Saturday, January 18, 2014


Friday January 17 was the feast of Saint Anthony of the Desert.(often spelled "Antony") Born around 250,
St. Anthony of Egypt
he was one of the pioneers of the monastic movement. The "Life of Antony" by St. Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria and an acquaintance of Anthony's, was quickly translated into many languages and not only became the catalyst for the spread of monasticism but also set the pattern for all future biographies of saints.

Besides just enjoying the biography on my own, I've had the pleasure of reading this story many times with new candidates in my role as novice master . Anthony was, among other things, a spiritual warrior who deliberately picked fights with the demons in tombs and in desert places, knowing that the demons are actually powerless in the face of Christ's resurrection.

But when I had to give the homily at our community mass on Anthony's feast day, I bypassed the powerful monastic spirituality dimension and dwelt instead on an image that is both very personal and very powerful.


The image is based on a event from some years ago when I was at a conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico. After the meeting I rented a car and drove to the city of Humacao on the eastern coast to visit the Benedictine monastery there named after San Antonio Abad, Saint Anthony the Abbot. As I turned off the main road and onto the lovely monastery grounds I noticed off to my right several cars parked in a small parking area. People with bright blue plastic barrels and assorted jugs and containers were gathered around what appeared to be a simple pipe coming out of the ground.

When I got to the monastery I asked what those people were doing down by the gate. "Ah si, padre; la sequía!" "It's the drought!" I learned that the lack of rain had plunged the country into a serious water shortage. People's wells were drying up, so they came to the monastery to get water.

That image struck me at the time and has stayed with me ever since: Thirsty people coming to the monastery hoping to get the water they so desperately needed.    

Saint Anthony of Egypt attracted lots of visitors. Even when he moved deep into the desert people would make the dangerous journey to come and see him looking for advice and various kinds of help and healing.


Downtown Newark is not a desert in the geographical sense, but it is in many ways a wilderness.Every day
hundreds of young people come onto our monastery grounds to attend school, adults come to teach or coach, others to attend mass or seek some spiritual guidance. And on Saturdays poor people line up at the door of our Pierre Toussaint food pantry, just like those folks in Humacao who line up to get water at the monastery there. Countless others are encouraged simply by knowing that in this monastery, this little oasis on King Boulevard, monks are praying morning, noon and night for their city and for their neighbors who are often in such need.

I feel privileged to be part of this little group of monks who sing psalms to the tune of sirens and honking horns, and who, simply by our presence, provide our sisters and brothers with a little water in the wilderness.

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