“It was revealed to Abba Antony in his desert that there was one who was his equal in the city. He was a doctor by profession, and whatever he had beyond his needs he gave to the poor, and every day he sang the Sanctus with the angels.
ST ANTONY THE GREAT
Re-reading this episode about the life of St Antony of the Desert is always refreshing. One wonders who is worthy of greater admiration: Saint Antony, the father of monks, who with deep humility recognises the holiness in another and rejoices in it: or the admirable evangelical witness of this doctor’s life, who strove to live by God’s word in the midst of the wicked world of his times!
Both lives, one lived in the solitude of the desert and the other amid the distractions of the world, spring from the same love for God, the same purity of intention in God’s service, possess the same love for the poor in whom both recognise the person of Christ, and practise the same detachment in giving up what is superfluous in their lives.
Because of this, both Abba Antony in his austere desert solitude, and the humble doctor in his noisy city environment are equally pleasing in the sight of the Lord and are given the equal joy of praising God unceasingly, singing daily in the company of the angels the thrice-holy hymn: Holy, Holy, Holy.”
Brother Victor-Antione d’Avila-Latourette: Blessings of the Daily
“I think there is no labour greater than that of prayer to God.”
These are the words of Abba Agathon, one of the Desert Fathers, the founders of monasticism. Prayer for the desert monks was a constant practice. Every form of prayer came from and resided in the recesses of their hearts. They did not use long formulas or prayer books as we might today. Instead they prayerfully read the Scriptures, especially the Gospels and the Psalms, drawing from short prayers, such as “Lord, have mercy.” `these brief prayers would be uttered repeatedly throughout the day until they became part of the monk’s being.
We can learn much from the desert monks (without having to imitate all their practices. Start with the basic question What is prayer? Or, specifically, what is praying to God?
Essentially it is a conversation - “A talk, often informal, between two or more people” (OED) - i.e. between God and you. Does this really happen? Too often, I find myself conducting, not a conversation, but a monologue, especially with long, formulaic prayers that go on and on. And I don’t think I’m unique. [I suppose one proof that God loves us is that He can listen to all this, not nod off and still be patient with us!]
So prayer, as a conversation, is two-way: not just praying to God but also with Him and listening for His response- at the very least pausing in case He wants to say something.
A successful and meaningful conversation means that the participants really mean what they are saying. In praying we always have an obstacle to face - the more familiar the prayer, the more the risk that the words come out but our minds are somewhere else. Familiarity can breed superficiality, where what’s said is correct, but the saying is empty of real meaning. One short prayer in which you concentrate fully on the meaning of each word may be harder at first, but more fruitful in its outcome, than a long over-familiar one that trips off the tongue before meaning can catch up. One test of this to say a prayer then ask yourself what you just said, what you were telling or asking from God.
Short spontaneous prayers can be powerful. A short prayer may be exactly what God wants to hear, so that by talking to him we can avoid the banana skins Satan puts under our feet. Here are some:
Prayer: ... So that you can:
"Thank you for this breakfast, Lord." .............. ... Remember how He blesses us in practical ways.
"Help me stay calm in this traffic jam." ........................................... Keep cool and manage anger.
"Help me love this person now." ................................. Show respect & avoid scorn/hatred/ anger.
"Lord, show me what to do." ................. Discern God’s will; avoid one’s own impulses and wants.
"Lord, I love you. Be with me!" ................... Have courage to protect myself from fear or negative reactions.
"Lord, let me be honest." .............................................. Avoid deceit, conceit & misleading others.
“But if you faithfully obey the voice of your God, by keeping and observing all his commandments … all these blessings will befall and overtake you…” Deuteronomy 28: 1-2
Blessing is the enjoyment of God’s divine favour. It isn’t just about having more stuff; it’s being able to enjoy what you have. Blessings aren’t necessarily material things. We should remember this at Christmas. Which gift would you prefer - an iPhone X(S) or the embrace of someone you love?
When the Bible was first translated into English, blessing was used to equate to the Latin benedicere, meaning to speak well of. So, blessing became an expression of a key feature of the relationship between God and humanity. When, at the end of mass, the priest gives us the blessing, he asks God to favour us.
What form may this favour take?
First, we can expect God to hear our prayers.
Call on me in the day of distress.
I will free you and you shall honour me. Psalm 49: 15
Second, we can also expect God to meet our needs. God knows all we need even before we do, and has all the resources of the universe! Of course, what we need may be different from what we want!
Third, we can expect God to guide us, not only in dealing with important issues or major challenges in life, but also in our day-to-day work and leisure.
Blessed by all things
wings of breath,
delight of eyes,
wonder of whisper
intimacy of touch
eternity of soul,
urgency of thought,
miracle of health
embrace of God
May I live this day John O’Donohue: Eternal Echoes: Matins
Finally, we can expect a life of joyous celebration of God’s blessings to bring us the peace and calmness that nowadays it is fashionable to call “wellness” - and we don’t have to spend a penny or eat a strange diet or sign up to an expensive club to achieve it! TC
“The Trinity” is the most famous of Andrei Rublev’s icons and the most famous of all Russian icons.
Painted in the 15th century, the icon depicts the three Angels who visited Abraham (Genesis 18: 1-8), but it is usually interpreted as representing the Holy Trinity, with God the Father on the left, blessing the cup on the table. His hand is painted as if he is offering the cup to the central person, Jesus, who in turn blesses and accepts it with a bow indicating his acceptance of the Father’s will. The Holy Spirit stretches his hand in blessing too and observes the interaction of Father and Son.
The three figures form a circle, with one space free. Rublev’s intention here appears to be to invite the painting’s observer to take the fourth place in adoration of the Trinity and as an act of commitment to follow Jesus.
The icon is full of symbolism and well worth studying as part of a meditation on the Trinity. It is currently held at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. Copies of it are easily found on the Internet. For a clear explanation of the icon go to: