It is the feast of the much-loved saint of Padua, Saint Anthony. I don't think I have ever gone inside a Catholic church where there has not been an image of Anthony. He is so loved, even non-Catholics have recourse to him. I expect many people have no idea who he is, contenting themselves with his title "Finder of Lost Things." Despite the fact that Anthony lived 1200 years after the birth of Jesus, I've even met people who think he knew Jesus, as he is most often depicted with the Holy Child in his arms.
The text below is taken from the old Saint Andrew Missal, offering a basic introduction to the life of Anthony. Following that are a few gentle corrective thoughts and a new prayer.
St. Anthony was born at Lisbon, in Portugal. He became first a canon regular, then a Franciscan, and preached the Gospel everywhere in Portugal and Italy. Both as a theologian and as a popular preacher he fought vigorously against heresy. His preaching was inspired by the love of God and of souls and had an extraordinary power of conviction; it was filled with the penetrating power of the bible, so that Gregory IX, who heard him preach, called him during his lifetime the "Arca Testamenti," meaning by this: "the living respository or the Holy Scripture", and Pius XII, when he proclaimed him a Doctor of the Church, declared that he based all that he said on the texts of the Gospels, and could justly be called the Evangelical Doctor. He lived for a time in France, but chiefly in Italy, and died at Padua in 1231 aged 35, with the reputation of great sanctity. From the day of his death innumerable miracles cause the faithful to invoke him as wonder worker of untiring benevolence.
Priests often hear people attest to the miracles and wonders they experience in their lives. Perhaps most often are those relating to things found through the intercession of Saint Anthony: the finding of keys, the wallet, the wedding ring in the ocean, the envelope with money, the eyeglasses. It has always seemed to me a terrible trivialization of the saint to reduce him to this level of finding things. We are after all the followers of the one who said, "Own nothing."
I was at a summer barbecue where a woman got into a minor panic that she had misplaced her camera. After searching and asking around for awhile, someone called out, "Pray to Saint Anthony." Then of course someone added the little chant, "Tony, Tony come around, something's lost that must be found." I added, "Of course, you know the deal: if he finds it for you, you owe twenty bucks to a Franciscan charity." The woman who'd lost the camera stopped and looked at me and said with some indignation: "Well, I never heard that." The thought of having to give to charity after heaven found her expensive toy seemed to offend her. When indeed the camera turned up, I told her I could help her to find a worthy Franciscan cause. No response.
When someone suggested to Dorothy Day that she was a living saint she answered quickly, "Don't dismiss me so easily." We can't handle the real Gospel-Anthony, and so we make him into something more manageable: a delicate Anthony, holding lilies and the baby Jesus. Or Anthony carried on parade through town, covered in ribbons and pinned dollar bills.
This image of Anthony, painted by Sebastiano Ricci, shows the saint with a sick young man. In the 13th century that infected leg could have been nasty. The young man may well have needed to be on his feet in order to work, keeping his family out of poverty. Is that the boy's mother propping up his pillow? I prefer to think of Anthony in sick rooms rather than holed up in his own room, some invasive friar peering through the key hole, watching Anthony holding the Child of Bethlehem.
In this more contemporary image of Anthony, it appears to be night time, the woods and stones illumined by moon light. Anthony is stopped in his tracks. He's got his bible and cross with him. Maybe he's been up all night with someone dying, someone crazed, afraid or sick. He even seems to have something of an "attitude" in his face - as if he could be saying, "What are you looking at? Don't romanticize or idolize mine, but get back to your own works of mercy." Ouch!
Did you hear about the woman who was mugged and her phone was stolen? The police were able to find the mugger and retrieve the phone by the technology contained within the phone itself. Now if you lose the car in the mall or stadium parking lot you simply hit a button on the key and a signal enables you to find the vehicle. Surveillance cameras help us to find thieves and terrorists. So what do we need Anthony to help us find?
Saint Anthony, that I would find a willingness to be more generous, pray for me.
Saint Anthony, that I would find the courage to live in real goodness, pray for me.
Saint Anthony, that I would find the mind of Christ, pray for me.
Saint Anthony, that I would find a welcoming space in my heart for others, pray for me.
Saint Anthony, that I would find the life beyond resentment, pray for me.
Saint Anthony, that I would find my voice and dignity as God's child, pray for me.
Saint Anthony, that I would find my way to seeing others as God sees them, pray for me.
Saint Anthony, that I would find a fresh approach to prayer, pray for me.
Saint Anthony, that I would find a new depth of gratitude, pray for me.
Saint Anthony, that I would find freedom from possessiveness, pray for me.
Saint Anthony, that I would find healing for old inner wounds, pray for me.
Saint Anthony, that I would find the guiding light of the gospels, pray for me.
Saint Anthony, that I would find a release from self-pity and cynicism, pray for me.
Saint Anthony, that I would find joy, pray for me.