When St. Anthony died, the poor of
Padua said, "We have lost our father." They did not
say, "Oh dear, who will manage Padua's lost-and-found department
Until I traveled to Portugal, Anthony's
birthplace, and Italy, where he spent his last 11 years, I little
appreciated the magnitude of his gifts and his influence. Preparing
for this journey and actually visiting sites dear to Il Santo
(as Italians all call him) has led me to embrace Anthony the Humble,
Anthony the Available, Anthony the Poor and Anthony the Friend.
This doesn't mean I've abandoned my
requests to St. Anthony when things are lost. It does mean,
however, that I've found other, perhaps more important
reasons to invoke his inspiration and his guidance. I offer these
four compelling aspects of Anthony to help you find your way to
a deeper appreciation of this great saint.
I had thought that "Doctor of
the Universal Church," the title given to Anthony in 1946,
was simply an honorific. I, like the 13th-century Dominicans and
Franciscans in Forli, Italy, had thought Anthony was a "good
Joe." I thought of him as a saint who could and would help
me out in a pinch, though I didn't think him Ph.D. material.
The crisis at Forli was that no one
had been assigned to speak at the festive meal following ordinations.
Those with preaching experience--Dominicans, after all, are
the Order of Preachers--were unwilling to speak before the bishop
without time to prepare. They all begged off. Anthony, it seems,
was the only one willing to go extempore. When he did, his words
revealed a tremendous grasp of theology and the occasion marked
the beginning of his extraordinary preaching career.
To me, impressing a crowd of religious
people with your first public remarks in their presence seems
as likely as being named MVP at your first college basketball
game. When I read this story in Anthony's earliest biography,
written in 1232, I thought he sounded like Mr. Cinderella, spending
most of his days as a hermit, unrecognized and unadmired. The
major plot twist is that he was willing, even eager, to remain
in the cinders of his hermitage! That's where he found his "happily
ever after," so to speak, rather than in a pumpkin-turned-coach,
on the way to life in a castle.
As an Augustinian canon in Portugal,
Anthony (then known as Fernando) had found life in Lisbon and
Coimbra, major centers of Portuguese learning, an intellectual
feast, a delight many of the monks seemed to prize more than prayer.
I think the young, keenly intelligent Fernando feared he could
take a perpetual head trip and never experience the solitude and
silence required for travels of the heart.
As I pore over the pages and remember
the places where Anthony lived his life, this is what I learn:
You may begin from the head or from the heart, but you must balance
the two to become holy. Perhaps Anthony instinctively knew that
Francis of Assisi could guide and support him in his struggle
to do just this. Among the writings attributed to Francis is a
brief note to Anthony: "It is agreeable to me that you should
teach the friars sacred theology, so long as they do not extinguish
the spirit of prayer and devotedness...."
It was disagreeable to Anthony to teach
at all if he could not also light in those who heard him the desire
to pray. This is the education to which the Church and its saints
should always aspire. The earliest images of Anthony, according
to the apostolic letter declaring him a doctor of the Church,
showed him "holding in one hand, as though reading, an open
book signifying wisdom and learning, and in the other a torch,
the symbol of ardent faith."
This is what I, too, ask of St. Anthony
of Padua: Help me to hold in balance the knowing and the loving,
the head and the heart.
on the Street
(and in the Fields)
For a man who desired a hermit's life,
St. Anthony of Padua sincerely knew how to draw big crowds. It seems
quite clear that he sincerely loved people. He didn't choose solitude
because he was an ill-tempered loner; he sought privacy to preserve
the rhythms of the spiritual life. He knew that he gained strength
and focus when alone. He also knew the converse: that he could
inspire devotion and prayer in others when he taught, preached
and celebrated the Sacrament of Penance.
While I'm disconcerted at the very
thought of a sermon lasting an hour or two, the people of Padua
were eager to hear Anthony preach, apparently at this length!
His earliest biographer describes the scene: "Because of
the multitude of men and women who gathered, and because the size
of the churches was by no means large enough to hold so many people,
whose number always grew, he [Anthony] withdrew to the wide spaces
of open meadows. Crowds of men and women that could hardly be
counted came from cities, castles and villages which surrounded
Padua....Rising in the middle of the night they contended with
each other to come early...."
Not only did Friar Anthony give to
the crowds, he also gained from them. Who would not be moved to
see so many people hungry for a clear teaching of the gospel?
How could he not love the faithful who waited hours after his
lengthy sermon was concluded for absolution from their sins?
These crowds were coming not only on
Sundays, but also during the week, because they were genuinely
confused--and tempted--by the heresies of the time. Many couldn't
read and they were hungry to know and understand God's will for
them. Anthony used the idioms of his day, weaving examples from
mythology, folklore, proverbs and the changing seasons of the
year into his message. I get the idea he was Billy Graham and
Bishop Sheen rolled into one.
Many of these allusions seem obscure
to me when I bravely peek at his published Sermones. The
Sermones are daunting, in part because they are actually
sermon notes, translated from the Italian vernacular into
formal Latin and then, only recently, into English. Anthony packed
into this manual every hint, every approach he could think of,
though he didn't intend that preachers should try his hints all
I mention the Sermones only
to dissuade Anthony's present-day friends from looking there to
discover the heart of the saint. I believe his heart was expressed
in the spoken word, a more accessible medium which--all
reports say--attracted, challenged, convinced, converted and comforted
This is what I ask of Il Santo:
May I use the gift of words to grow closer to people, not to distance
myself or to appear clever or educated. I also place those who
preach to me under Anthony's protection that they may find the
words that will reach me and lead me to Jesus.
Will Travel Many Miles
In Italy, Anthony is identified as
"of Padua" though he traveled from Sicily to Assisi,
Rome and points north. In Portugal, he's known as St. Anthony
of Lisbon. While he didn't make any mark in Morocco during his
brief stay in 1220, he spent three years (1224-1227) in southern
France where he served as the regional superior of the friars.
By today's measure, The Saint could have logged a lot of frequent-flyer
miles, especially since he did all this traveling in little over
I'm fascinated by this great willingness
to pack up and go on Anthony's part. I believe it was not his
natural bent. Whenever he got the chance (in a hermitage at Montepaolo,
Italy, or in Brive, France, and, finally, in a treehouse refuge
in Camposampiero, Italy), he relished settling down to a routine
of prayer and fasting. He chose not to be a mere sightseer. He
became a literal reader of the gospel of poverty--as was St. Francis
The gospel challenge led Anthony to
leave first the noisy monastery of Lisbon and then leave the Augustinians
altogether. It led him to seek martyrdom across the Strait of
Gibralter, though illness prevented even an attempt. When he was
blown off course back to Portugal, and landed in Sicily, Anthony
actually discovered his true course. He sought out Francis of
Assisi in Italy, a land where Anthony didn't even speak the language. He was driven, I think, by the
same compelling magnetism that enticed Peter and Andrew to drop
their nets and follow the nomadic Jesus. He was answering a call.
Since travel in Anthony's day was by
foot or by mule (occasionally by sailing ship), he can't have
carried much baggage. I doubt that he had my problems in closing
my luggage--a challenge directly related to my unwillingness to
The only object for which Anthony ever
revealed much attachment was a manuscript of the Psalms, in which
he had made marginal notes for teaching. When Anthony found this
text was missing, he prayed for its return. He had not mislaid
it, however (which I suspect he knew); it had been stolen. A contrite
French novice, who had left the friary with the text, returned,
full of repentance. Upon the recovery of this manuscript hinges
Anthony's reputation as a finder of lost objects.
To me, the miracle is not the return
of the book but that Anthony had so little to lose. He could pick
up and go anywhere--or he could stay put. His roots were not in
a place or a post or in anything packable. From praying--not merely
studying--the Psalms, he had come to "yearn and pine for the
courts of the Lord" and to discount the value of anything
This is what I ask of Anthony, the
traveling man: Help me not to sink my whole heart into house,
yard, car or closets. Help me to be equally ready to go or to
stay. When I go, help me not to carry too much of myself or to
gather too much to take back. Where I stay, guide me to live lightly.
Friend for Life
In the biographies of many saints,
powerful human friendships are recorded: Benedict and Scholastica,
Jane Frances de Chantal and Francis de Sales, Teresa of Avila
and John of the Cross are a few friends that come to mind. I am
grateful that the record reflects the value of having companions
on the spiritual journey, since it has certainly been true for
me. Various chroniclers reveal Anthony to be a good friend as
well. This provides a healthy balance to his longing for the hermit
When I visited St. Anthony's Basilica
in Padua, I learned that a certain Blessed Luke Belludi was buried
in the tomb which had first held St. Anthony. (Luke had Anthony
moved to a more prestigious resting place; in 1871, Luke was moved
from Anthony's tomb to a sarcophagus in the wall of a side chapel
named after him.) Who was this fellow to be honored with even
a temporary resting place in Anthony's first tomb?
Luke Belludi of Padua became a Franciscan
friar. The biographer Clasen calls him a "valuable helper
and co-laborer" of Anthony as well as a "celebrated
and holy preacher...constant companion and friend." Legend
says that Anthony once healed a child at Luke's request.
Author Madeline Nugent places Luke with Anthony in his final illness at Camposampiero.
Like Nugent, I like to believe that the friend who later became
known as Luke of St. Anthony was close to The Saint in his dying.
History records that Blessed Luke became
a provincial minister of the Franciscans and directed the building
of the Basilica in Anthony's honor. In the side chapel of the
Basilica I saw a painting depicting Anthony appearing to Luke
in a vision. The Saint brings Luke the message that Padua will
be freed from the threats of a tyrant. This seems a good model
of friendship: both focused on the good of others, but supporting
each other in the quest for God.
St. Anthony was confessor, guide and,
my heart tells me, friend to Sister Elena Elsimi, a Clarisse (Poor
Clare) in Arcella, very near Padua. Perhaps Elena (also known
as Blessed Helen Enselmini of Arcella) was near when Anthony died
in the Clarisse cloister, though she was ill herself at the time.
Blessed Elena's petite, wizened but
complete remains are encased in a glass coffin in Arcella's parish
church. When I first knelt before her body there, I was taken
aback, just as when I first saw the tongue, jaw and vocal cords
of St. Anthony in the Chapel of the Treasury in Padua's basilica.
Such stark, macabre reminders sober my sometimes sentimental faith.
These remains seem halted midway between--or is it in progress
toward?--death and resurrection of the body. This preservation
is interpreted by the Church as a sign of God's pleasure, a way
of calling attention to their holiness. Some substance of these
friends--Anthony and Elena--has been "saved" as a sign
of favor to us who visit.
Elena's body was tormented by illness
during most of her 14 years as a Clarisse. Anthony--often accompanied
by Luke, Madeline Nugent speculates--visited and encouraged her.
Elena trusted her soul to Friar-confessor Anthony because she
knew that he had never fully recovered from his own illness in
Morocco--so he could understand how she often felt sapped of energy
and enthusiasm for the spiritual journey. Yet her body lies intact
today and all that Anthony used to shape his words of friendship
and comfort--words flavored by the gospel--is preserved as well.
What can I learn from this trio of
holy friends? I speculate that each could count on the other.
Each leaned for support at times and each was the support
at other times.
Ah, St. Anthony, this is the incorruptibility
for which I long: lasting friendships that can sustain both weakness
and strength, absence and presence. You treasured your friends.
Thank you for not exercising some saintly self-sufficiency and
toughing it out without companions in your quest for holiness.
May I and my friends become "blessed"--and know how blessed
we are--in the exchange of thoughtful, prayerful support, interest,
laughter and counsel.
to What's Found
"Tony, Tony, turn around. Something's
lost that can't be found." This rallying, rollicking prayer
has led many of us to recover car keys, earrings, money and more.
Some people have seen their health restored, a valid extension
of something lost, to be sure.
This is the Anthony of Padua I knew
before the 800th anniversary of his birth. It is apparently an
arena of great human need--this heavenly lost-and-found department--since
so many are grateful to Anthony for his help in their domestic
emergencies. St. Anthony delivers.
But I've lost things I don't even know
enough to miss sometimes. I suspect you have, too. Sometimes I
lose my ability to connect what I've learned with how I live.
I'm not always willing to give what I have (to lose myself to
find myself, the Gospel says). I cling tightly to things far less
valuable than relics, though I honor them far more. Sometimes
I neglect to be a friend--even to my family.
And I'm the real loser when this happens.
But Anthony can--and will--come to my rescue. His whole life holds
answers for all who look there. Maybe you, too, will find something
that has been lost for a long time.
Carol Ann Morrow is an assistant
editor of St. Anthony Messenger and editor of Youth
Update. She has traveled to Portugal and Italy and wrote an
account of that pilgrimage, "In the Footsteps of St. Anthony,"
which appeared in last December's issue of St. Anthony Messenger.