Origin of the True Cross
According to a Sermon by
Saint Anthony of Padua
St. Anthony uses the History of the Greeks from the Apocryphal Gospel to recount the story of the origin of the Cross. In his Opus for the Feast of The Discovery of the Cross St. Anthony tells the story of the tree from which the Cross came. This sermon became so popular that two hundred years later, the story was still being passed on; and subsequently inspired the well-known artist Piero della Francesca in the year 1435 to paint the story in breathtaking scenes.
St. Anthony began his Opus with Joel (2:22):
“The tree that bears its fruit, the fig tree and the vine give their yield.” This tree is further mentioned in the book of Wisdom:
“When because of him (the unjust man) the earth was flooded, it was Wisdom again who saved it, directing the course of the just by contemptible wood. This contemptible wood is the Cross of Christ; contemptible because `accursed is anyone who is hanged on a tree,’ where Christ, the Wisdom of God the Father, was scorned and derided: `So you would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days! Then save yourself! If you are God’s Son, come down from the Cross !’” (Mt. 27:40)
On this contemptible tree, Christ saved the world.
The Origin of the Cross
The Origin of the Cross goes back to Adam. When Adam became ill, he sent his son Seth to find some medicine to heal him. Seth went to an area near the Garden of Eden. There he approached an Angel guarding the gate to Paradise. Seth told him his father was dying and pleaded with the Angel to help him. The Angel broke off
a limb from the tree from which Adam had eaten of the forbidden fruit, even after God the Father had forbidden him and Eve to do so. The Angel handed the branch to Seth and with that he said, Your father will be healed when this branch bears fruit. Saint Anthony writes that the preface of the Mass of the Feast of the Discovery of the Cross, made a reference to this occurrence:
“The tree of man’s defeat became his tree of victory. Where life was lost, there life has been restored.”
Seth rushed home, only to find that his father Adam had died and had already been buried. He planted the branch on Adam’s grave. This branch later grew into a great tree! It appears the Queen of Sheba saw the tree in “the house made of wood,” as the Palace of King Solomon was called. She had a Vision, where the tree’s origin and the circumstances involving the tree were revealed to her. Not daring to tell the king what she had learned, she instead wrote to him when she arrived home that she had seen a person hanging from the tree; and it was He who would bring about the downfall of the entire nation. Did he remember something from Scripture foretelling the One who was yet to come? Did he see in the queen’s Vision a fulfillment of an ominous prophecy? All we know is that it is written, Solomon, fear overtaking him, buried the tree in the deepest bowels of the earth – the place that would later be called the sheep pool.
You may recall that we read in John’s Gospel that the sick would come to the sheep pool in search of healing:
“…there were crowds of sick people – blind, lame, paralyzed – waiting for the water to move; for at intervals the Angel of the Lord came down into the pool, and the water was disturbed, and the first person to enter the water after this disturbance was cured of any ailment he suffered from.
“When the time of the coming of Christ was approaching, the tree began to grow over the water, and it is then that `the Angel would come to stir the water.’ On Good Friday, when they looked for a tree on which to crucify Our Lord, they found this tree. They cut it down, and brought it to the place where Jesus stood ready to carry it to His crucifixion. And so it was on Calvary that the Angel’s
word to Seth was fulfilled. “Thus, the tree bore its fruit, saving Adam and restoring him to health.”
The Tree, now the Cross of Salvation, was once again buried deep in the bowels of the earth. Were they hoping it would rot and go away? But the tree and the message of the tree would not be stilled. Three centuries later, Saint Helena – Constantine’s mother would discover the tree. This is why we have a Feast called The Discovery of the Cross.
Allow us to have Saint Anthony speak to your hearts:
“The Eyes of Our Beloved are now closed in death.
The Face, `upon Which the Angels desired to look’
has turned pallid and pale.
The Lips, Which once uttered words of eternal life,
have now turned blue.
The Head, Whose sight made Angels tremble,
now hangs lifeless.
The Hands, Whose touch cured leprosy,
brought back life, restored sight,
put demons to flight and multiplied bread,
are now, alas, transfixed by nails
and stained with Blood.”
Excerpt from Bob and Penny Lord’s Book
Chapter on Origin of the True Cross
People were drawn to St. Anthony. He was widely known as a miracle-worker. Like those before him, and after him, whom God chooses to bring hope into the world through miracles and healings, St. Anthony always pointed away from himself, to the Lord. It was He Who healed, Who went out of His Way to bring about Miracle, so they would know He was with them, to the end of the world, and they need not be afraid. Anthony looked upon himself, as only a worthless pipeline for the Lord to flow through. St. Anthony performed miracles during his lifetime, or better, he obtained, through his prayer and penances, Miracles from the Lord.
St. Anthony was a priest! And through his faithful yes to that priesthood, Miracles came about. A typical day in his life, would read much like that of one of our own faithful priests, in our own parishes, only multiplied a hundredfold. Hearing of him, many came in need, and he was available to that need. Between preaching, teaching and hearing confessions, the sun set on many a day, leaving him without having had an opportunity to eat. I think many a priest today, maybe your priest, would love to have that kind of pain.
Even in his day, St. Anthony’s type of Christianity was not easy. Some of his fellow priests considered him unbending and stern; still, the faithful came in droves, for him to hear their confessions. The hours he spent in the confessional, thoroughly poured out and exhausted to the point of dropping, were enough to have taken his life at 36 years old. Imagine carrying all those sins upon himself, as he took the place of Jesus, in the confessional. Maybe, the most moving quality, penitents saw in Anthony, was the compassion behind his unrelinquishing, uncompromising living out of the Gospel. With this, he could touch even the most stubborn. Maybe, as we pray for our lost loved-ones, we should try praying for St. Anthony’s intercession.
Many miracles came to pass in the confessional. One day, he was reading a list of sins, written on a piece of paper, by a penitent. To the sinner’s amazement, as the Saint read, the sins disappeared from the page.
And then there was the time, a young man confessed, among other sins, he’d kicked his mother so violently, she fell to the floor. St. Anthony, strongly detesting the outrage, burst out passionately,
“The foot that kicks the father or the mother should be cut off.”
The young man, not understanding the meaning of his words, returned home, took a hatchet and chopped off his foot. People have always delighted in bad news. Results of the severe punishment meted out, supposedly by Anthony, quickly spread throughout the city. It soon reached the ears of the hero turned monster, Anthony. He followed the youth’s grieving parents to their house. He made his way to the young man’s bedroom. He prayed, holding the severed foot close to the leg of the misguided, but repentant son. St. Anthony made the sign of the cross, and instantly the foot became attached to the leg. The young man jumped up, giving praise to the Lord and thanksgiving to Anthony, who had healed his leg in this truly miraculous way
St Anthony was a peace-maker. He was highly esteemed, not only within the Church but without, among civil authorities, as a mediator of peace. They called on him often, to bring about reconciliation. So, it was no wonder that families turned to him, confidently, to resolve their differences and bring harmony back into their lives. One day, a woman was accused of infidelity by her husband, their newborn was not his. He wanted to leave her. She turned to Anthony for help. He came and placed his hands on the couple’s baby. The infant testified to the innocence of its mother, pointing to the husband as its father.
Another miracle, chronicled by Art over the centuries, is the Miracle of the miser. St. Anthony spoke out strongly against the “tyrannical bondage” of money. He never said having money was wrong, but having money own you was. Then, as now, money
Miracle of the Miser
owned people in many ways; if you were not careful, you could not tell victim from victimizer. Times have never been easy. They certainly were not easy in Anthony’s time. People worked very hard for very little. Most people depended on farming, raising sheep, and a little fishing. When nature was hard, very often, they had to turn to money-lenders to survive.
There were those who preyed on the desperation of the poor, “…fierce beasts who rob and devour.” St. Anthony was asked to speak at the funeral of one such as these, a money-lender. Preaching at this miser’s funeral, he referred to his (miser’s) treasure chest,
“Don’t bury this corpse in sacred ground. Bury it in any other place as you would the body of an animal, because his soul is already in hell and his heart is no longer in his body. In him the words of the Gospel have already been fulfilled: `For where your treasure is, there will your heart also be.’”
Legend tells us, when they opened the body of the miser, his heart was not there, but, with his beloved money in his treasure chest.
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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.