Today is the feast of Saint Anthony of Padua.
For those of you who aren’t Catholic, let me first explain a little bit about our tradition of honoring the saints and seeking their intercession. The best way to understand it is to realize that we see the saints, that great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1), as our older brothers and sisters in Christ. We see them as members of Christ’s body – because that is exactly what they are. And as such, we are united with them as a part of the Christian family. The fact they they have already died does not make them any less a part of the body of Christ or any less a part of our family than our living brothers and sisters in Christ.
Most Catholics have a favorite saint or two in the same way that most people tend to have a favorite uncle or aunt or cousin. Often a Catholic will gravitate toward a particular saint because of a shared interest or vocation. Sometimes we are drawn to a saint because we find his or her story particularly moving or inspiring. Whatever the reason, when we have a favorite saint, we usually honor that saint in the same way we honor our earthly relatives on their birthdays or anniversaries. We celebrate! Sometimes entire parishes or communities will have a patron saint whose feast day is a really big deal. For example today in Boston, thousands are gathered to eat, drink, and have a parade in honor of Saint Anthony.
But we don’t just honor our favorite saints by partying on their feast days. We also seek their help in our daily lives. The primary way we do this is through prayer. This is where it gets a little uncomfortable for our Protestant brothers and sisters, so let me clarify.
When we say that we are praying to a saint, what we actually mean is that we are asking that saint to pray for us. We aren’t really praying to the saints – not is the same way we pray to God. Rather, because we know that the saints are constantly interceding before the throne of God (Rev. 5:8), we are simply asking them to pray for us and with us in the same way we ask our earthly friends and family to pray for us. Again, we are all one body – everyone both living and dead who belongs to Christ.
The saints are simply fellow Christians who we admire, love, and respect and who we go to for prayer in times of need. Our relationship with our favorite saint is never meant to stand in place of or in the way of our relationship with Jesus. The saints merely encourage us and strengthen us through example and prayer.
So, on to one of my personal favorites Saint Anthony of Padua. Saint Anthony was born in 1195 in Lisbon, Portugal. When he was a young friar, after seeing the bodies of five Franciscan martyrs returned the monastery, Anthony asked to be sent to Moslem North Africa to serve and preach (and most likely be killed). He was given permission to go, but apparently God had other plans. After becoming terribly ill and being ship wrecked, Anthony eventually ended up back in Italy where he became known for his eloquent and fiery preaching. Because of his gifts he was sent to preach to the Albigensians – heretics who believed that a good God created the spiritual world and that everything in the material world was created by an bad god and was inherently evil. They believed that Jesus was sent to deliver our spirits from our evil, material bodies.
However, Anthony’s sermons did not usually take direct issue with heresy, but rather he preferred to show the beauty and grandeur of true Christianity. He won hearts and souls for God by showing them the love and goodness of the Father.
Not only was Anthony a gifted preacher, he was also a humble servant of God. At that time, just like today, the lifestyle of some who preached the gospel was in sharp contrast to the lifestyle of the poor among them. But Saint Anthony embraced a life of poverty and service. As a result, he moved people not only by his words but also by how he lived.
If you want to know more about Saint Anthony go here or here. Anthony is the patron saint of travelers, the poor, and lost or stolen items. It’s that last one that landed Saint Anthony a special place in my heart. I know it would be much more holy to say that I was drawn to Saint Anthony by his willingness to die for his faith or for his care for the poor. But the fact is I go to Saint Anthony a lot because I lose stuff – a lot. When I’m looking for my keys, trying to find my glasses, or searching frantically for that really important thing that I put somewhere (but where?) for safekeeping, I often call on Saint Anthony to pray for me. This has seldom failed.
And just as he drew people to a deeper relationship with God by his example, his help finding my car keys is the reason I decided look more closely at the life of this saint–a life that inspires me to be a better Christian. So,thank you, Saint Anthony! And Happy Feast Day!