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St Anthony of Padua

Monday, 13 June is the Feast Day of St. Anthony of Padua (2022)

Anthony of Padua (15 August 1195 – 13 June 1231) was a Portuguese Catholic priest, and friar of the Franciscan Order. He was born and raised by a wealthy family in Lisbon, Portugal, and died in Padua, Italy.  

He has become known as the most celebrated of the followers of Francis of Assisi.Noted by his contemporaries for his powerful preaching, expert knowledge of scripture, and undying love and devotion to the poor and the sick.

His life story is educative for us all (summarised here by the St Anthony of Padua parish):

Proclaiming the message of God has never been that popular, especially if preachers were taking the message of God to where many actively hated it. During Anthony’s early years, Franciscan missionaries had died at the hands of the Islamic people. At the age of 26, Anthony had given up a peaceful life of prayer and study as an Augustinian to become a Franciscan missionary to the Muslims in Morocco. He had come to the psychological – spiritual conclusion that he had failed God by not being allowed to give up his life as a martyr at the hands of the Muslims.

Somehow, though, Anthony had reached the point in his life where his fellow Franciscans would not even give him a job of washing dishes or sweeping the floors. Early in his life, Anthony had been so sure of what God wanted him to do.

Early life: He was born Fernando de Bouillon on August 15, 1195 in Portugal, a legitimate heir to a noble title and lands. His future seemed to be secure and planned. His family occupied a sumptuous palace near the cathedral in Lisbon. Still, Fernando’s restless quest for God’s call came early and he gave up his inheritance to enter a monastery at age 15, seeking a life of solitude and devotion to God. His new name would be Anthony. His friends however, missed him and knowing he was close by, would stop to visit so much that this became a distraction from his devotions. Two years later he decided he would have to move on to find the kind of life he wanted. At the Abbey of Santa Cruz, his new home, Anthony devoted the next eight years to studying theology and Scripture. He exhibited a remarkable memory and facility for knowledge and it was obvious to everyone that this was the life he was meant to lead.
(It was said of him (Traditionally) that he knew the Bible so well, that if some disaster destroyed all copies of it, they could still recover the Scriptures form what he knew).

Crises of life: When he landed in Morocco it seemed like everything was finally going as he planned it. However, he no sooner got out into the desert than he became so physically ill that he wasn’t even able to get out of bed, let alone walk the street preaching Christ’s message to others. His attempt at missionary work was such a complete failure that the Franciscans ordered him back to Portugal after only four months. Yet Anthony ran into problems there as well. The ship taking him back to Portugal was forced to land in Sicily after a storm. As Anthony recovered his health in Italy, he conceived a new plan. He would go tot he fourth general chapter meeting of the Franciscans and see St. Francis of Assisi. Surely St. Francis would know what he was supposed to do with the rest of his life. Yet Francis, close to death, did not notice Anthony among all the three thousand friars who had come to the chapter. In fact, everyone ignored Anthony – which apparently was not difficult to do because Anthony liked to stick to the background.

Dejected and discouraged, Anthony did not want to return to Portugal that was just a reminder of how wrong all his hopes had gone. Surely there was a place for him in Italy. Still , no one in Italy knew of Anthony’s background in theology and Scripture. That, like Portugal, belonged to Anthony’s past. All they saw was a sick invalid with barely enough strength to get out of bed. So when he volunteered as a kitchen assistant, they turned him down; no one thought he could do the work! What could Anthony do? He felt that he was a failure as a missionary, as a martyr, and now even as a dishwasher.

New hope: He had found one friend however in Father Gratian, the provincial of Bologna. When Anthony begged him for work, Fr. Gratian sent him to a small retreat house in the mountains.

They were ordaining a large group of priests. Again Anthony was hidden in the crowd. As was customary, there was to be a talk at the ordination meal on being a priest. The time came for the talk and no-one stood up to provide for the homily. No one had prepared a talk and no one wanted to talk spontaneously in front of the toughest audience of all – their fellow-priests. Suddenly, as the Tradition goes, Father Gratian turned to Anthony and asked him to speak. Why Anthony? Maybe he guessed there was more to Anthony than the others knew. Maybe Anthony was just handy. Of course Anthony tried to decline the offer; he had no experience or ability. Gratian ordered him to speak out of obedience.

The preacher comes alive: Unable to refuse the direct order Anthony stood up. Nevertheless, as he opened his mouth to stammer out a few words, the Holy Spirit suddenly overwhelmed the frightened priest. The voice that trembled in fear, now trembled with passion. The words that had stumbled now flowed beautifully. All who heard his speech knew they had not only witnessed a miracle but heard a miracle-worker. In that moment his life changed forever. Everyone who had ignored him knew him now as Anthony the preacher. Saint Francis who hadn’t even noticed his existence before, now, appointed him to preach anywhere and everywhere. Expectant crowds replaced his quiet solitude hanging on his words.

Suddenly what head looked like failures or misdirection’s in his life all made sense His study in the Monastery was not a waste of time, but a foundation to preach on the Scripture. His travels to Morocco and Italy was not a disaster but experiences in real life form which to teach. His assignment to the retreat house was not a rejection but a grounding of his spirit in prayer and meditation to sustain him in the Holy Spirit.

Anthony preached to his culture. He probed deeply into each passage to find the key message for Christians. Apparently, he re-discovered that his role in ministry was with his own people. His mission field was not in Morocco, but, in Padua and the surrounding areas. This is a model for all to follow. We ought to be willing to bloom where we are planted as available people for God’s purposes.

Anthony preached to the experiences of people. Anthony was said to have preached peace in a time of feuds, vendettas, and wars, saying to the people — “No more war; no more hatred and bloodshed, but peace. God wills it.” His preaching was direct and forceful with a simple message that was practical. Again, a deep understanding and classical theological training in foundational truths, prepared this preacher for the task at hand, a society where the rich and poor were polarized culturally and economically.

Anthony preached a positive message. In a time when many heretics were teaching things such as that the flesh was evil and only the soul was created by God, Anthony did not indulge in attacks of heretics. He simply, and clearly, spoke of the true beliefs of Christians in such a positive way that he won people back to the Faith.

Despite the chaos of the times, (feuds and vendettas), Anthony had to start preaching out in the fields, because the churches would no longer hold the crowds coming to hear him. Shops and business were reported to have closed their doors when he came to preach and people often slept overnight in churches to be sure to hear him the next day.

Anthony preached without consideration for a person’s position. According to Tradition, when an archbishop asked Anthony to preach at a national council, Anthony did as requested and then turned to the archbishop to say, “And now I have something to say to you…” He went on to tell the archbishop in front of the council how he should change his life.

Padua was the place that Anthony had chosen as his home base after he started preaching. That is where he went after he fell ill in 1231. To find a little solitude in the midst of the clamour for his attention, he built a sort of tree-house where he lived until he became too weak. He asked to be taken back to his monastery to die but he did not make it. At a stop at a convent of Poor Clares, he said, “I behold my God,” and died. It was June 13, 1231 and he was only 35 years old.

During those later years, however, Anthony was to gain such popular recognition for his charismatic preaching that his legend would remain firmly etched into the Tradition of the Church to this day.