The Impact of God – The Evangelical Mission of St. Anthony of Padua
Today is the feast of St. Anthony of Padua! He was a man who was extraordinarily blessed by God and given numerous charisms, all of which he used to build up the Church. He had the gift of preaching, teaching, prophecy, knowledge, faith, healing and mercy. Such was the level of sanctifying grace within his soul that he was one of the few privileged enough to receive the gift of miracles. He was a true disciple of St. Francis of Assisi, who lived a radical life of faith. He is invoked as the saint of the lost items. But his real mission was to gather in the lost sheep and reconcile them to God. It is all his gifts that got me thinking.
A couple of months back, I attended a fascinating lay formation seminar on Charisms (talents). At our baptism when we are reborn as children of God, we are each given a unique gift of the Holy Spirit. It is a supernatural gift that God gives us for the benefit of others, for his purposes of building up the Mystical Body. Traditionally, these are referred to as Gifts of the Holy Spirit and extraordinary graces! St. Paul gives a list of these gifts in his first letter to the Corinthians:
To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit. To one is given through the Spirit the expression of wisdom; to another the expression of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit; to another mighty deeds; to another prophecy; to another discernment of spirits; to another varieties of tongues; to another interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing them individually to each person as he wishes” 1 Cor 12:7-11
Did you see the list? It was: Teaching, knowledge, faith, healing, prophecy, etc. But other gifts of the Holy Spirit may include prayer, leadership, mercy, encouragement, celibacy, hospitality, writing, and many more. Discovering what our charism is takes time. You know you have a certain charism when you can see the effect it has on others. For instance, if you have a charism for teaching, people actually learn. If you have a charism for prayer, people benefit from your prayers.
St. Anthony’s story helps us find our own charisms!
The Church honors St. Anthony as the “Evangelical Doctor” of the Church because of his gift of preaching and homiletics, and it is this charism that I would like to focus on. It was a charism that took St. Anthony by surprise, but if you look at the circumstances of his life, it seems that God was working things toward this end the whole time.
St. Anthony was born in Lisbon, Portugal in 1195 A.D. He entered religious life at the age of 15, in an Augustinian monastery, first in Lisbon and then in Coimbra. He spent 10 uneventful years studying the early Church Fathers and Scripture. But the monastery was filled with internal bickering and politics. On a fateful day in 1220, the relics of five Franciscan martyrs who had been killed in Morocco came to Coimbra and the entire town came out to pay homage. St. Anthony was moved by the experience. He longed to live a more radical life of faith, as witnessed by the martyrs. He was impressed with the Franciscan life of poverty, simplicity and contemplation. So, with the blessing of his superior, he joined the Franciscans and headed off to Morocco.
He didn’t get very far. Once he landed in Morocco, he became seriously ill. The sickness was so bad, that he decided to turn around and go home. However, his ship hit a storm and landed in Sicily. He stayed there to recover, and once he had regained his health, he headed to Assisi, where St. Francis had called the Chapter of Mats. Over five thousand people gathered around St. Mary of the Angels, including St. Dominic, founder of the Order of Preachers, as well as many Cardinals, bishops, priests, barons and knights. It was an army of holy warriors, who prayed and listened to sermons as preparation for mission.
Although St. Anthony had an opportunity to see and listen to St. Francis, he did not speak with him. St. Anthony seems to have blended in with the crowd, and no one took notice of him. [Ed. note – one could say he “got lost” in the crowd…] He wasn’t fluent in the language, and didn’t know anyone. However, he met a Friar named Gratian, and he asked him if he could join his hermitage in Montepaolo.
In Montepaolo, St. Anthony led a quiet life of prayer, contemplation, and service. It is also during his time there that he became a priest. The ordination included not only St. Anthony, but also some Dominicans as well. After the ordination ceremony, a meal was prepared and it was decided that one of the newly ordained should give a brief homily. Everyone assumed one of the Dominicans would do it, since they were the Orders of Preachers, but none of them felt prepared and would not volunteer. Friar Gratian then turned to Anthony and asked him to do it. He told him not to worry, just to keep it simple. Anthony was hesitant at first, but out of obedience, he agreed.
Now, Anthony was unusual for a Franciscan in that he had been an Augustinian Canon prior to joining the order, therefore he was well educated. Most of the Franciscans at the time were not well educated and St. Francis liked it that way. He believed that book learning only led to unnecessary curiosity and distracted his friars from contemplation and prayer.
When Anthony began to speak, he was a little shaky and nervous. But soon, the Holy Spirit took hold of him and his profound knowledge and understanding of the scriptures blew everyone away. So impressive was this sermon, that it reached the ears of St. Francis. Soon Anthony was commission by St. Francis to not only preach, but to teach theology to the friars.
What gets rarely mentioned about St. Anthony is that he was the first theologian of the Franciscan Order.
Thus began his new apostolate. Upper Italy and Southern France at the time were the strongholds of heresy, especially the Cathari and Albigensians. Anthony was sent there to preach the Gospel and gather the lost sheep who had fallen away. His preaching was so effective that he earned the nickname “The Hammer of Heretics.” But it is important to note that his preaching style was not confrontational, like you see in many comboxes today. All he did was open up the scriptures for the faithful, and explain them according to the mind of the early Church Fathers. He used the four senses of scripture – literal or historical, allegorical, moral, and anagogical. But most of all, it was Christological. He brought the scriptures to life and allowed the Word to feed souls. Because he understood human nature and how easy it is to lapse into sin, he often urged his hearers to avoid pride and impurity and instead focus on charity, for he said “charity is the soul of faith, it gives life, without love, faith dies”.
It is said that Pope Gregory IX called St. Anthony to preach in Rome. Over 30,000 people gathered to hear his sermon. People were gathered from all over the world and each heard the sermon according to their own language. It was another Pentecost.
Because Pope Gregory IX knew St. Anthony personally, and was present at this miracle, he declared him a saint only 11 months after he died.
St. Anthony is one only person. Imagine what would happen if we each one of us used our heavenly charism in service of the Church!
St. Anthony, pray for us! help each of us to find and to use these special talents for God’s glory!
A couple years ago, scientists and an artist set out to recreate St. Anthony’s face from analyzing his skull. It was reported on by the St. Anthony Messenger. The face is here.
This article, The Impact of God – The Evangelical Mission of St. Anthony of Padua is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
Do not repost the entire article without written permission. Reasonable excerpts may be reposted so long as it is linked to this page.