Saint Anthony of the Desert

Image may contain: 5 people

Saint Anthony of the Desert

Patriarch of Monastic Life
(251-356)

Saint Anthony was born in the year 251, in Upper Egypt. Hearing at Mass the words, If you would be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, he gave away all his vast possessions — staying only to see that his sister’s education was completed — and retired into the desert. He then begged an aged hermit to teach him the spiritual life, and he also visited various solitaries, undertaking to copy the principal virtue of each.

To serve God more perfectly, Anthony immured himself in a ruin, building up the door so that none could enter. Here the devils assaulted him furiously, appearing as various monsters, and even wounding him severely; but his courage never failed, and he overcame them all by confidence in God and by the sign of the cross. One night, while Anthony was in his solitude, many devils scourged him so terribly that he lay as if dead. A friend found him in this condition, and believing him dead carried him home. But when Anthony came to himself he persuaded his friend to take him back, in spite of his wounds, to his solitude. Here, prostrate from weakness, he defied the devils, saying, I fear you not; you cannot separate me from the love of Christ. After more vain assaults the devils fled, and Christ appeared to Anthony in His glory.

Saint Anthony’s only food was bread and water, which he never tasted before sunset, and sometimes only once in two, three, or four days. He wore sackcloth and sheepskin, and he often knelt in prayer from sunset to sunrise.

His admirers became so many and so insistent that he was eventually persuaded to found two monasteries for them and to give them a rule of life. These were the first monasteries ever to be founded, and Saint Anthony is, therefore, the father of cenobites of monks. In 311 he went to Alexandria to take part in the Arian controversy and to comfort those who were being persecuted by Maximinus. This visit lasted for a few days only, after which he retired into a solitude even more remote so that he might cut himself off completely from his admirers. When he was over ninety, he was commanded by God in a vision to search the desert for Saint Paul the Hermit. He is said to have survived until the age of a hundred and five, when he died peacefully in a cave on Mount Kolzim near the Red Sea. Saint Athanasius, his biographer, says that the mere knowledge of how Saint Anthony lived is a good guide to virtue.

Reflection. The more violent the assaults of temptation suffered by Saint Anthony, the more firmly did he grasp his weapons, namely, mortification and prayer. Let us imitate him in this, if we wish to obtain victories like his.

Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894); Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 1; The Saints, a Concise Biographical Dictionary, edited by John Coulson (Hawthorn Books, Inc.: New York, 1957).

Saint Marcellus

Image may contain: 1 person

Saint Marcellus

Pope and martyr
(† 310)

During the third century paganism and Christianity vied for supremacy in the Roman Empire. Hoping to stifle the Church completely, the emperor Diocletian in 303 began the last and fiercest of the persecutions. In time, Christian charity conquered pagan brutality, and as the Church attracted more and more members, the Roman government would be compelled to recognize its existence, but it was only after almost three hundred years, during which persecutions had forced Christian worship underground, that the Church would finally come out into the open after the Edict of Nantes in 313. It was still young and disorganized, vulnerable to heresy and apostasy, and needed a strong leader to settle questions of doctrine and discipline.

Continue reading

St. Maurus

No photo description available.

St. Maurus, Abbot

AMONG the several noblemen who placed their sons under the care of St. Benedict, to be brought up in piety and learning, Equitius, one of that rank, left with him his son Maurus, then but twelve years old, in 522. The youth surpassed all his fellow monks in the discharge of monastic duties, and when he was grown up, St. Benedict made him his coadjutor in the government of Sublaco. Maurus, by his singleness of heart and profound humility, was a model of perfection to all the brethren, and was favoured by God with the gift of miracles. St. Placidus, a fellow monk, the son of the senator Tertullus, going one day to fetch water, fell into the lake, and was carried the distance of a bow-shot from the bank. St. Benedict saw this in spirit in his cell, and bid Maurus run and draw him out. Maurus obeyed, walked upon the waters without perceiving it, and dragged out Placidus by the hair, without sinking in the least himself. He attributed the miracle to the prayers of St. Benedict; but the holy abbot, to the obedience of the disciple. Soon after that holy patriarch had retired to Cassino, he called St. Maurus thither, in the year 528. 

Continue reading

Our Lady of Prompt Succor

No photo description available.

Our Lady of Prompt Succor

DURING the French Revolution of the late 18th century, priests and religious were persecuted and often had to go into hiding in order to administer the Sacraments and keep their vocation and apostolates. This is what happened with the Ursuline nuns of the Convent of Pont-Saint-Esprit. One of the nuns, Agathe Gensoul, who could no longer use her religious name, Mother St. Michel, still lived her vocation, starting a school with another Ursuline, Sophie Ricard. Agathe had a cousin who was an Ursuline also, but who lived in America, in New Orleans, which had been at that time under Spanish domain, but had been taken back by the French. Fearing French persecution, the Spanish Ursulines there went back to Spain, which left the convent in need of more nuns.

So Agathe or Mother St. Michel, applied to the bishop for the transfer to New Orleans, who refused her request because of the trouble in France. He told her that the Pope would have to approve her move. He, however was under house arrest. The situation was near impossible. But this did not discourage Agathe, who immediately wrote a letter to Pope Pius VII, but after three months, she was still without means to send it.

One day, while praying before a statue of Mary, she was inspired with this prayer:

“O Most Holy Virgin Mary, if you obtain a prompt and favorable answer to my letter, I promise to have you honored in New Orleans under the title of Our Lady of Prompt Succor.”

She not only found a way to send the letter a few days later, but the Pontiff replied within a month! He granted his permission, blessing her new undertaking, which surprised the bishop who asked to bless the statue that Mother St. Michel had carved to take with her to New Orleans.

The statue was enshrined in the Ursuline convent there on December 30,1810. Two years later, another miracle would be attributed to the Virgin under this title. A terrible fire ravaged the city in 1812, and the wind was rapidly driving it in the direction of the convent of the Ursulines. One of the nuns, Sister St. Anthony, placed a small replica of Our Lady of Prompt Succor in her window that faced the approaching fire, while Mother St. Michel prayed aloud, asking Our Lady for help. Immediately the wind changed direction of the flames.

Mary’s help has been sought from the shrine ever since, both in time of war [the Battle of New Orleans] and during the threat of hurricanes, a persistent peril on the Gulf Coast.

Saint Paul

Image may contain: 1 person

Saint Paul

the First Hermit
(229-342)

Saint Paul was born in Upper Egypt in about the year 229, and became an orphan at the age of fifteen. He was very rich and highly educated. Fearing lest the tortures of a terrible persecution might endanger his Christian perseverance, he retired into a remote village. But his pagan brother-in-law denounced him, and Saint Paul, rather than remain where his faith was in danger, entered the barren desert, trusting that God would supply his wants. And his confidence was rewarded; for on the spot to which Providence led him he found the fruit of a palm-tree for food, its leaves for clothing, and the water of a spring for drink.

His first plan was to return to the world when the persecution was over; but tasting great delights in prayer and penance, he remained for the rest of his life, ninety years, in penance, prayer and contemplation.

God revealed his existence to Saint Anthony, who sought him for three days. Seeing a thirsty she-wolf run through an opening in the rocks, Anthony followed her to look for water and found Paul. They knew each other at once, and praised God together. While Saint Anthony was visiting him, a raven brought them a loaf of bread, and Saint Paul said, See how good God is! For sixty years this bird has brought me half a loaf each day; now at your coming, Christ has doubled the provision for His servants.

The two religious passed the night in prayer, then at dawn Paul told Anthony that he was about to die, and asked to be buried in the cloak given to Anthony by Saint Athanasius. He asked him this to show that he was dying in communion with Saint Athanasius, the invincible defender of the Faith against the Arian heresy. Anthony hastened back to fetch it, and when he was returning to Paul he saw his co-hermit rising to heaven in glory. He found his dead body kneeling as in prayer, and saw two lions come and dig his grave. Saint Paul, The Patriarch of Hermits, died in his one hundred and thirteenth year.

Reflection. Never shall we trust in ourselves without being deceived, but we shall never repent of having trusted in God, for He cannot fail those who depend upon Him.

Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894); Lives of the Desert Fathers, their Spiritual Doctrine and Monastic Discipline, by Fr. Michel-Ange Marin (Magnificat: St. Jovite, 1991)