17 January 2018
Today the Church celebrates St. Anthony of Egypt, the “Father of Monks.” As a young man, he walked into a church one day and heard the words of Jesus proclaimed in the Gospel, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mt 19:21). He left the church with a firm conviction to do precisely what Jesus said. He sold all his possessions and became a hermit in the Egyptian desert. Eventually, others insisted on following him and he established one of the earliest monasteries, the powerhouses of prayer, wisdom, and technology for a thousand years.
Possessing a strong faith St Anthony, had an ardent desire to grow in virtue, modeling himself on people he admired.
St. Anthony said, “Whoever hammers a lump of iron, first decides what he is going to make of it, a scythe, a sword, or an axe. Even so, we ought to make up our minds what kind of virtue we want to forge, or we labour in vain.”
The great Greek philosopher Aristotle believed that the best way to understand virtue was not through abstract study but by watching the virtuous in action. Learning the moral life is, for Aristotle, something like acquiring artistic skill through apprenticeship or like becoming an actor through understudying a great performer. Finding a master and striving to imitate him is the key.
In the Catholic Church, we are blessed with a magnificent variety of saints to learn from – let alone Jesus himself.
If you are serious about learning how to be humble, chaste, forgiving, diligent, kind or self-restrained then studying a saint’s life is a great way to begin. “Imitation is the sincerest form of praise.” And so the Church urges us to imitate the saints, to follow their example of holiness.
Who are some of your spiritual heroes? Who has been inspirational for you? If a name doesn’t immediately come to find, one fun way may be to try out saintsnamegenerator.com The idea is that you click the “Find a Saint for Me!” button; say a prayer; and when you’re ready to meet your saint, click “Show Me My Saint.”
Over the course of the year, you can learn about the saint’s spirituality and try to incorporate some of their spiritual practices, but also to entrust your intentions to his or her prayerful intercession. It could be the start of a beautiful ‘heavenly’ friendship.