St Anthony of Padua, whose feast is on June 13th, is an eloquent example of what it means to live the Gospel amid the challenges of everyday life.
As I write this reflection spontaneously comes to my mind and heart the thought Pope Francis wrote in his letter to Friar Carlos Alberto Trovarelli, Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor Conventual in the occasion of the eighth centenary of the death of the Franciscan Protomartyrs and the entry into the Friars Minor of the Augustinian Canon Fernando of Lisbon, taking the name of Antonio. This letter bears the date of February 15, 2020.
I hope that this significant anniversary will arouse, especially in the Franciscan Religious and the devotees of St. Anthony around the world, the desire to experience the same holy restlessness that prompted St. Anthony to travel the roads of the world bearing witness, through word and deed, to the love of God. May his example of sharing in the difficulties of families, the poor and disadvantaged, as well as his passion for truth and justice, still arouse in us today a generous commitment to give of ourselves as a sign of fraternity.
A powerful aspect in St Anthony’s life is undoubtedly his preaching. From it we learn a great deal as to how we are to live authentically as Christians. In his homily on Septuagesima, which was part of the three Sundays cycle, namely Septuagesima, Sexagesima and Quinquagesima, which fell in betwenn the Epiphany season and the beginning of Lent, St Anthony teaches: The breadth of charity widens the narrow heart of the sinner (no.1). What a splendid way to prepare oneself for the graced time of Lent!
For Anthony Christ’s humanity is a school of humility for the sinner. Within the same homily St Anthony says: O Father, in your Truth (that is to say, in your Son, humbled, needy and homeless) you have humbled me. He was humbled in the womb of the Virgin, needy in the manger of the sheep, and homeless on the wood of the Cross. Nothing so humbles the proud sinner as the humility of Jesus Christ’s humanity (no.6).
Moreover, for us and our salvation Christ made himself a victim to save us by His love. In his sermon the Passion of Christ St Anthony says: Alas, alas! He who is the liberty of captives is made a prisoner. He who is the Glory of the angels is mocked. The God of all is scourged. The spotless mirror of the eternal Light is spat upon. The Life of mortals is killed. What is there left for us poor wretches to do but go and die with him? Draw us forth from the mire, Lord Jesus, with the hook of your Cross; so that we may run, not to your sweetness, but to the bitterness of your Passion (no.14).
Every soul is given the opportunity to know God. In his sermon on the two-fold glorification, that is of soul and body, Anthony writes: The wisdom of God is reflected in the face of the soul: she will see God as he is, and she will know as she is known (no.22).
As was central to St Francis the humanity of Christ keeps inspiring Anthony in his preaching. The hub of our spirituality and life as Christians, according to the great preacher, should always be Christ’s heart. In fact, in a sermon which the saint preached at the abbey of St Martin in Limoges Anthony said: So the religious soul finds in the heart of Jesus a secure refuge against the wiles and attacks of Satan, and a delightful retreat. But we must not rest merely at the entrance to the hole in the rock, we must penetrate its depths. At the mouth of the deep hollow, at the mouth of the wound in his side we shall, indeed, find the precious blood which has redeemed us. This blood pleads for us and demands mercy for us. But the religious soul must not stay at the entrance. When she has heard, and understood, the voice of the divine blood, she must hasten to the very source from which it springs, into the very innermost sanctuary of the heart of Jesus. There she will find light, peace, and ineffable consolations.
In another sermon, this time the third one on the annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Anthony talks about Mary’s holiness which is rooted in her glorious humanity. He says: Look upon the rainbow: that is, consider the beauty, holiness and dignity of blessed Mary; and bless with heart and mouth and deed her Son, who made her thus. In the brightness of her holiness she is very beautiful, beyond all daughters of God. She has encompassed the heaven about (that is, she has enclosed the divinity) within the circle of her glory, her glorious humanity (no. 6).
In of his sermons, precisely that of the fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost, St Anthony talks about the way we can keep God’s presence in our minds, namely being what God wants us to be. He says: Do you want to have God always in your mind? Be just as he made you to be. Do not go seeking another “you”. Do not make yourself otherwise than he made you. Then you will always have God in mind (no. 5).
In his loving mercy God grafts his own image and likeness on the soul and in that manner He revives it. In his sermon concerning contrition of heart St Anthony says: The Lord breathes the breath of life, contrition of heart, into the face of the soul when he impresses upon it his own image and likeness, which has been soiled by sin, and renews it (no.3).
Furthermore, St Anthony reminds us that the soul is the one which gives life to the body and Christ is the one who enlivens the soul. In his homily concerning the finding of the Holy Cross the great Franciscan preacher preaches: The life of the body is the soul, the life of the soul is Christ. (no.7).
Finally, in his sermon about the contrition of heart St Anthony drives home the point that we as sinners have dignity thanks to a God who is so approachable to us. Due to this we, as repentant sinners, ought to have and live with a humble heart. How great is the kindness of God! How great is the dignity of the penitent! He who lives in eternity dwells in the heart of the humble and in the soul of the penitent! It is the mark of a truly contrite heart that it humbles itself in everything, reckoning itself no more than a dead dog and a mere flea(no.4).
Saint Anthony, the great preacher of God, help us by your intercession to always humble ourselves before Christ’s most humble and total love for us. Amen.