It’s about time I updated the website and start actually blogging to keep everyone up to date.
In reading about Saint Anthony of the Desert (born 251, died 356) in the Breviary today (January 17th) I couldn’t help but think that he is in some way an inspiration for In Viam Pacis Retreats. The first reason I say that is because my name is Anthony, and surely and quite naturally the Saint who is already prays for the saints that hope to be one day who also share his name! Growing up I always assumed that I was named after St. Anthony of Padua, and I’m sure that is who my dear mother had in mind, since I don`t ever recall her mentioning the great hermit, but she often invoked the famous Franciscan. St. Anthony of Padua (b. 1195, d 1231), whose Feast Day is June 13th, is best known as the Patron Saint of lost articles. He is absolutely reliable in finding lost things through his intercession. I think he is underestimated though, or underutilized. I’m sure the great Wonder Worker is just as reliable in finding lost souls, and that is of much greater value than any thing that we might lose! Anyway, today, January 17th, is the Feast Day, or “memorial” to be technical, of Saint Anthony of the Desert, also known as Saint Anthony of Egypt, or simply and affectionately as Abba Antony. Other titles of his include: Anthony the Anchorite, Father of All Monks, and Anthony the Great. Surely Anthony of Padua was named after the first great Anthony! So in that way every Anthony is named after him, right?
In my twenties I was able to get a copy of Saint Athanasius` Life of Antony, from which we know everything we need, and I think reading that some 30 years ago planted some seed in my heart for the desire for more solitude and a simpler life that is perhaps blossoming and will, please God, bear fruit with In Viam Pacis. I think I may have even picked that book up at St. Joseph`s House of Madonna House in Combermere. My time at Madonna House was also a seed, but that is for another post. Back to Saint Anthony of the Desert.
“When Antony was about eighteen or twenty years old,“ Athanasius tells us, “Not six months after his parents`death, as he was on his way to church for his usual visit, he began to think about how the apostles had left everything and followed the Savior, … entering the church just as the Gospel was being read, he heard the Lord`s words to the rich man: 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. Athanasius reports two more times in short time that this happened to Antony when he went to church. Next he heard these words of the Gospel stand out in the proclamation: Do not be anxious about tomorrow, and then not long after that he heard If anyone will not work, do not let him eat. These three things prompted Antony to sell his inheritance and go live alone in the desert, doing manual labour. There is much more about Saint Antony, but these three things really spoke to me this morning.
In another post, or perhaps a video, I will give you an account of how I have come to live out here in the wilderness as a priest to establish a retreat centre. Times are certainly different in the Church and in the world than they were for Antony, but some things are the same. We have the same human nature, fallen, yet yearning for holiness. Is it possible to literally give away everything today and go live in the wilderness with no money like Saint Antony did? I met a fellow out this way a few months ago who came to the area with his wife planning to live completely off grid. He is quite the interesting character. He told me that they’ve been attempting it for 5 years but it’s not that easy. They raise geese and a certain rare type of pig. He told me that although they want to live simple and even without money, it just isn’t really possible. He drives a really old black truck, almost antique looking, and he needs to pay for a license, insurance, gas, repairs, etc., so he needs money. And I met him at the local general store, a mere 10 km away. He wasn’t there for nothing. Him and his wife are not totally self sufficient for their food or other necessities either. As far as I know the owner of that store is not accepting barter, at least for what he has to offer! No, it is not that easy to just escape into the desert wilderness like Antony did without money. Plus, nowadays we have all sorts of by-laws and zoning restrictions and building permits to navigate. Did Antony have to concern himself with those things? I don’t think so. I am so blessed to be a steward of this property. While legally it is mine, in my mind and heart it is God’s. So, unlike Antony the Great, this Anthony is not liquidating my material assets and giving it away. Rather I have asked myself why it is that God has given me what I have. My answer is In Viam Pacis. Something beautiful for God.
Can I tell you something about this new life that I am just beginning? I have left the parish and the city but I have not left the priesthood. I still minister as a Catholic priest, but in a more hidden way. I am getting a taste of the life of Antony with the periods of solitude and the manual work. Solitude is not lonely. It is not being alone either; not really. Solitude is the opportunity to speak with and listen to God. What joy! It is beyond words! I’m outside in the woods, digging, cutting, building, sweating, muscles getting tired, no one to talk to except God. And I take a pause and I look around at the trees and the sky, and I hear the silence, or perhaps nothing more than a call of a bird, or, if it’s not too windy, the sound of the flowing creek, and I breathe in the fresh air, and deep inside somethings small wells up into something great. I don’t really have the words to describe it. Maybe it’s just the clean country air! Or maybe it’s a tiny bit of a sharing in what St. Antony also experienced, since, he considered “the nature of created things” to be his book that he would ‘read’ to know the words of God. He was known to be very wise, and people sought him out looking for that wisdom. Yet, amazingly enough, he had not learnt how to read the written word. He was illiterate, but he memorized Holy Scripture through hearing. And throughout his whole life he sought out solitude to pray and to listen for God.
In Viam Pacis exists so that you can get away from the busyness or the noise of the crazy world for a day or a bit more and have a taste in some way of the life of Antony. Please pray for the success of In Viam Pacis. It is taking much longer than I thought to get things ready to receive retreatants. I’m kind of embarrassed at how long it is taking me, actually. I could use some help. I have received some volunteer help, and I have paid for some skilled labour too. I have a call out to hire someone next week. A number of good persons are waiting to come on retreat, and I feel obliged to get things ready as soon as possible for them, and for you if you want. Some of you have told me that you would love to come but your health will not allow it. God bless you. I pray that you will get that taste of In Viam Pacis in an even more powerful way through the solitude of your suffering. Saint Anthony of the Desert, pray for us.