Words have a certain staying power. Most of them are in one ear and out the other, but every once in a while words seriously hit home and have a lasting impact. 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). While he had probably heard these words many times before, something was different that time. He left the church with a firm conviction to do exactly what Jesus said. He sold all his possessions and became a hermit in the Egyptian desert.
While Christians relish the response of St. Anthony and the holiness of his life, we are not all called to respond in the same way to those words. Still, by the grace of God, the truth, even a truth we may be quite familiar with, has a way of giving us a much needed slap upside the head.
I can still remember a particular phrase that hit home for me. After a year of graduate school, I was down in some pretty serious dumps through a particularly paradoxical combination of overwork and laziness (with an added dose of emotional baggage). Nothing seemed to be going right. Just getting up in the morning seemed to be a monumental task. I was in a rut of bad habits and I needed help getting out. When I was finally fed up with simply trying to slog my way through the day, I did what I should have done weeks before and called a good friend of mine, a priest, back home. Having put up with my initial round of whining, he cut me off before I had a chance to really get going. He asked me bluntly, “Are you praying?” I attempted to dodge the seriousness of the question and responded by simply saying that I was not praying enough. I was still making it to Mass on Sundays, and even an occasional daily Mass, but I had little to no prayer life outside of that.
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