Tuesday, 23 June 2009

The Desert Fathers - the Meeting of Blessed Antony with Blessed Paul

(With acknowledgement to 'The Desert Fathers' translated by Helen Waddell. Published 1936 by Constable, London.)

‘For a hundred and thirteen years the Blessed Paul lived the life of heaven upon earth, while in another part of the desert Anthony abode, an old man of ninety years. And as Anthony himself would tell, there came suddenly into his mind the thought that no better monk than he had his dwelling in the desert. But as he lay quiet that night it was revealed to him that there was, deep in the desert, another better by far than he, and that he must make haste to visit him. And straightaway as day was breaking, the venerable old man set out, supporting his feeble limbs on his staff, to go he knew not whither. And now came burning noon, the scorching sun overhead, yet would he not flinch from the journey begun, saying, “I believe in my God that He will shew me His servant as He said.”
On the third day of his journey, after seeking directions from an hippocentaur (part man, part horse) and a Faun (dwarfish figure, with joined nostrils and horns, with the lower end of its body ending in goat’s feet), and led by a wolf into the recesses of a deep cave, he arrived at the cell of Blessed Paul. At first Paul refused to allow Antony into his cell, but eventually after much prayer he did so.


The two embraced each other and greeted one another by their names, and together returned thanks to God. And after the holy kiss, Paul sat down beside Anthony and began to speak. “Behold him whom thou hast sought with so much labour, a shaggy white head and limbs worn out with age. Behold thou lookest on a man that is soon to be dust. Yet because love endureth all things, tell me, I pray thee, how fares the human race: if new roofs be risen in the ancient cities, whose empire is it that now sways the world; and if any still survive, snared in the error of the demons?"
‘And as they talked they perceived that a crow had settled on a branch of the tree, and softly flying down, deposited a whole loaf before their wondering eyes. And when he had withdrawn, “Behold” said Paul, “God hath sent us our dinner, God the merciful, God the compassionate. It is now sixty years since I have had each day a half-loaf of bread: but at thy coming, Christ hath doubled His soldier’s rations.” And when they had given thanks to God, they sat down beside the margin of the crystal spring. But now sprang up a contention between them as to who should break the bread, that brought the day well-nigh to evening, Paul insisting on the right of the guest, Antony countering by right of seniority. At length they agreed that each should take hold of the loaf and pull toward himself, and let each take what remained in their hands. Then they drank a little water, holding their mouths to the spring: and offering to God the sacrifice of praise, they passed the night in vigil.
But as day returned to the earth, the Blessed Paul spoke to Anthony, “From old time, my brother, I have known that thou wert a dweller in these parts: from old time God had promised that thou, my fellow-servant, wouldst come to me. But since the time has come for sleeping, and (for I have ever desired to be dissolved and to be with Christ) the race is run, there remaineth for me a crown of righteousness; thou hast been sent by God to shelter this poor body in the ground, returning earth to earth.”
At this, Antony, weeping and groaning, began pleading with him not to leave him, but take him with him as a fellow-traveller on that journey.
“Thou must not” said the other, ”seek thine own, but another’s good. It were good for thee, the burden of the flesh flung down, to follow the Lamb: but it is good for the other brethren that they should have thine example for their grounding. Wherefore I pray thee, unless it be too great a trouble, go and bring the cloak which Athanasius the Bishop gave thee, to wrap around my body.” This indeed, the Blessed Paul asked, not because he much cared whether his dead body should rot covered or naked, for indeed he had been clothed for so long time in woven palm leaves: but he would have Antony far from him, that he might spare him the pain of his dying.


Then Antony, amazed that Paul should have known of Athanasius and the cloak, dared make no answer: it seemed to him that he saw Christ in Paul, and he worshipped God in Paul’s heart: silently weeping, he kissed his eyes and his hands, and set out on the return journey to the monastery, the same which in aftertime was captured by the Saracens. His steps indeed could not keep pace with his spirit: yet though length of days had broken a body worn out with fasting, his mind triumphed over his years. Exhausted and panting, he reached his dwelling, the journey ended. Two disciples who of long time had ministered to him, ran to meet him, saying, “Where hast thou so long tarried, Master?” “Woe is me,” he made answer, “that do falsely bear the name of monk. I have seen Elias, I have seen John in the desert, yea, I have seen Paul in paradise.” And so, with tight-pressed lips and his hand beating his breast, he carried the cloak from the cell. To his disciples, eager to know more of what was toward, he answered, “There is a time to speak, and there is a time to be silent.” And leaving the house, and not even taking some small provision for the journey, he again took the road by which he had come: athirst for him, longing for the sight of him, eyes and mind intent. For he feared, as indeed befell, that in his absence, Paul might have rendered back to Christ the spirit that he owed Him
And now the second day dawned upon him, and for three hours he had been on the way, when he saw amidst a host of angels and amid the companies of prophets and apostles, Paul climbing the steeps of heaven, and shining white as snow. And straightway falling on his face he threw sand upon his head and wept saying, “Paul, why didst thou send me away? Why dost thou go with no leavetaking? So tardy to be known, art thou so swift to go?”
In aftertime the Blessed Antony would tell how speedily he covered the rest of the road, as it might be a bird flying. Nor was it without cause. Entering the cave, he saw on its bent knees, the head erect and the hands stretched out to heaven, the lifeless body: yet first, thinking he yet lived, he knelt and prayed beside him. Yet no accustomed sigh of prayer came to him: he kissed him, weeping, and then knew that the dead body of the holy man still knelt and prayed to God, to whom all things live.
So then he wrapped the body round and carried it outside, chanting the hymns and psalms of Christian tradition. But sadness came on Antony, because he had no spade to dig the ground. His mind was shaken, turning this way and that. For if I should go back to the monastery, he said, it is a three days journey: if I stay here, there is no more that I can do. Let me die, therefore, as is meet: and falling beside thy soldier, Christ, let me draw my last breath.

But even as he pondered, behold two lions came coursing, their manes flying, from the inner desert, and made towards him. At sight of them, he was at first in dread: then, turning his mind to God, he waited undismayed as though he looked on doves. They came straight to the body of the holy dead, and halted by it wagging their tails, then couched themselves at his feet, roaring mightily; and Antony well knew they were lamenting him, as best they could. Then, going a little way off, they began to scratch up the ground with their paws, vying with one another in throwing up the sand, till they had dug a grave roomy enough for a man: and thereupon, as though to ask the reward of their work, they came up to Antony, with drooping ears and downbent heads, licking his hands and his feet. He saw that they were begging for his blessing; and pouring out his soul in praise to Christ for that even the dumb beasts feel that there is a God, “Lord” he said, “without whom no leaf lights from the tree, nor a single sparrow falls upon the ground, give unto these even as Thou knowest.”
Then motioning with his hand, he signed to them to depart. And when they had gone away, he bowed his aged shoulders under the weight of the holy body: and laying it in the grave, he gathered the earth above it, and made the wonted mound. Another day broke: and then, lest the pious heirs should receive none of the goods of the intestate, he claimed for himself the tunic which the saint had woven out of palm-leaves as one weaves baskets. And so returning to the monastery, he told the whole story to his disciples in order as it befell: and on the solemn feasts of Easter and Pentecost, he wore the tunic of Paul.
………… I pray you, whoever ye be who read this, that ye be mindful of Jerome the sinner: who, if the Lord gave him his choice, would rather have the tunic of Paul with his merits, than the purple of Kings with their thrones.’


'Thoughts from St Alphonsus, for every day of the year' - by Rev C McNeiry C.SS.R

"It is certainly better to practise small and frequent works of penance, than to perform rare and extraordinary fasts and afterwards lead an unmortified life." - June 29th.
Our Lady, Cause of our Joy, guide and protect our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

St Bede- family birthdays- FSSR honours Our Lady

The 27th May was the feast-day of St Bede, known as the Venerable Bede, born AD 673 in property situated on land owned by the monks of Jarrow (Northumberland) and died 735 in Jarrow. Ordained deacon at the age of 19 years, and priest in his 30th year, his monastic life was based at the twin monasteries of Monkwearmouth and Jarrow, rarely leaving the confines. He was the author of many theological and historical works, the best known and the one for which he is famous - ‘Ecclesiastical history of the English speaking people’, a key source for the understanding of early British history and the establishment of Christianity in Britain. He was pronounced a ‘Doctor of the Church’ by Pope Leo XIII in 1899, a designation of great theological significance, and the only native of Great Britain to be so honoured.

The 27th May also happens to be the birthday of Adrian our second son, Gerard our third son (one year later), and Hannah, Adrian’s daughter. I have often wondered at the mathematical odds of this occurrence, to have two sons and a granddaughter (the daughter of one of these sons) all with the same birthday, seems rather unusual. If some knowledgeable person could satisfy my curiosity on the mathematical ‘probability’ of this, it would be much appreciated.

On a further historical note; last Sunday was Pentecost Sunday; also the feast-day of Mary, Queen of Heaven, mediatrix between God and mankind; also the 10th anniversary of the acquisition of Papa Stronsay, the island site of Golgotha Monastery, by the Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer (FSSR). In thanksgiving for blessings received and in honour of Our Blessed Lady, the monks led by Fr Michael Mary FSSR and Fr Anthony Mary FSSR, processed on foot from the southern end of Stronsay to the old lifeboat station, a distance of about 5 miles, bearing a beautiful 3-4 foot high crowned statue of Our Blessed Lady strewn with flowers, on a specially constructed wooden base with two projecting handles at each end, rather like a stretcher, which allowed it to be carried safely on the shoulders of two carriers. Preceding the statue was Br Bernard FSSR carrying the processional crucifix, and Br Nicodemus FSSR carrying a large and heavy 'Our Lady's' banner, with the duties of statue bearer shared between the FSSR Brothers Louis, Xavier, Gerardo, Dominic, and Mathew, all roles physically demanding and tiring.If by oversight I have omitted any of the Brothers, I ask their pardon. On what was probably the hottest day of the year so far, this was truly a perspiring, penitential, yet devout and impressive pilgrimage. I have to confess that my unwilling legs only allowed me to join the procession over the final furlong or two, as also did my wife and our dog Hector, but it was a great privilege to be able to do even this. I also have to admit to a minor peripheral role in the proceedings, that of ‘water provider’ at a location about half way along the route. This simple exercise almost, but not quite, ended in disaster, for having filled three lidded water jugs plus one large 3 litre bottle with water, and fitted them and a suitable bottle of lime-juice, together with about a dozen cups, in my car, I set off for the agreed rendezvous in what I thought was plenty of time. As I neared the location I became increasingly concerned as I could see no sign of the pilgrims, however at the last minute I suddenly caught sight of them around the side of the building. I was travelling at a reasonable speed and had to brake sharply to enable me to turn off the road in time. As I did this all three jugs of water fell over, spilling virtually the full contents of two and more than half the content of the third all over the car floor. Fortunately and very providentially, the large 3 litre bottle of water remained intact, thus I was able to adequately provide for the needs of the hot and thirsty pilgrims. It really is surprising how many cups of water can be squeezed from a 3 litre bottle! The procession finally ended back at Golgotha Monastery, via a boat trip on the ‘St Alphonsus’ which was waiting at the monastic quay on Stronsay (adjoining the old lifeboat station) , concluding with the consecration of Stronsay and the re-consecration of Papa Stronsay to the ‘Immaculate Heart of Mary’.
The day ended with a delicious home-cooked, evening meal at the monastery, and a return boat trip to Stronsay on the ‘St Alphonsus’. We arrived back home at about 10.30p.m.suitably exhausted, but very grateful for a rather special day - Deo Gratias!

‘Thoughts from St Alphonsus’ by Rev C McNeiry C.SS.R

“By the light of the last candle all things in this world – applause, diversions, pomps and greatness – vanish. The most princely fortunes, the most exalted dignities, and the most superb triumphs lose all their splendour when viewed from the bed of death.” (June 3rd)

Our Lady, Queen of Heaven, pray for us, and guide and protect our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI.