Thursday, June 13, 2019

 There is perhaps no more loved and admired saint in the Catholic Church than St. Anthony. He was born in Lisbon, Portugal, in 1195. His was a very rich family of the nobility who wanted him to become educated, and they arranged for him to be instructed at the local cathedral school. Against the wishes of his family, however, he entered the community of Canons Regular (Augustinians) on the outskirts of Lisbon. The Canons were famous for their dedication to scholarly pursuits. They sent him to their major center of studies in Coimbra to study Latin and theology.

 After his ordination to the priesthood, Fernando (his given name) was named guest master and placed in charge of hospitality for the abbey. It was in this capacity, in 1219, that he came into contact with five Franciscan friars who were on their way to Morocco to preach the Gospel to the Muslims there. Fernando was strongly attracted to the simple, evangelical lifestyle of the friars, whose Order had been founded only eleven years prior. In February of the following year, news arrived that the five Franciscans had been martyred in Morocco, the first to be killed in their new Order.

 Seeing their bodies as they were processed back to Assisi, Fernando meditated on the heroism of these men. Inspired by their example and longing for the same gift of martyrdom, he obtained permission from church authorities to leave the Augustinian Canons to join the new Franciscan Order. Upon his admission to the life of the friars, he joined the small hermitage in Olivais, adopting the name Anthony, from the name of the chapel located there dedicated to Saint Anthony the Great, by which he was to be known. The new Brother Anthony then set out for Morocco in fulfilment of his new vocation. Illness, however, stopped him on his journey.

 At this point he decided to head to Italy, the centre of his new Order. On the voyage there, his ship was driven by a storm onto the coast of Sicily. From Sicily he made his way to Tuscany where he was assigned to a convent of the Order, but he met with difficulty because of his sickly appearance. He was finally assigned, out of pure compassion, to the rural hospice of San Paolo near Forli, a choice made after considering his poor health. There he appears to have lived as a hermit and was put to work in the kitchen, while being allowed to spend much time in private prayer and study.

 One day, on the occasion of an ordination, a great many visiting Dominican friars were present, and there was some misunderstanding over who should preach. The Franciscans naturally expected that one of the Dominicans would occupy the pulpit, for they were renowned for their preaching. The Dominicans, on the other hand, had come unprepared, thinking that a Franciscan would be the homilist. In this quandary, the head of the hermitage, who had no one among his own humble friars suitable for the occasion, called upon Anthony, whom he suspected was most qualified, and entreated him to speak whatever the Holy Spirit should put into his mouth.

 Anthony objected but was overruled, and his sermon created a deep impression. Not only his rich voice and arresting manner, but the entire theme and substance of his discourse and his moving eloquence held the attention of his hearers. At that point, Anthony was commissioned by Brother Gratian, the local Provincial Minister, to preach the Gospel throughout the area of Lombardy in northern Italy. In this capacity he came to the attention of Francis of Assisi. Francis had held a strong distrust of the place of theological studies in the life of his brotherhood, fearing that it might lead to an abandonment of their commitment to a life of real poverty.

 In Anthony, however, he found a kindred spirit for his vision, who was able to provide the teaching needed by young members of the Order who might seek ordination. He thereby entrusted the pursuit of studies for any of his friars to the care of Brother Anthony. From then on, his skills were used to the utmost by the Church. While teaching was a skill he possessed, it was as a preacher that Anthony revealed his supreme gift.

 Anthony died at the Poor Clare monastery at Arcella on June 13, 1231, at the age of 36 and was canonized less than a year later. His fame spread through Portuguese evangelization, and he has been known as the most celebrated of the followers of St. Francis of Assisi. He is the patron saint of his adopted home of Padua as well as his native Lisbon. He is venerated all over the world as the patron Saint for lost articles and is credited with many miracles involving lost people, lost things and even lost spiritual goods.

Proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XII in 1946, he is sometimes called the “Evangelical Doctor.”