On this day in 1706, Benjamin Franklin, American statesman, diplomat, inventor, and all-around annoyingly accomplished polymath, was born. Franklin appeared on the first U.S. postage stamp, worth five cents, in 1847. In 1914, just 67 years later, he appeared on the $100 bill. And you thought inflation was bad in the ’70s.
Anthony the Great (ca. 251-356) is known as the Father of Monasticism. He was born in Egypt, and after his parents died, he placed his sister in a women’s proto-monastery (we assume that she was okay with this), and went off into the desert. There, like a teenage male with wifi, he was afflicted with boredom, laziness, and phantoms of women. A second stay in the desert, near a town with the delightful name of Crocodilopolis, saw him afflicted with phantoms in the form of wild beasts, snakes, and scorpions, evoking the image of a teenager looking through a catalog at a tattoo parlor. For a while he locked himself in a tomb, and when the villagers came to get him out several months later with a crowbar, they were delighted to find him alive and well, and his reputation began to spread.
Wishing to die a martyr, he wandered into Alexandria during one of the persecutions and began looking for trouble. He argued with the governor, went where he was explicitly told not to go, and basically did everything he possibly could to get martyred, short of taking out an ad in the papyrus. It didn’t work. He went back to the desert, only to be plagued with the curse of the would-be hermit, which is, as we have seen repeatedly, a steady stream of aspiring monastics, culminating in the foundation of a monastery. He lived out his days teaching the monks, fighting Arians (I’m sensing a theme here), and exuding many books’ worth of wise sayings and koan-like “words.” We probably don’t want to ask why, but he is also the patron saint of people suffering from “St. Anthony’s Fire” or ergot poisoning.
Gonçalo de Amarante (or Gonzalo) (1186-1260) was a Portuguese priest named after a city in northeast Brazil. After he had been established in his first parish, he gave up his benefice to his nephew and went on a walking tour of the Holy Land. He was not a speed walker, however. When he returned fourteen years later, his nephew, thinking he was a vagrant (all vagrants say, “No, wait, it’s me, your uncle Gonçalo!”), set the dogs on him, whereupon he shrugged and wandered off to become a hermit. In what was perhaps the most marvelous of his many miracles, there were no streams of seekers, and no monastic community sprang up around him.
One day, while building a bridge across the dangerous river Tamega, his workers ran out of wine. Apparently there was something about this in their contract, for he was afraid they would go on strike. Things might have turned grim, but he prayed and attacked a large rock with his staff, and wine of a particularly good vintage flowed from a crevice in the ground. My sources do not say how long it took them to get back to work. Later, when the food ran out, he walked down to the river bank and called to the fish, who, we are told, fought for the privilege of jumping onto the shore at the saint’s feet. If Gonçalo were a pescotongue, we can just imagine him hearing their tiny voices saying, “Pick me! Pick me!”
Once, to make a point during a sermon, he excommunicated a basket of bread, and immediately the loaves turned black with mold. Then he pardoned the bread, and it instantly became fresh and wholesome again. As far as we know he only did this once. I would have been tempted to go back and forth all day like that. Look, moldy! Look, fresh! Look, moldy! Look, fresh! This is probably why I have not been granted the ability to perform miracles.
Benjamin Franklin (Wikipedia)
Anthony the Great (Wikipedia)
Bl. Gonzalo de Amarante (Catholic Online)
Gonzalo de Amarante (Wikipedia)
Gonçalo de Amarante (Wikipedia)
São Gonçalo do Amarante, Ceará (Wikipedia)
Omer Englebert, Lives of the Saints (book on paper)
Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.