Missionary Saints – St. Anthony, Abbot

It may seem a contradiction to write about Saint Anthony of the Desert as a missionary saint. He did not set out on land or sea to spread the Gospel. No, he went deep into the desert to embrace the solitary asceticism of hermetic life. He focused on converting himself: every selfish inclination, every instance of impatience, every imprudent thought, desiring fully to live with and for and through Christ Jesus alone.
It may seem a contradiction that a desert abbot would be a model of missionary zeal for us today. Yet, if we consider who the Church has identified as the Patron Saint of Missions it may make sense. Therese of Lisieux – she who did not step foot out of the Carmel – is the patroness of Missions. But back to Anthony:
He wanted to live a life of solitude in the desert, but people flocked to him. He wanted to be martyred in the Roman persecutions of 311, but lived to be 105 years old.
What the Little Flower and Saint Anthony the Great have in common may help us as we strive to be missionary saints. They both were totally committed to the minute by minute dying to self and living for God and others. It wasn’t in dramatic action or transcontinental journeys where they spread the fragrance of Divine love, but in the tiny every day gestures of self-sacrifice. They both lived a little way of deep Love.
Additionally both Anthony and Therese possess what Pope Benedict XVI called an eschatological hermeneutic, assessing everything from the perspective of eternal life with God. For them it was all about salvation, not simply their own. They desired all to come to know and believe in the Love God has for us that is manifest in Christ through the Spirit. The passion for the eternal salvation of souls is missionary zeal.
As missionaries today we must resist the temptation of the tyranny of the here and now. We must replace our focus on temporalities with the priorities of Christian life which is a mystical union with God through worship and contemplation that move us to greater union with humanity through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. We must resist the temptation to design grandiose plans to transform external structures and instead begin with our own conversion, attending to the transformation of our hearts and minds. And then by Grace begin to build an interior castle in which to receive our Lord. And in so doing His love will radiate from us such that others will be drawn to us as they were to Saint Anthony. Others will seek to know the source of our joy, our hope, our love only to the extent that we truly exude the extraordinary love of God in the ordinary moments of our lives.
The force of missionary love is simultaneously centripetal and centrifugal, drawing in and sending out. Effective missionaries both attract people to Christ through authentic witness and go forth to love and serve. Saint Anthony reminds us that our mystical union with God is the way to
a deeper union with neighbor and that living in light of eternity is the way to engage the present moment. He is a sign of contradiction. So may we be.