You’ve lost your wallet with your driver’s license, credit cards, and money just withdrawn from the ATM. Quick — who ya gonna call? Chances are, if you’re like most Catholics, you’ll enlist the aid of St. Anthony of Padua, renowned for his ability to recover everything from a missing child to a misplaced set of house keys. But this is only one of the many powers attributed to this extraordinary saint, acknowledged as one of the greatest miracle workers of all time.
He began his remarkable life at Lisbon, Portugal in 1195 and was christened “Fernando.” Little is known of his early years. Experts cannot even agree on his parents’ names, but it is generally believed they were wealthy members of the nobility. He was educated at the Cathedral school in Lisbon, and at the age of 15 joined the Canons Regular of St. Augustine. In 1212 he was transferred to Coimbra in order to devote himself more fully to prayer and study, away from the distraction of frequent visits by family and friends.
In 1220 Don Pedro, Crown Prince of Portugal, brought from Morocco the relics of the first Franciscan martyrs. Seized with a new zeal to be a missionary and martyr, he left the Augustinians to join the Franciscan Order, founded about a decade earlier in Assisi by Francesco Bernardone (who would become known as Francis of Assisi). He took the name Anthony after Antony of Egypt, founder and father of organized Christian monasticism. Shortly thereafter, he was permitted to go as a missionary to Morocco, but God had other plans for him.
Immediately upon his arrival, he became so ill with malaria that he was forced to return to Europe. The ship on which he booked passage was diverted off course by severe storms and docked in Sicily. He recuperated there for several months, then went to Assisi, where he was assigned to the hermitage near Forli, a town outside Bologna. Although a brilliant scholar with a profound knowledge of Scripture, his great humility caused him to say nothing of his scholastic achievements. He lived quietly, serving the other Brothers and working in the kitchen.
One day, he accompanied some other Friars to Forli for an ordination. At the last minute there was no one available to preach, and in desperation the Superior asked Anthony to speak whatever the Holy Spirit prompted. Things would never be the same again! Although timid at first, Anthony was soon preaching so eloquently and fervently that everyone was amazed. Thus began the aspect of his public life for which he would become the most renowned: preaching. “When the Holy Spirit enters a soul,” he wrote, “He fills it with His fire and lets it enkindle others.” He had all the qualities of a successful preacher: a charismatic presence, clear, resonant voice, attractive appearance and magnetic personality. Although the Franciscans were guarded in their attitude toward book learning, Francis was so impressed by Anthony’s newly-discovered ability that he appointed him as teacher of theology to the Franciscans.
During the remainder of his short life, Anthony’s achievements were astounding. Crowds numbering over 30,000 flocked to hear him speak. He preached so forcefully against heresy, he became known as malleus hereticorum, “Hammer of the Heretics.” Thousands of conversions followed his compelling sermons, and miracles abounded wherever he went. Many of these miracles are legendary: Along the coast of Rimini, fish rose out of the water as he preached. Poisoned food offered to Anthony by his enemies was rendered harmless after he made the sign of the cross over it. A young man’s amputated foot was miraculously restored at Anthony’s touch.
In 1226, after the death of Francis of Assisi, Anthony eventually made his home in Padua, where he was greatly revered. During Lent in 1231, he preached a powerful series of sermons that were to be his last. Shortly after Easter he became fatally ill with edema, and died in Vercelli on June 13, 1231, at the age of 36. Immediately after his death he appeared to Thomas Gallo, the Abbott at Vercelli. Numerous miracles followed, and he was canonized on May 30, 1232, less than a year later — one of the fastest canonization processes in the Church’s history! Pope Gregory IX, who had known him personally, called Anthony the “Ark of the Covenant,” because of his prodigious knowledge of Holy Scripture.
Thirty years later, Anthony’s body was exhumed and his tongue found to be perfectly preserved. It remains uncorrupt to this day. When St. Bonaventure beheld this miracle, he exclaimed, “O Blessed Tongue, that always praised the Lord and made others bless Him, now it is evident what great merit you have before God!”
So how did he come to be regarded as “Finder of the Lost?” It all began with a cherished book of Psalms belonging to Anthony, in which he kept written notes for use in teaching theology to the friars. One day a novice suddenly deserted the monastery, taking with him, for reasons unknown, Anthony’s precious Psalm book. Anthony pleaded with Heaven for its return. The novice soon had a change of heart and not only returned the book, but rejoined the Franciscan Order. After Anthony’s death, people invoked his help in finding lost and stolen things, and so many of these were recovered that he became known as the patron saint of lost articles.
His patronage also includes: amputees, animals, barrenness, boatmen, donkeys, the elderly, expectant mothers, fishermen, harvests, horses, mariners, Native Americans, the oppressed, the poor, Portugal, the Tigua Indian tribe, travelers, against shipwrecks and starvation.
In paintings St. Anthony is often depicted holding the Child Jesus. This custom dates back to a 17th-century legend which says that while staying at a friend’s house, Anthony was spied on by his host, who found him in a state of rapture with the Christ Child in his arms.
Today, more than 750 years after his death, Anthony of Padua is one of the most popular and powerful saints of the Church, the many miracles attributed to him over the centuries earning him the title of “The Wonder-Working Saint.” His Feast Day is June 13th.
WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM ST. ANTHONY
So, what are some lessons we can take from St. Anthony’s example? In thinking about his life, here are a few I came up with:
FOCUS. No doubt Fernando (later to be called Anthony) greatly loved his family and friends, but even as a teenager, he understood the value of avoiding distraction, so that he could stay focused on his studies and spiritual growth. How often do we let distractions keep us from doing things that are vital to our future and our development as a person? Distractions are much more rampant than they were in Anthony’s day, but we can still learn to be disciplined enough to know when to say “no” and keep ourselves focused on what is most important.
HUMILITY & INDEPENDENCE FROM THE GOOD OPINION OF OTHER PEOPLE: Not only were Anthony’s dreams thwarted by illness and other difficulties, but he was reassigned to a new location and given the most menial of tasks to perform. He probably could have asserted himself and insisted that, with his superior education, he should be given more prestigious work to do. But he honored his vow of obedience to his superiors, and accepted with grace and humility the tasks he was assigned. He placed his future in the hands of God, who knew his abilities and how to use them. In today’s world, it seems that everyone is vying for attention and approval from others. Spending just a few minutes on social media makes this apparent. Many times, people are trying to get attention for the most superficial reasons, instead of earning it by actual achievements. Anthony knew that, in time, he would fulfill his potential according to God’s plan, and he was patient and humble enough to wait.
LEAVING OURSELVES OPEN TO THE PROMPTING OF THE SPIRIT. Anthony was probably terrified at the prospect of suddenly being called upon to preach publicly, without any preparation. He could have refused, but again, he cooperated with his superiors and trusted in God – with the most amazing results! When we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit, He will do amazing things through us as well.
GOD’S PLAN DIFFERED FROM ANTHONY’S, BUT HE ACCEPTED THIS WITH GRACE AND COURAGE. Anthony dreamed of doing great things for God, to be sent as a missionary to Morocco and maybe even die for his Faith. He almost made it to his first goal, but God knew that Anthony’s destiny would be best served by staying close to home. This is a perfect example of “thriving where you are planted.” We don’t know how Anthony would have fared had he stayed in Morocco, but it’s doubtful that he could have achieved more greatness than he did by by following God’s will and doing his best to thrive where he was planted in Italy. This is a reminder to us to not get discouraged when our plans don’t work out, because God sees the big picture and will lead us to our destiny, if we trust in Him.
GUARDING THE TONGUE. Because Anthony was so renowned as a preacher, and the Holy Spirit infused him with such great wisdom in his speech, it’s not surprising that after Anthony’s death, the part of his body that God preserved from corruption was his tongue. St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful in building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Ephesians 4:29. Anthony perfectly exemplified what St. Paul meant, and it’s a heads-up to us that our words can build up or destroy, edify or corrupt. Anthony’s incorrupt tongue is a symbol that his words were never used to corrupt, but only to spread God’s Light and love to everyone who heard him speak.
WE DON’T ALWAYS KNOW FOR WHAT WE WILL BE MOST LOVED AND REMEMBERED. Many Catholics know the little prayer, “Something’s lost and can’t be found. Quick, St. Anthony, look around!” It may seem strange that, given all of Anthony’s remarkable achievements during his lifetime, today most people know him best as “Finder of the Lost.” But I think God allows this because it makes St. Anthony so relatable to all of us ordinary people, to whom losing something necessary or precious is a very real concern. He, too, had lost something precious and was so upset that he pleaded with God to help him recover it. St. Anthony is one of the best-loved saints, and I think that’s because so many of us have called upon his help when we’ve lost something important, and when we found it, we were so grateful to him for interceding on our behalf, it made him seem like a good friend. This makes him seem more accessible than if he were known just as a great preacher and miracle-worker.
None of us truly knows, until we die, which deeds or characteristics we will be most remembered for, or which touched other people’s lives the most. Like St. Anthony, we can only do our best to live our lives with love and kindness.
TRADITIONAL PRAYER TO ST. ANTHONY
Holy Saint Anthony, gentle and powerful in your help, your love for God and charity for His creatures, made you worthy, when on earth, to possess miraculous powers. Miracles waited on your word, which you were always ready to request for those in trouble or anxiety. Encouraged by this thought, I implore you to obtain for me (request). The answer to my prayer may require a miracle. Even so, you are the Saint of miracles. Gentle and loving Saint Anthony, whose heart is ever full of human sympathy, take my petition to the Infant Savior for whom you have such a great love, and the gratitude of my heart will ever be yours. Amen.