Anthony was born in Egypt in 250. At age 20, when his parents died, Anthony made sure his younger sister’s education could be completed in a community of holy women. He then sold all his possessions and left for a life of solitude in the desert. There an elderly hermit taught him about prayer and penance. For 20 years, he lived in isolation. Anthony wanted to know God deeply. He did penance by taking only bread and water once a day at sunset. The devil appeared to him in terrible shapes to tempt him. But Anthony had great confidence in God. Anthony’s unusual life did not make him harsh but radiant with God’s love and compassion.
Stories of Anthony’s holiness spread, and people came to learn from him how to become holy. Some admirers wanted to stay, so Anthony—at age 54—founded a type of monastery consisting of hermitages near one another. Anthony wrote a rule that guided the monks. Later when Anthony heard of the persecutions of the Christians, he wanted to die a martyr. At 60, he left the desert to minister to the Christians in prisons, fearlessly exposing himself to danger. He came to realize that a person can die daily for Christ by serving him in ordinary ways with great love. So he returned to the desert to his life of prayer and penance. His life of solitude was again interrupted, however, when at age 88 he had a vision in which he saw the harm Arian followers were doing to the Church by denying the divinity of Christ. Anthony left for Alexandria to preach against this heresy. At age 90, another vision sent Anthony searching the desert for Saint Paul, the first hermit. These two holy men met and spoke of the wonders of God. Anthony is said to have died peacefully in a cave at age 105.
Plan a “hermit time.” Take the students to church for a silent 15 minutes. Allow them to read Scripture, write in their reflection notebook, or read the life of a saint. Invite them to share what they learned from their solitude.
Teach the students short prayers, such as “My Jesus Mercy,” “My God I Trust in You,” and “Jesus, Mary, Joseph.” Encourage them to pray one of these prayers silently during the day.
Excerpted from Christ Our Life, by Sisters of Notre Dame of Chardon, Ohio
Image credit: Painting of Saint Anthony by Piero di Cosimo, 1490. Public Domain via Wikimedia.