The power of stories

Today the Catholic Church celebrates St. Anthony – not the Franciscan St. Anthony of Padua, but the Egyptian desert father, often identified as the founder of monasticism, who lived from 250 to 356.

There are many fascinating aspects of St. Anthony’ life – including giving up his wealth in response to hearing the Gospel of the rich young man and his struggles with demons which is depicted graphically in Matthias Grünewald’s Isenheim altar tableaux meant for a chapel of the Antonine monks who cared for those suffering with ergotism. Christ is covered with the same type of sores that the patients suffered. Paul Hindemith also responded to the inspiration of Grüenwald and St. Anthony with his Mathis der Maler.

But what struck me this morning, as I read Robert Ellsberg’s account of St. Anthony in All Saints, was the power of the account of his life written by St. Athanasius. This was a work that contributed to St. Augustine’s conversion. It was also a work that deeply influenced western monasticism.

What stories are we listening to? What stories are we telling? Whose lives do we recall?

Attending the funeral of my Aunt Mary Barrar last month I heard a great number of stories of her life, especially her last months in an assisted living setting. Her ability to connect with the staff, to show her interest in their lives, and even to influence at least one of them were marvelous signs of love and faith.

Similarly the wake of my father in 1999 was a time when I heard stories of his generosity even as a young man.

Let us then share stories and seek out the stories of others so that we can see the signs of God’s grace active in our world.

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