"Whoever sits in solitude and is quiet has escaped from three wars; hearing, speaking and seeing. Yet against one thing he must constantly battle – his own heart."
St. Anthony the Great is my patron saint, someone whom a friend took me to task on for even choosing, given that I am married and live well within the world as such.
St. Anthony was the father of monks, the first great monastic figure who gave up everything he had in order to live fully for Christ. (The first great hermit was St. Paul of Thebes) St. Anthony's life, as recorded by the great St. Athanasius, was one of loneliness, torment by devils, hunger, and solitude. He lived in the outer reaches of the desert, in tombs, and alone upon the mountaintops.
So why on earth did I choose him as my patron saint? Because his life signifies to me the radical call of living the Christian life. It signifies the struggle of the Christian life against all that is not of Christ. But most importantly, it shows what happens when a man turns his heart towards God.
I give much thought to this concept everyday - it is my firm belief that much of the problems of this world come from man's unwillingness to change the heart, to turn the heart towards God. From an unchanged heart, from the heart turned away from God, all kinds of evil is made manifest in the form of a kind of spiritual indifference, a shutting down of the soul in stages, followed by a perpetuation of a deadness in the soul.
I often ask myself why anyone would willingly commit an evil action, and my answer that always seems to come up in my mind is that the heart is unchanged. The heart that is turned away from God, from the things of the soul, is one that will not even recognize good or evil. All is gray, the soul smolders. But perhaps I speculate too much here, and I don't want to make some kind of flat statement on the subject.
This is where I see St. Anthony's quote above truly come to life - we are always in a battle in our hearts. There is no leaving this warfare, this continual struggle of the heart. We can turn our backs on the battle, but we end up instantly overrun if we do. If our inner gaze is not continually on Christ and the things of God, then we begin to lose the battle of the soul. St. Anthony won this battle of the heart time and time again in his life because his heart was always occupied with Christ.
If we wish to see change in the world, then the heart of the individual must be changed. St. Anthony, if he had simply fled the world and lived in a cave out of disgust for it, would have ended up simply a Christian version of a cynic philosopher or a grouchy hermit at best. No one would have flocked to him for his wisdom or to summon him to come down and do battle with the heresy of Arianism if he was simply a selfish hermit stewing under a palm tree somewhere. His heart was changed, and this drew others to him. His life was a reflection of Christ, especially the Lord's forty day fast in the desert in particular.
The change of his heart, his growth in grace and in love of Christ over his very long life were what drew so many to him, the reason why his life was so edifying to others, the reason why he is remembered today by both Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians as one of the greatest saints of all time.
Let us pray that we too will turn our hearts to God in everything we do, and allow ourselves to be changed by Him.
Source: Ascending Mount Carmel (Blogspot)
Used with permission.