Feast Day: June 13
Born: August 14, 1195 in Lisbon, Portugal
Died: June 13, 1231 in Arcella (Padua), Italy
Canonized: May 30, 1232 (Feast of Pentecost) in Spoleto, Italy by Pope Gregory IX
Declared Doctor of the Church: January 16,1946 by Pope Pius XII
Patronage: Especially seekers of lost articles, but also American Indians; amputees; animals; barrenness; Brazil; elderly people; faith in the Blessed Sacrament; fishermen; Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land; harvests; horses; lost articles; lower animals; mail; mariners; oppressed people; poor people; Portugal; pregnant women; shipwrecks; starvation; sterility; swineherds; Tigua Indians; travel hostesses; travellers; Watermen
“ECCE LINGUA!” – Behold the Tongue!
Perhaps no saint in the Catholic Church is more loved and admired than Saint Anthony of Padua. I mean, if there’s one saint out there who gets more prayer requests than any other, it has to be him! Tradition has it that his rise to fame in the ‘Finding of Lost or Stolen Items Department’ stems back to an incident that happened in Bologna. Anthony had a book of psalms that was of some importance to him because it contained the notes and comments he had used in teaching his students. Before the printing press was invented, any book was regarded as an item of value, and a novice who had decided to leave religious life took the psalter with him when he left. Upon noticing it was missing, Anthony prayed it would be found or returned. The thief was ultimately inspired to restore the book to Anthony and to return to the Order. Today, the stolen book is said to be preserved in the Franciscan friary in Bologna.1
Despite his reputation as the saint who finds lost things, this was not the focus of Anthony’s work during his lifetime. He had a higher calling. His priesthood was focused on finding lost souls. Born in the year 1195 to a very wealthy family in Portugal, St. Anthony’s parents had great ambitions for him. They wanted him to become educated and make something of himself. He, on the other hand, wanted to become a priest. And so, in 1210, against the wishes of his family, he entered an Augustinian order.
Following his ordination, Fernando (his name back then), served as the guestmaster of hospitality for the Abbey. While fulfilling his duties, he met five Franciscans who were on their way to Morocco to preach the Gospel. Only a few months later, he received news that they had been beheaded by the Muslims, making them the first martyrs of the Franciscan order.
After meditating on their heroic witness to the Gospel, St. Anthony was inflamed by the desire to be a martyr and preach the Gospel to the Saracens. He felt inspired to join the new Franciscan Order to which these martyrs had belonged. So in 1220, at the age of 25, he left the Augustinian order and made his way over to Assisi to join the Franciscans. It was during this time of transition that Fernando adopted the name, Anthony.
In the spring of 1221, Anthony set out for Morocco. But almost as soon as he arrived, he was stricken with a serious illness and had to return home. As life would have it, upon seeing how sickly he looked, the Franciscans put him in charge of a kitchen in a secluded hermitage in Montepaolo, not far from the town of Forlì. Thus it came to pass that at the beginnings of his new religious life, Anthony lived as a hermit, and no one paid him any attention.
One day in 1222, some Dominican Friars were visiting Forlì to attend a priestly ordination. Given that the Dominicans were world renowned for their fiery, inspirational preaching, all the Franciscans automatically assumed that one of them would be giving the homily during the ordination. Unfortunately, no one told the Dominicans, so none of them came prepared. They had assumed that the Franciscans were going to preach. In the midst of all this confusion, the Franciscan superior ended up simply appointing St. Anthony to preach at the ordination. Of all the Franciscans, he figured that Anthony was the most qualified.
Anthony objected, but his objection was overruled. And that’s when it happened. In front of dignitaries and peasants alike, his voice took on a power of its own and made a deep impression within the hearts of all. His moving eloquence captivated the attention of everyone in the Cathedral.
Following his amazing public debut, he was commissioned by his superiors to go about and preach the Gospel throughout northern Italy. St. Francis himself was so pleased with the gift of Anthony’s preaching that he entrusted him with the formation of all Franciscan Brothers who would come to pursue studies in preparation for the priesthood. St. Anthony was a teacher, but above all he was a gifted preacher.
In Proverbs 18:16, we read, “A man’s gift makes room for him and brings him before great men.” Anthony’s gift eventually brought him to Rome. In 1228, he served as envoy from the general chapter to Pope Gregory IX. At the Papal court, his preaching was hailed as a “jewel case of the Bible,” and he was commissioned to produce his collection of sermons, Sermons for Feast Days (Sermones in Festivitates). Gregory IX himself described St. Anthony as the “Ark of the Testament” (Doctor Arca testamenti).2 He was also referred to as “Hammer of the Heretics,” a title that brings a smile to my face.
The pages of history reveal that the last Lent he preached was in the year 1231. It’s reported that the crowds of people who came to hear him from all regions frequently numbered around the 30,000 and more mark. Shortly thereafter, Anthony became ill with dropsy and died at the age of 35. It’s so hard to imagine that someone with a gift like he had – the ability to penetrate hearts with words, to hold them captive, and to set them on fire with a thirst for God’s love – should die so young.
St. Anthony was so well known and respected by his contemporaries for his preaching and knowledge of Scripture that he was canonized within a year of his death, the second fastest canonized saint (after St. Peter of Verona). He was later proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XII on January 16, 1946.
Because the Infant Jesus once miraculously appeared to St. Anthony, he is typically depicted with a book and the Infant Child Jesus in his arms.3 He is often invoked for the finding of lost articles, but his greatest contribution to the world was his words. For upon exhumation of his remains (which were found corrupt) some thirty plus years after his death, his tongue was totally incorrupt! It was still moist and glistening, preserved by the teachings that had been formed upon it.
You will find St. Anthony buried in a large basilica in Padua. The basilica itself was built in his honour. There, his tongue is displayed in a large reliquary – reminding the world of his gift of eloquence and powerful preaching.
As I mentioned earlier, everyone loves to invoke his aid in order to find lost articles. Losing things is one thing, but nowadays it’s not for lost things that we need to invoke this famous preacher – it’s for lost hearts, lost minds, lost souls who have grown cold, dark, and embittered towards the love of God. What will it profit someone if he should find the whole world and everything he has ever lost – but in the end lose his or her soul?
St. Anthony, pray for us.
– Fr. Jerome Lavigne
1. Cf. Norman Perry, O.F.M., “Devotion to St. Anthony of Padua,” American Catholic.org; available from http://www.americancatholic.org/Features/Anthony/0-86716-202-3_np.asp; Internet; accessed 30 May 2014.
2. Pope Benedict XVI (10 February 2010). “General Audience,” available from http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2010/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20100210_en.html; Internet; accessed 13 June 2013.
3. “The book is a symbol of Anthony’s science, of his doctrine, his preaching and of his teaching, always inspired by the Bible. A single book represents the Holy Word of God. If the book in held by any of the four evangelists, it symbolizes the books he wrote. If the book is in the hands of an apostle, it can represent his learning and/or being a teacher of the Christian faith. If both evangelists and apostles/disciples are shown, the evangelists will carry books and the disciples will carry scrolls. Books in the hands of saints show they were well educated in the scriptures.” The lily, another symbol that is often included in images of St. Anthony, represents St. Anthony’s purity. Quoted from “Symbols of Saint Anthony,” Saint Anthony of Padua; available from http://www.st-anthony-medal.com/symbols-of-saint-anthony.htm; Internet; accessed 31 May 2014.