…by God’s providence (for the Lord does not overlook those who place their hope in him), the friend came…he picked [Antony] up and carried him to the Lord’s house in the village…And many of his relatives and the people of the village stationed themselves by Antony as beside a corpse. Athanasius: The Life of Antony and the Letter to Marcellinus, trans. by Robert C. Gregg. Mahwah, pp. 37-38).
Antony of Egypt, one of the early desert fathers, has much to teach us about community, despite his often being described as a hermit. At one point, Antony lived inside a tomb. His search for God and his efforts for purity of heart led him to isolate himself in a battle with demons both exterior and interior. A friend who brought him bread was his sole connection to his village community. When battling “demons” of our own, we too tend to isolate ourselves. Alone with our thought life, we get lost in our problems; moreover, our modern world encourages individualism and isolationism. The symbolism of Antony lying dead alone among the tombs, versus reviving after being returned to his village, should not be lost on us. Life is meant to be lived among the living, and life in community is life-giving. Evagrius and John Cassian, early monastic writers, taught the importance of community in discernment, saying that monks should confide the thoughts and struggles of their heart to a wise elder so those thoughts would not lead the monks astray. St. Benedict felt community was so important that a common disciplinary measure of errant monks was to isolate them from the common table; he also felt the abbot’s role as “the Good Shepherd” was so important that he send monks to the wayward, isolated brother in order to encourage him to make amends and return to community as soon as possible. (RB 27) Persons we encounter in our efforts to seek God often aid us in discerning God’s will for us, even when those persons frustrate or irritate us. I am continually blessed by the gift that religious life and my Community are to me. May you, too, be open to the life-giving possibilities of living in Community as a Sister.
Sister Ann Marie Wainright
Sister Ann Marie Wainright is a Benedictine Sister of St. Scholastica Monastery in Duluth, Minnesota. Originally from New Orleans, Louisiana, she worked as a CPA for many years before earning dual masters degrees in counseling and pastoral studies. Sister Ann Marie is interested how people encounter God in their daily lives and how they use their faith and spirituality in meeting difficult challenges. View all of Sister Ann Marie’s blogs.