, follow Me”. Anthony followed Jesus, and listened to God in that desert environment, and in that wilderness environment he removed himself from the entrapment’s of society. The irony is that Anthony was known as a hermit, yet is abbot of the first monastery, and a monastery is where monks live in community. In answering his call from Jesus, he led others along to that same path. His story is so similar to that of the other great founder of monasticism, Saint Benedict. Benedict retreated to his hilltop monastery to escape the sinful society of the city. The rule of Saint Benedict certainly was influenced by that of Anthony.
In thinking of these two leaders of monasticism, and thinking of how they heard and followed Gods voice, I also wander into the Old Testament where young Solomon hears the voice of God and mistakes it for the voice of Eli. Twice Samuel says “Here I am, You called me.” and twice Eli says “go back to sleep.” For the third time however Eli realizes that the Lord might have spoken to young Samuel: he then says “Go to sleep, and if you are called, reply, Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.” Eli gives encouragement and sound direction to the young Samuel. Both are devoted to the Lord. How often though in the city do people give the opposite direction. One can lead a people to the Lord, and others can give direction to His opponent. Anthony walked both away from Satin, and towards the Lord. He gained control over the demon, and perhaps that is what those bells of the artwork depicting him truly signify. They both call his followers, and drive away his enemies. To follow Christ is to walk away from the devil.
In todays second reading (Jn 1:35-42) John the Baptist directs his disciples towards the Christ by saying “Behold, the Lamb of God.” He is directing them towards the Christ, translated to the Messiah, which means Savior. John includes the quote of Christ, “Who are you looking for?” Ultimately they answer, they have found in Jesus the Messiah or Savior. They begin their journey towards salvation. Remember though in making that decision to follow Christ to salvation, they make a conscious decision to turn their backs to those who call them into the opposite direction. They certainly are hearing many demanding their obedience, but they have witnessed the darkness of those paths, and decide to turn towards the light of Jesus. That second reading ends with Jesus naming Simon; Cepas, which means Peter, and also means rock. It is on the rock of that Church that Anthony the hermit, becomes Anthony the abbot, and builds a Christian monastery.
I could stop here as Anthony’s story, and Benedicts, and the Hospitallers of Anthony all give good example of listening to the call of the Lord, and being guided towards obedience to the call. They give example of listening to that call, and making a decision to follow the Lord, and to reject Satin. They give example to a fidelity to those baptismal vows of Christians. They also give example of good and sound leadership. Anthony after all was an abbot. I could stop here, but one other Old Testament character keeps entering my mind, and that is Jonah and the Whale. Jonah also heard the call of God, yet did not wish to follow the Lord. Grumpy and disobedient he argues to the point where his boating companions toss him overboard. The whale then swallows the curmudgeon and spits him exactly where the Lord had wanted him to go. Jonah argues in every encounter, but in the end does the will of God. We have the ability to make our own decisions, but who really is in charge? There are no conclusions given here, it’s just another thought.