In his biography of St. Anthony of Egypt (c. A.D. 251-356), St. Athanasius recorded Anthony saying the following in a sermon to those who came to him in the desert:
“Why not rather get those things which we can take away with us – to wit, prudence, justice, temperance, courage, understanding, love, kindness to the poor, faith in Christ, freedom from wrath, hospitality? If we possess these, we shall find them of themselves preparing for us a welcome there in the land of the meek-hearted.” (Life of St. Anthony of Egypt, para. 17)
While these characteristics found in Anthony’s words seem rather simple, it can often seem difficult to put them into practice. He asks those who came to first examine their own motivations and work on the character of their hearts. However, beyond focusing inwardly and allowing the Spirit to work on our own hearts, there is the temptation to judge these characteristics in the hearts of others. Too often we ignore the difficulty of pulling the plank from our own eye in an effort to help others pull the speck from theirs. Even under the guise of trying to be helpful, it is a temptation that leads to pride, self-righteousness, and even wrath.
Are you willing to take time in silence, perhaps upwards of a half-hour to an hour, to simply pray, meditate, wait on the Spirit patiently, and ask God to illuminate the desires, emotions, and nature of your own heart?
Are you willing to be humble and meek-hearted before God and others, and be slow to judge others before you honestly look at yourself for a period of time, and then ask God to forgive selfish, prideful, or arrogant attitudes?
Are you willing to receive God’s grace and forgiveness for the nature of your own heart, and then extend that grace and forgiveness to others in whose hearts there may be some specks of dirt?
“By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.” – Galatians 5:22-26 (NRSV)
“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” – Matthew 6:14-15 (NRSV)