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True Christians Should be like Anthony. Saint Anthony of Padua, That Is.

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.” – G. K. Chesterton

June 13th is the Memorial of Saint Anthony of Padua, Priest and Doctor of the Church. Portugal and the city of Padua, Italy, claim him as their patron saint, and he is invoked for the return of lost property. He is also the patron saint of sailors, fisherfolk, priests, and travelers. For his theological knowledge and missionary work, Anthony has been proclaimed a doctor of the church.

An Augustinian monk, inspired by the martyrdom of Franciscan missionarie while preaching to Muslims, Saint Anthony of Padua joined the Franciscans hoping to be a missionary. God had other plans for him. He became one of the outstanding philosopher/theologians of the Order.

Anthony was born in 1195 (13 years after St. Francis) in Lisbon, Portugal and given the name of Fernando at Baptism. His parents, Martin and Mary Bulhom, belonged to one of the prominent families of the city.

St. Anthony of Padua’s life is what every Christian’s life is meant to be; gives up worldly treasures, is a steady courage to face the ups and downs of life, the call to love and forgive, to be concerned for the needs of others, to deal with crisis great and small, and to have our feet solidly on the ground of total trusting love and dependence on God: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.” – G. K. Chesterton

Anthony’s Epiphany

As a young priest Anthony’ life took a radical turn, when the bodies of the first five Franciscan martyrs were returned from Morocco. They had preached in the mosque in Seville, almost being martyred at the outset, but the sultan allowed them to pass on to Morocco, where, after continuing to preach Christ to Muslims, despite repeated warnings, they were tortured and beheaded. Their remains were returned to Spain and in the presence of the queen and a huge crowd, their remains were carried in solemn procession to Anthony ’s monastery.

Such procession inspired Anthony to take a momentous decision: He went to the friary in Coimbra and said, “Brother, I would gladly put on the habit of your Order if you would promise to send me as soon as possible to the land of the Saracens, that I may gain the crown of the holy martyrs.” After some challenges from the prior of the Augustinians, he was allowed to leave that priory and receive the Franciscan habit, taking the name Anthony.

True to their promise, the Franciscans allowed Anthony to go to Morocco, to be a witness for Christ, and a martyr as well. But, as often happens, the gift he wanted to give was not the gift that was to be asked of him. He became seriously ill, and after several months realized he had to go home. But man proposes and God disposes (Proverbs 19:21)

He never arrived. His ship ran into storms and high winds and was blown east across the Mediterranean. Months later he arrived on the east coast of Sicily. 

Still ailing, he wanted to attend the great Pentecost Chapter of Mats, called because the 3,000 friars could not be housed and slept on mats. Saint Francis was there, also sick. 

An ordination of Dominicans and Franciscans in 1222 was pivotal to illustrate Anthony”s gift, ked by the Holy Spirit: As they gathered for a meal, the provincial suggested that one of the friars give a short sermon. As you would guess, nobody volunteered, so Anthony was drafted. He was asked to give “just something simple,’ hesitantly. That something simple sparked an unquenchable fire. He began to speak in a simple, artless way, but the fire within him became evident. His knowledge was unmistakable, but his holiness was what really impressed everyone present. Anthony’s quiet life of prayer and penance at the hermitage was exchanged for that of a public preacher. Francis heard of Anthony’s previously hidden gifts, and Anthony was assigned to preach in northern Italy.

Anthony traveled tirelessly in both northern Italy and southern France,  seeking  the cities where the heretics were strongest. His sermons used honey rather than vinegar. According to historian Sophronius Clasen, Anthony preached “the grandeur of Christianity.” Anthony wanted to win them to the right, the healthiness of real sorrow and conversion, the wonder of reconciliation with a loving Father.

Almighty ever-living God, who gave Saint Anthony of Padua to your people as an outstanding preacher and an intercessor in their need, grant that, with his assistance, as we follow the teachings of the Christian life, we may know your help in every trial. Liturgy of the Hours, June 13th, 2024 Concluding Prayer.

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