In the gospel for this Sunday Jesus asked the men who sought him out, “What are you looking for?” They responded by going with Him to the place where He was staying. It is clear that they were seeking the Messiah; however, they did not know in what way they would live their lives as followers. They were open and had a hunger for God which allowed them to leave everything and follow Him wholeheartedly. But the question Jesus asked was not just for them. It is important that we hear this question which is also addressed to us: “What are you looking for?” We may not be able to articulate it, but most of us are looking for the same thing the apostles were looking for: the love of God, answers to how to live our lives in the midst of conundrums, difficult people, painful situations, the brokenness of the world and our own brokenness, all while trying to serve Him and grow in holiness. The answer to these things lies in our relationship with Jesus.
Throughout the centuries there have been many saints and holy people who have followed the call of Jesus in unique ways. One example of this is St. Anthony of the Desert, the first of the desert monks in the fourth century. When he was around 18 years of age his parents died, leaving him their wealth. Soon afterward he heard the gospel verse, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matt. 19:21) He was so moved by this that he felt the need to respond literally. He chose to distribute his wealth to the poor and left for a place outside the village so that he could pray. From there he began to seek out wise and holy people so that he could learn what it would take to live a life totally attentive to God. He eventually became the wisdom figure others sought out. There were many temptations to leave his lifestyle and return to the city, but he stayed in the desert and continually prayed so he might minister to others. He became the father of desert monasticism, which eventually gave rise to monasteries as we know them.
St. Anthony recognized what was within Jesus’ question, “What are you looking for?” It was a call to true poverty, which is not necessarily material poverty, though for him that was included. True poverty is a poverty of spirit and a radical acceptance of the life to which we are called, a life of a total response of love to God. St. Anthony learned that true poverty is freeing, though he had to struggle for a long time to get to the point of real interior freedom. True poverty is trusting God so deeply that we let go of having things ‘our way,’ going with the urgings of the Holy Spirit in order to love in our own unique way. It certainly includes generosity to the poor. But what is of even greater importance is giving that which is within us to those who are the poor spiritually, emotionally, or physically: poverty can be from a lack of understanding of God’s great love, or it can be from being neglected, lonely, ill, victimized by injustice, marginalized and forgotten because one is not dynamic or has a disability. Everyone has brokenness, and therefore we can reach out to others to be with them in their poverty. And therefore, we recognize that we, too, are poor.
What is most important is to realize that the most radical form of love, which St. Anthony teaches us, is to be open and to be forgiving. It is said that at one point in his life he chose to be literally sealed into a room because he was afraid that being so sought after would lead him to pride. However some people were very upset when he would not come out, so they broke down the door to get to Anthony. Instead of responding in anger, he forgave them and ministered to their needs. If we are to follow, forgiveness is the most powerful and most radical form of love we can have. Like Anthony we have to learn to wrestle with the demons which keep us from making a loving response, and learn to have the deepest form of poverty, which means we try to do what Jesus taught us to do. To love means to forgive unceasingly.
May we have the grace of being comfortable with our own poverty, and may we have the humility to recognize that we are all poor! May we receive the grace to hear and respond to Jesus’ question about what it is we seek! May we recognize the power of our poverty, that we can be one with those who are suffering by sharing our presence and our love! And may we pray for discernment so that we can make good choices, consistent with the gospel! Let us continue to meet in the heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
The photos are mine. The first was taken in Ireland in County Mayo. The fisherman had just thrown their nets, and so this reminds me of the apostles being called as fishers of men. The second photo of the bare branches and leaves was taken in Lost Maples State Park in Texas.
The image image and the icon at the end are by Fr. William Hart McNichols. First is The Galilean Jesus. It can be found at http://www.fatherbill.org/all-categories/product/293-the-galilean-jesus. The icon is Mother of God She Who Hears the Cries of the World. It can be found at http://www.fatherbill.org/all-categories/product/220-mother-of-god-she-who-hears-the-cries-of-the-world. I chose the icon of Mary because she is attuned to our needs and intercedes on our behalf.
Following this is a painting of Saint Anthony of the Desert by Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez (1599 – 1660).