Today is the feast day of St. Antony, the most well-known of the Desert Fathers. He was the first of those Fourth Century monastics who took up residence in the desert beyond the outskirts of civilization.
St. Antony was a well-off Christian in the time just after Christianity became an accepted religion in the empire of Constantine. He was moved by the story in the Gospel of Mark of the rich young man who asked Jesus what he must do to gain eternal life and was told to sell everything he owned, give the money to the poor, and follow Christ. Antony took him up on it.
He wound up in a little hut in the Egyptian desert, where he eked out a living doing manual labor and braiding rope which he would then sell. He pared down his needs to the bare minimum, and he made the study of scripture and prayer his main pursuits.
As have so many who have come after him, he discovered that when you make a grand gesture like giving everything away, you are merely at the doorway of a life of following Christ. He was bored, anxious, plagued by demons and temptations. What was he to do next?
Inspired by a vision, he learned the rhythm of work and prayer. Over many years he faced his demons, discovered how to befriend his shadow, and became versed in true humility and authentic love.
He was shown in another vision the man who was his counterpart. This fellow was a doctor in a city. He only took what of his earnings he needed, giving the rest away to the poor. And he worked tirelessly for healing for all who came to him.
Each of us has a way uniquely our own to follow Jesus. Central to them all is wrestling with our demons, praying regularly, and giving away what we do not need. Being disciples is a life-long journey. Over time we become clearer in our understanding and more authentic in our love. And thus do we find the salvation that was there all along.