St. Anthony of Padua
Finder of the Lost
There has always been an Anthony in my life. Even before I knew who Saint Anthony was, and what part he would play in my life, there was an Anthony in my life. You see, my middle brother’s name is Anthony, and although six years older than I, his job was to take care of baby sister. He grumbled a lot at having to drag the pest along with him and his friends, but he did. When I could not keep up with his long legs, he carried me on his shoulders. We fought, as brothers and sisters do, but do not let anyone else try to hurt me; I could always rely on my older brother to defend me. As I grew into a teen-ager he became my advisor to the lovelorn. I didn’t always welcome his counsel, but darn him, he was always right!
We each married and moved miles apart. But the Anthony of my intimate family was to be replaced, as an instrument, by another Anthony. Our precious son died, and we died along with him. We turned off God and His Church, and although we didn’t know it, Bob and I were on the way to turning each other off as well, when St. Anthony came into our life.
The St. Anthony who appeared in our life, after almost four years of us not asking anything of St. Anthony, or Jesus or any other member of our Heavenly family, was a curly-haired Sicilian-American. This Anthony persisted and persisted until he led us to Marriage Encounter and new life in Jesus and the Church. Even the Seminary at the old Mission in Santa Barbara, California, where we went for our Marriage Encounter week-end, was called, right again, St. Anthony’s.
Of course, I was completely unaware, at the time that St. Anthony was interceding in my life. But that doesn’t stop Jesus, His Mother or any of His Saints from consistently helping us. The pieces finally started to come together, when the fool (that’s me) began to grow up. As we learned more about this wonderful, exciting Faith of ours, I began to realize St. Anthony was not merely a statue my grandmother had on her altar, in our bedroom. He was not solely someone you prayed to find lost items or a husband. I wanted to know more about this special man, this St. Anthony, and so, the search began.
Who is St. Anthony?
In the United States, he has been given the obscure title of “Finder of Lost Articles.” Whenever we lose something, we ask St. Anthony to find it for us and, more times than not, he answers our prayers.
The St. Anthony, I had known over the years, is probably the one you know, as well. There was nothing I misplaced, I couldn’t ask him to find for me that he didn’t. One time, in Padua when I shame-facedly admitted turning to St. Anthony to find lost objects, a Franciscan reassured me, saying,
“Oh, St. Anthony doesn’t mind. As a matter of fact, he likes to be part of your everyday life. You see, as you are calling him to ask him to find something, he really is taking you by the hand and leading you to Jesus.”
This is not unlike the way St. Anthony lived his life. He was a brilliant man, but for most of his life, he chose to live an obscure life, a humble life. And because of this, no one knew who he was.
He was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church. There are 33 Doctors of the Church. In the 2,000 years since the Church was instituted, out of its millions of holy people, and thousands of canonized Saints, only 33 have been given the honor of this title. We have written about 15 of them thus far. The Saint, we pray to for lost objects, is one of these honored people. But until the Lord decided to put St. Anthony into active ministry, he was a dishwasher and confessor to Franciscan hermits. No one had any idea what the Lord had locked up in the mind and heart of this great Saint.
Son of Italy, his beginnings in Portugal
Sts. Francis of Assisi and Catherine of Siena are the co-patron Saints of Italy. This is in no way, to belittle them or the place they hold in the hearts of Italians and Catholics, as a whole; but the Saint’s statue, seen in every store, car or apartment, is that of St. Anthony of Padua, or as he is affectionately called, “Il Santo.”
Of course, the Portuguese would give them an argument; they call him St. Anthony of Lisbon, just because he was born there and lived there most of his life. Oh well!
This towering yet humble Saint is loved throughout the world by Catholics and non-catholics, including many Jewish people, as well. But, he is not really known for the fullness of who he was and is to us, the Church. Although, we believe this is really how he would like it, with all due respect to him and his wishes, we must nevertheless endeavor to share some of the discoveries we have made. This is not to further honor him, as he needs no added acclaim, but to encourage others to follow in his footsteps on their journey to Jesus.
Whenever our Church is in danger, and it looks like all the principalities of hell are about to level her, the Lord calls forth a Saint or two.
St. Anthony was born into a time of oppression: Portugal and much of Europe had been under Muslim domination for centuries. For over one hundred years, Portugal had been trying to liberate itself from its invaders. Piece by piece, pain upon pain, inch by inch their land was being reclaimed for Christ and His Church. Brave knights, many of them Crusaders, settled in Lisbon, after having fought courageously to oust the Saracens (or Muslims). St. Anthony was born of one of these knights, Martino. We are told in the most authentic biographies of the Saint, he came from a powerful family of the nobility.
St. Anthony was born on the Feast of The Assumption of Mary into Heaven, August the 15th, 1195. All his life, he was strongly devoted to our Lady and Her Assumption into Heaven. As he staunchly defended the Son, he championed the Son’s Mother, as well. Show me a Saint and I’ll show you Mary in his life.
His baptismal name was Fernando, which means bold in peace, and that he was, to the end of his life here on earth.
His religious education began where the most meaningful learning begins, from his parents. He not only inherited worldly wealth from his family, but a treasure that would hold him in holy stead the rest of his life, a heritage of the Faith that no one could ever take from him.
Although, there is little information about St. Anthony’s youth, there are legends that have followed him, filling in the blank pages, for almost 800 years. One of these legends takes place when Fernando was quite young.
His father Martino and Fernando loved to go to their farm on the outskirts of town. One day, Martino took his son with him to see if their crop was ready to harvest. Summer was here; God was good and the crop was ready! There was only one problem; the greedy sparrows had their eyes and bills on the crop, as well. Martino would have to get help from the neighbors, if he was to prevent the winged enemy from pecking away his entire harvest before he could gather it. He delegated the task of keeping the thieving birds away, to Fernando, until he returned.
Fernando began running up and down the hills, shooing away the birds, before his father disappeared from sight. But soon, his little legs tired. Not far off, a small country church was calling to him, inviting him inside to pray. The little boy, torn between his duty to his father and his desire to pray, kept running toward the church and back toward the hills. Finally, he had an idea! He called to the sparrows to come with him. He led them into a large room, in the house, and locked the door and windows behind them. The little boy, Fernando, went peacefully and joyfully to spend time with the Lord, he could feel present in the church, even at this young age.
His father, upon returning and not being able to find his son, became frantic. Combing every inch of the hillside, as a last resort, he thought to look in the church. There was Fernando deep in prayer! Before his father could scold him, Fernando took his father’s hand and led him into the house. As they opened the door, the singing prisoners flew out to freedom and the crop.
As a priest, the older Fernando, later said, “The waves of the sea, when they hit a rock, break, and the tempest of temptation which hurts you will break if it finds you united to Christ.” Was this in memory of something that happened when he was still a boy? One day after Mass, Fernando, having stayed behind to pray, felt something stirring inside the church. He looked up toward the choir-loft; he saw a face so hideous, it made him tremble uncontrollably. It was the face of Satan; he was going to stop the boy from praying, if he had to scare him to death.
Fernando could no longer pray; he was frozen, paralyzed with fear. With all the strength he could muster, he traced a cross on the floor. As quickly as he had appeared, the vision disappeared. Tears of joy welled up in the little boy’s eyes; the Lord, his Shepherd had frightened Satan away. The only sign of the encounter was the cross which remained on the floor.
Fernando and the Call to Arms
Although their land was reclaimed from the Saracens, real peace had not returned to Portugal Fernando’s father, advised his son to pursue the call to arms. With other young men of his station, Fernando developed an agile and strong body, a courageous spirit, and a boldness to do right, no matter the cost. Even though he and his father thought this was for the defense of country, we will see how God will use this training for defense of His Church.
Although very handsome and well accepted by his friends, at fifteen years old, Fernando began to feel an emptiness in his life. He had been in readiness for the eventuality of battle. At first, he found that exciting, but even that did not fill the void. All around him, his friends and companions were busying themselves with an idle life. Allures of the world were dominating and contaminating their minds, absorbing them with a need for more and more wealth. Self-love was consuming them. Pride, the “I” did this and the “I” did that, was blinding them. As a man, he later wrote,”…the heart before engaging in luxury, emerges in pride which is the beginning of all sins.”
The world was also tempting him with good: attachments and concerns tugging at him, pulling him apart. His country and family needed him (chivalry). Why couldn’t he marry and have a family (pure love)? There was nothing wrong with all the world was offering; then why did he see it as flawed and lifeless?
The young cavalier felt more and more stifled by the life around him. Fernando later describes his struggle between the world and the Kingdom,
“If you do not resist the evil of luxury, at the end even the things which appear good will perish.”
We often see a statue or painting of St. Anthony holding a lily, a sign of purity. This purity, like with St. Francis, was an ongoing war that could only be won with strict discipline and hard struggle, over many years. As he found himself being called more and more to the priesthood, he had to fight, not only his parents’ dreams for him to take over the family estates and give them grandchildren, but the lure of ambition, his desire to amount to something. Only the whisper in his heart, that gentle tugging at his spirit, kept him on the road to the Lord and the priesthood.
The above article is an excerpt from the Chapter on St. Anthony of Padua in our book, “Saints and Other Powerful Men in the Church. For more information click here.