St. Agnes, January 21


St. Agnes, Rome

Agnes is one of the most important saints of the early church.  She’s  among the seven women mentioned in the 1 Eucharistic Prayer: “Felicity, Perpetua, Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Cecilia, Anastasia.” That prayer goes back to St. Gregory the Great in the 6th century. Some also say his mother and aunt may have promoted that list of women, all strong women who died for their belief. ( cf. Joseph Jungmann)

It’s interesting to see where those women come from. Felicity and Perpetual are from North Africa, Agatha and Lucy from Sicily, Agnes and Cecily from Rome, Anastasia originally from Greece. They’re holy women from all parts of the church of their time.

Agnes’ story appears in legendary 5th century sources, but historians today are more and more appreciative of these early stories, as they are of the infancy narratives of the gospels. They contain more history than legend.  

Agnes was a beautiful, wealthy 13 year old girl, probably chosen to be the wife of an influential Roman man, but she refused to marry him or anyone else, because she believed as a Christian she had the right to choose marriage or not.

That choice wasn’t an option for Roman women then. They were expected to marry young, to marry men chosen for them, and to have two or three children. Rome needed  soldiers then to grow and hold on to their empire. It preferred its own men and wanted its own women to produce them. Only reluctantly did Rome come to accept and depend on foreigners for its army.

.Agnes’ refusal to marry went against strong Roman expectations. She also lived during the reign of the Emperor Diocletian, who was suspicious of Christians, so Agnes was made an example of what would happen to anyone who made a choice like hers.  

Tradition says that after much pressure the authorities brought her to the Stadium of Domitian in the center of Rome,  to a brothel of prostitutes there, to commit her to a life of prostitution, but God kept her from harm. She would not yield, and so they took her into the arena and killed her by slitting her throat. Those who saw her die marveled at her courage and her faith.

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Martyrdom of Agnes, Church of St. Agnes, Rome

Agnes was buried in the catacombs along the Via Nomentana outside the walls of the city. An ancient church stands over her grave there. A beautiful church to visit if you are in Rome. ( below) Another 16th century church honors Agnes in the Piazza Navona, where the Stadium of Domition once stood and the young girl suffered and died. 

The feast day of St. Agnes, January 21,  comes about the time prayer and demonstrations for legal protections for the unborn occur in the United States. Agnes is a good reminder of the important place women have in the issue of unborn life. The choices women make are crucial.

One of the prayers for this time speaks of the importance of unborn children and the role of women who bear them and care for them: 

God, author of all life,

bless, we pray, all unborn children; 

give them constant protection

and grant them a healthy birth,

for they are signs of our rebirth one day into the eternal rejoicing of heaven.

Lord, grant courage to all women

whom you have gifted with the joy of motherhood, 

and give them the determination to bring their children along the way of salvation.

Amen

st. agnes church
St. Agnes, Via Nomentana, Rome

Living in a Fading Church

In his book ” Catholics in America, The Faithful,” ( Harvard University, 2010)  James M. O’Toole, writes about Catholic history from Revolutionary times till the present. The church was largely a “priestless” church when our country began in the 18th century, O’Toole writes,  “…early American Catholic lay people were very different from those who would come after them. The institutional presence of their church was always thin and uncertain. Priests and parishes were few in number and widely scattered. Catholics’ connection to their church was less than they might have thought ideal.”

So what kept things going in a church “thin and uncertain”? O’Toole  offers a lengthy  analysis of the devotional and catechetical  materials of the time and writes: “What scholars  have come to call a ‘print culture,’ grounded in printing and distribution networks, supported the religious practice of Catholic lay people in the priestless age.” (p.33)

Prayerbooks were a large part of their support, it seems.

It looks like we are facing “thin and uncertain” times again as Catholic institutions, parishes, schools, religious groups decline, doesn’t it? What’s our version of a ‘print culture’ to be? What can we give to Catholics whose kids aren’t going to church, whose neighbors are “spiritual but not religious,” who need an anchor themselves in these stormy times? I think we have to think hard about it. 

Should we think about prayerbooks again? How about the social media? I find the lectionary, the feasts, and what they offer spiritually day by day a great support. Certainly we will have what we need in these “thin and uncertain” times. God will provide.

The Soldier Saints: Saint Sebastian

February 20th is the feast of Saint Sebastian, a young Christian from Milan who joined the Roman army in the 4th century as foreign armies began attacking Rome’s frontiers. Like others, he entered military service to save his country from invaders.

A good soldier, Sebastian rose quickly in the ranks. Diocletian, Rome’s finest general and then its unchallenged emperor, appreciated able, brave men. Above all, he wanted loyalty; Sebastian seemed to be everything he wanted.

Yet, he was a Christian. No one knows why, but the emperor, on good terms with Christians early on in his career, suddenly turned against them. In 301 he began purging his army, ordering Christian officers demoted and Christian soldiers dishonorably discharged. The emperor lost trust in them.

Then, Diocletian began persecuting the entire Christian population of the empire. It’s not known how many Christians were killed or imprisoned or forced into hard labor in the mines; it was so ferocious it was called the “Great Persecution.”

As the persecution was going on, sources place Sebastian, not yet dismissed from the army,  in Rome, then under the jurisdiction of Diocletian’s co-emperor Maximian. Here he faced the dangerous situation that caused his death.

Christians were being arrested and imprisoned, and Sebastian was among the soldiers arresting and guarding them. Rather than doing a soldier’s job,  Sebastian did what a Christian should do: he saw those imprisoned as Christ in chains. The whispered words, the small kindnesses, the human face he showed to those in the harsh grip of Roman justice was his answer to the call of Jesus: “I was a prisoner, and you visited me.”

How long he aided  prisoners we don’t know, but someone informed on him. The rest of his story– a favorite of artists through the centuries– says that Sebastian was ordered shot through with arrows by expert archers who pierced all the non-fatal parts of his body so that he would die slowly and painfully from loss of blood.

He was left for dead, but he didn’t die. Instead, he was nursed back to health by a Christian woman named Irene and, once recovered, went before the authorities to denounce their treatment of Christians.

They immediately had him beaten to death.

He was buried by a Christian woman, Lucina, in her family’ crypt along the Appian Way, where an ancient basilica and catacombs now bear the soldier saint’s name. You can visit that holy place today.

The early church revered soldier saints like Sebastian because they helped people in danger, even giving up their lives to do it. They used their strength for others. When soldiers asked John the Baptist what they should do, he answered simply “Don’t bully people.”  The temptation of the strong is to bully the weak.

The soldier saints did more than not dominate or bully others, however; they reached out to those in the grip of the powerful. Sebastian’s great virtue was not that he endured a hail of arrows, but that he cared for frightened, chained men and women in a Roman jail–a hellish place.

Soldier saints like Sebastian recall a kind of holiness we may forget these days. They remind us that it’s a holy task to stand in harm’s way on dangerous city streets, in unpopular wars and trouble-spots throughout the world so that others can be safe. It’s holy, but dangerous, to confront injustice and corruption in powerful political or social systems and take the side of the weak.

Christianity is not a religion that shies away from evil and injustice. Like Jesus, a Christians must not be afraid to take a stand against them. We pray to the Lord, then, for more soldier saints.

The World Jesus Knew

We know much more about the world Jesus lived in as historians and archeologists uncover it today. They help us understand the scriptures better too, so it’s good to stare at a map every once in awhile and think of Jesus’ world. 

Galilee, the site where Mark begins his account of Jesus’ ministry was a thriving part of Palestine then. The region around the Sea of Galilee was doing well economically under the leadership of Herod Antipas (4 BC-39 AD).

Herod Antipas is mentioned a number of times in the New Testament. Jesus called him “that Fox.”  He ordered John the Baptist beheaded and later wondered if Jesus might be John come back from the dead. Pontius Pilate sent Jesus to Herod before sentencing him to death, but Jesus never said a word to him. Another interesting connection to Herod: Johanna, wife of Herod’s steward Cusa, was a follower of Jesus who stood with Mary and the other women at his cross.

Like his father, Herod the Great, Herod Antipas loved to build, and his splendid Greco-Roman city of Tiberias arose from 20 and 27 AD, along the Sea of Galilee, not far from  where Jesus lived in Nazareth and Capernaum, a center of his ministry. Tiberias had a Roman gate, stadium, spacious squares with marble statues,  a grand palace with a golden roof and a large synagogue. 

To pay for it, Herod relied on his tax-collectors in the cities and towns in his district–places like Capernaum and Nazareth– to squeeze the fishermen and farmers for whatever they could get.

The ruins of Herod’s city lie south of the present city of Tiberias. Herod also built Sepphoris, a Roman city near Nazareth, Caesarea on the sea coast, and Caesarea Philippi to the north. He was an ambitious ruler, ruthlessly protective of this empire of his dreams.

In Mark’s Gospel when the “Herodians” join with the Pharisees, we see Herod’s growing unease with this new prophet in his territory. (Mark 3:6)  Herod’s execution of John the Baptist ( Mark 6:14-29) shows his further concern. We need to recognize that Jesus is opposed, not just by religious leaders, but by the political leaders of his time as well. I have a feeling that the gospel writers are very careful not to blame the political leaders too much.

The world Jesus knew changed after the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple by the Romans in 70 AD.  Pharisees and scribes from Jerusalem flocked to Tiberias and Galilee and made it a base for reconstituting Judaism. Instead of the temple, the synagogue became  the center of Jewish life and worship. Tiberias itself became the site of over 12 synagogues and an important place for Jewish learning.  A rabbinic school established in the city eventually produced around the 4th century the Palestinian Talmud, a written collection of rabbinic teachings on Jewish laws and traditions. Jewish historians describe the early centuries after the destruction of Jerusalem as the time of Talmudic Judaism.

Some scholars say the Gospel of Matthew, the most contentious and polemical of the gospels, may have been written near Tiberias around the year 90 AD. (Other places they suggest are Antioch in Syria and Sepphoris, not too far from Nazareth).

Matthew’s Gospel, written later than Mark’s Gospel, seems to reflect the growing struggle between the Jewish authorities in Tiberias and Galilee’s Jewish Christians over the future of Judaism. The sharp critique of the scribes and pharisees in the 23rd chapter of Matthew is an example of the contentious spirit that must have existed on both sides.

I think the followers of Jesus lost the battle with the new Jewish establishment in Galilee at the end of the 1st century; most moved on to other places. Few  remained in Galilee. The final words of Jesus to his eleven disciples in Matthew’s gospel seem to indicate a call to leave: 

“The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them.  When they saw him they worshipped, but they doubted. Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”  (Mt 28, 16-20)

The Christian presence in the Holy Land increased when Constantine gained control of the Roman empire in the 4th century and favored the Christian Church. Yet even as  Christians came and built churches and shrines over the places where tradition said Jesus lived and ministered, Galilee remained a Jewish stronghold.

When Muslims conquered the Holy Land in the 7th century, Christians and Jews alike came under their rule. Because of harsh Muslim rule under the Seljuk Turks and their destruction of the great Christian shrine of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem in the 11th century,  Crusaders from Europe invaded Palestine and re-established a Christian presence again. Evidence of Crusader churches and fortresses can be seen today.

Muslims regained control of the Holy Land in the 13th century and remained in power  till the 20th century. Under Ottoman rule, Jews were treated more favorably than Christians, but as the fortunes of the Ottoman Empire declined so did the economy of Palestine. By the 19th century, Jews, Christians and Muslims lived in a land that was poor and neglected.

As nation states formed in Europe in the 17th century, persecutions of the Jews increased and so did Jewish aspirations to return to their ancestral lands. By the 19th century Jews from Russia and Poland were settling again in parts of Palestine, in Jerusalem as well as in Galilee. After the holocaust, the Jewish population dramatically increased. The Christian presence today is small and increasingly limited.

I found this interesting glimpse of life in the Jewish city of Tiberias by an English visitor at the end of the 19th century:

“The Jews are very numerous in Tiberias, it and Safed being, after Jerusalem and Hebron, the two holiest towns; for the Messiah is one day, they believe, to rise from the waters of the lake and land at Tiberias, and Safed is to be the seat of his throne…Prayer must be repeated at Tiberias at least twice a week, to keep the world from being destroyed…The Israelites of Tiberias are chiefly from Russian Poland, and do not speak German. Poor, thin, and ragged, they are certainly far from attractive;  but the women are neatly dressed, many of them in white and look much better than the men. “  Cunningham Geikie, The Holy Land and the Bible,Vol 2, New York, 1890 p 543

Tiberias today little resembles the city the visitor describes then. It’s a modern Jewish city now, with fashionable hotels and spas.

Faith Breaks Boundaries

Jesus heals the man with the withered hand. J.Tissot

In the next few readings from Mark this week the Pharisees challenge Jesus. His hungry disciples eat some grain from a field on a Sabbath day. (Mark 2: 23-28} Then, in a synagogue on a Sabbath Jesus heals a man with a withered hand.  (Mark 3: 1-6) The Pharisees object and look for help from the “Herodians”.

Today the Pharisees may seem to us to be a small-minded group opposed to Jesus throughout his ministry. Yet, in his time they were seen differently. They were considered the “real” Jews, faithful people who kept the law and took care of their neighbors.They went to the synagogue, said their prayers, kept the Sabbath, and followed religious customs. They weren’t afraid to say they were Jewish, even the clothes they proudly wore told you who they were. 

They were the “good Christians” of their day. They believed they saw things and did things right. But Jesus called them blind. Their blindness appears especially in the way they looked down on others. Think of Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector in the temple. 

We learn a great deal about faith watching the Pharisees. Faith is not simply intellectual conviction or good conduct. It’s not simply knowing your catechism and keeping the church laws. Faith leads to “boundary-breaking activity.” Think of the four men who broke through Peter’s roof to lower the paralyzed man to see Jesus; they disturbed the order of that house. Jesus’ choice of Matthew, the tax-collector, disturbed the model for leadership. Jesus healing a man’s withered hand on the Sabbath broke the order of that day. 

Faith breaks boundaries, the Gospel of Mark indicates.

Yet, let’s not look down on the Pharisees either. We need to keep the laws and say our prayers and be proud of who we are. Actually, couldn’t we use more of that these days? 

A Cloud of Witnesses

As we remember Jesus Christ , we should also remember the saints who follow him. Reading the Gospel of Mark this week as he confronts opposition, let’s remember a young girl, Agnes, and a soldier, Sebastian, who made him known to early Christians by following him into the mystery of his death and resurrection. They tell us we can witness to him in our time.

Mark’s Gospel this week says the scribes, Pharisees and Herodians saw Jesus as a danger to their society and brought him to his death. Roman judges and leaders saw Agnes challenging the norms of their world, and Sebastian betraying their military code. They must die. Their stories correspond well with Mark’s account of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee and his eventual death and resurrection in Jerusalem.They were treated unjustly.

The two Roman martyrs must also have faced rejection by their own families and friends, as Jesus faced rejection in Nazareth. Jesus is not the only one who bears the mystery of the Cross; his followers bear it too. In fact, it’s part of everyone’s life.

Yet Mark’s Gospel sees Jesus going forward, still drawing crowds, still casting out demons, forging ahead to new ground in spite of opposition. The mystery of the Cross leads to Resurrection and the coming of God’s kingdom. It does not end in death.

Nor do the stories of martyrs end in death; they share in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.“ If you can have some share in the sufferings of Christ, be glad, because you will enjoy a much greater gladness when his glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:13-14) The martyrs follow the Suffering Christ–as one sees already in the story of first martyr, Stephen, so carefully crafted to show Stephen following Jesus.

Waiting for an executioner’s sword in the arena, Agnes also sees the heavens open and with arms outstretched says: “ I pray to you, holy Father; behold, I am coming to you, whom I have loved, whom I have sought, whom I have always desired.”

Read the scriptures. Also remember the saints, young girls and soldiers, men and women from every time and place, who heard the same Word we do and believed in that Word. They say : “Follow him.”

Does God Care About Politics?

Story of David. Morgan Library, NY

Watching the fierce battles in our political world today we ask: Does God care about politics? Or does he keep out of it and want us to keep out of it too? Our reading from the Book of Samuel today says God cares about the world of politics.

“Fill your horn with oil, and be on your way,” God says to Samuel, “I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem, for I have chosen my king from among his sons.” Samuel goes through all of Jesse’s sons, but none fit the bill. “Not him, not him, not him,” God says as one after another are brought to Samuel. “Are these all the sons you have?” Samuel asks.

Jesse replied, “There is still the youngest, who is tending the sheep.” “Send for him,” Samuel says, “we will not begin the sacrificial banquet until he arrives here.” So David is brought to them, ” ruddy, a youth handsome to behold and making a splendid appearance.”

The LORD said, “There–anoint him, for this is he!”

Then Samuel, with the horn of oil in hand, anointed him in the midst of his brothers;   ‘and from that day on, the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David.” (I Samuel 16,1-13)

“Anoint him, there he is,” God says. The prophet pours the horn of olive oil on David. What does the oil signify? A power not his own, a power that is God’s grace, to lead his people. The grace of God is needed to lead.

We are told to keep into the world of politics. It can be messy, uncertain, sometimes going nowhere world. But it’s part of God’s world and God’s plan. Not all of God’s plan, of course. Politics can’t become the only thing, which some think it is. Nor can we avoid it, as some unfortunately do.

We have to be engaged in the politics of our day. We’re also told to pray that our leaders– and ourselves– receive God’s grace.

Almighty and eternal God,
you have revealed your glory to all nations.
God of power and might, wisdom and justice,
through you authority is rightly administered,
laws are enacted, and judgment is decreed.

Assist with your spirit of counsel and fortitude
the President of these United States,
that his administration may be conducted in righteousness, and be useful to your people over whom he presides.

May he encourage due respect for virtue and religion.
May he execute the laws with justice and mercy.
May he seek to restrain crime, vice, and immorality.

Let the light of your divine wisdom
direct the deliberations of Congress,
and shine forth in all the proceedings and laws framed
for our rule and government.
May they seek to preserve peace, promote national happiness, and continue to bring us the blessings of liberty and equality.

We pray for the governor of this state 

for the members of the legislature,
for judges, elected civil officials,
and all others who are entrusted to guard our political welfare.
By your powerful protection, may they discharge their duties with honesty and ability.

We likewise commend to your unbounded mercy
all citizens of the United States,
that we be blessed in the knowledge and sanctified in the observance of your holy law.

May we be united in that peace which the world cannot give and, after enjoying the blessings of this life, be admitted to those which are eternal.

We pray to you, who are Lord and God,
for ever and ever. Amen.

(Adapted from a prayer for the inauguration of George Washington by Archbishop John Carroll, first Catholic bishop in the United States)

Praying for Christian Unity

We celebrate a Week of Prayer for Christian Unity every year from the 18th to the 25th of January.

Pope Francis, speaking recently to an ecumenical delegation from Finland, said that we, like the Magi, whom tradition represents as representatives of diverse cultures and peoples, Christians today are “challenged to take our brothers and sisters by the hand… and move forward together.”

Some of the journey together is easier than others, the pope noted, like works of charity together, for example. which draw us closer not only to the poor but to one another.

On the other hand, the journey toward full unity is sometimes more difficult, which “can lead to a certain weariness and temptation to discouragement.

The Pope encouraged Christians to remind themselves “that we are making this journey not as those who already possess God, but as those who continue to seek Him.” He called for courage and patience along the way, in order to encourage and support one another.

The restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the principal concerns of the Second Vatican Council.” (Decree on Ecumenism n.1). Ecumenism affects the mission of the church, because the division of Christians prevents the preaching of the gospel and deprives many people of access to the faith” (Ad Gentes, n. 6). Divisions among Christians cause a confusion that hinders people from accepting the gospel today.

Passionist Father Ignatius Spencer, an early pioneer in ecumenical activity, strongly urged more prayer together. Might be a good idea to consider . How can we do it?

The Cross of Confusion

Mark’s Gospel describes growing numbers following Jesus in Galilee as he begins his ministry, but growing numbers also find him hard to understand, the gospel says.

VATICANCRUC

Scribes come from Jerusalem and say he has a demon, the Pharisees begin to plot with the Herodians, the followers of Herod Antipas about putting him to death. When they hear about him in Nazareth, his relatives say, “No, he doesn’t have a demon. He may be out of his mind,” and they come to bring him home.

Besides the leading elite and people from his hometown, ordinary people begin to distance themselves too. They may be the people in Mark’s Gospel today who question him “Why do the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” (Mark 2, 18-22) Not only Jewish leaders and scholars, not only his own family and his hometown, but ordinary people of Galilee find him too much for them.

Jesus brought change, radical change, and change can be hard to accept. Many who heard him weren’t ready for new wine, they preferred the old.

Commentators describe Mark’s gospel as a Passion Narrative with a prelude. In other words, Mark’s early stories announce the story of his Passion and Death and Resurrection. Jesus dies alone, forsaken by many ordinary people who flocked to him at first.

Commentators also see Mark’s gospel written to help the Christians of Rome facing a surprising brutal persecution by Nero in the mid 60s. Rome usually singled out Christian leaders in times of persecution, but this persecution seemed to strike at ordinary Christians as well. The senseless, arbitrary persecution left Rome’s Christians confused and wondering what this all meant. Mark’s account reminds his followers they must follow him without always understanding.

Confusion and lack of understanding are part of our world today, aren’t they? We are living in a time of rapid changes. For many, the old wine, the “old days” are better.

The Cross of Jesus may not come as hard wood and nails. As in Mark’s Gospel, it can come in confusion and lack of understanding. A Cross hard to bear.

Anthony of Egypt

temptation anthony copy

January 17th is the memorial of Anthony of Egypt, a saint representing the important early saints and spiritual tradition of Egypt. He influenced St. Athanasius and St. Augustine, as well as modern spiritual authors like Thomas Merton.

Anthony offered himself as a martyr during a 3rd century Roman persecution of Christians in Alexandria, his biographer St. Athanasius says, but they ignored him, and so he turned to the martyrdom of everyday.

There’s a martyrdom every day, and every day we’re tempted, Anthony realized. But don’t fear the trials you face. That was Anthony’s advice to those seeking his counsel. Artists like Martin Schongauer (above) portrayed Anthony surrounded by his temptations, but the saint is not afraid. Know your temptations, he said, and God will lead you from them.

Anthony abu

Anthony’s life helped many, among them St. Augustine, to steer through the temptations they faced. Here’s a simple version of Anthony’s battle with temptation as Athanasius describes them:

“Those who follow Jesus should expect temptation; Anthony experienced a range of them over the hundred years of his life. The devil knocked regularly on the door of his heart, assuming different faces and making different suggestions, but this shy, gentle man was not conquered.

“In the early years Christ called him, he often thought: ‘Have I made a mistake?’ The days were so slow and monotonous, nothing important going on. ‘Am I doing anything with my life?’ he wondered.

“One day, weary of it all, he left his house and opening his arms wide cried to heaven: “Lord, what should I do?” For awhile, nothing but silence. Then, Anthony heard someone moving behind him. Turning, he saw someone like himself, getting up from his bed, saying his prayers, eating his meals, doing his work, welcoming some visitors, and finally saying his prayers and going to sleep. Just as he did everyday.

“God’s angel answered his prayer, Anthony realized. He was beginning to think ordinary life had no meaning. But that’s where treasure is; life is holy ground. Ask God to see it, and don’t give up. Anthony went back to his life again.

“Other temptations beset Anthony. Sometimes he worried about his health. If he got sick, who would care for him? He had chosen to live for God alone. Wouldn’t it be better to have a family to support you? He gave so much to others and kept so little for himself. Wouldn’t it be better to be a rich man? Lustful thoughts sometimes filled his mind.

“Temptations swept over his soul like dust storms, causing confusion and uncertainty. But in the storms, Anthony learned another lesson: Christ is always with you.

“One restless night, Anthony was almost pulled to pieces by violent temptations. Monsters and demons were everywhere, flying through his room shouting and screaming, ready to kill him. He was about to give up hope when a beautiful light shone through the roof of his house and the demons disappeared. In the peaceful light, he saw Christ.

“Lord, where were you when I was being tried?” Anthony said.
“I was right here all the time you struggled,” Jesus replied. “My hand was on you as your helper.”

“After that ordeal, Anthony experienced peace for a while. Then, one day he heard a knock at his door and, opening it, saw a little man grinning from ear to ear, bowing to the ground before him as if he were king.

“You are a saint, Anthony,” he said ingratiatingly. “Everyone says so. People say you’re wiser and better than anyone on earth. So, tell me everything you have to say and everything you know; you’re just perfect.”

“Anthony slammed the door in the little man’s face. “You’re more dangerous than any temptation I’ve had, because you want me to believe I’m God, and I’m not. You are the temptation of pride.”

“Gradually over the years, people discovered this man with so much hard earned wisdom. Soon , from everywhere people were coming for his advice and his prayers and his healing for themselves or someone they loved. Because he knew himself so well, Anthony knew their hearts too.

“One constant message he repeated again and again to those who came to him, ‘Don’t be afraid, live joyfully in God’s grace. Never give up. God delivers us from temptation.’”