O God, you are the source of
all our gifts and talents.
We thank you for the many gifts
that you gave Fernando of Lisbon
(later Anthony of Padua).
Help us to see our own talents
as coming from you and intended to
lead others to you.
Help us always to cooperate
generously with your grace.
In almost 11 years as a Friar Minor, Anthony had six very different ministries in three countries. Today we might ask, “Why couldn’t he keep a job?” The answer is very simple: His talents were so broad and well developed that he excelled at each of the ministries to which he was assigned.
A significant part of his success as a Friar Minor is due to the 10 years that he spent as a member of the Canons of St. Augustine. Fernando Bulhom joined them in 1210 at their house in Lisbon. Seeking more distance from friends in that city, he transferred to the Augustinian house in Coimbra two years later. It was there that the remains of five friars martyred in Morocco were brought in 1220.
Already ordained in Coimbra, Fernando received permission to join the Friars Minor and made his novitiate in Coimbra, hoping to be assigned to North Africa and perhaps be martyred there as well. He took his religious name from the local friary’s patron, Saint Anthony of the Desert, an Egyptian hermit who later became an abbot in the third and fourth centuries. Like his saintly patron who went from being a hermit to the head of a monastery, Anthony of Coimbra would serve God and the Church through a variety of ministries.
Are we open to what God may be asking of us today?
“When it is dark, we do not see how dusty and dirty our house is. Only when the place is flooded with sunlight do we realize its awful condition. So we need the light of God’s grace to show us the real state of our soul and induce us to clean up our hearts!”
You wanted to reveal yourself to the
human family by means of your
inspired word, the Scriptures.
Give us hearts able to resist the
temptation, as Anthony did,
to reinforce what we like there
and minimize what we find extremely
challenging, whatever will require
a deeper conversion on our part.
Anthony had an extraordinary knowledge of Scripture, thanks to the natural gifts that were expanded by his excellent education as an Augustinian canon. He had committed so many biblical passages to memory that some of his contemporaries said that if the Scriptures were lost, he could recreate them from memory! That’s certainly an exaggeration, but he had a phenomenal memory that led not to overbearing pride but to ever-deeper humility. God’s self-revelation in the Bible was not given for anyone’s personal advantage.
Anthony moved from knowledge about the Scriptures to the divine wisdom they are intended to share. Francis of Assisi would later caution the friars about becoming puffed up because of their ability to quote many passages from the Bible. That temptation was one that Anthony quickly and consistently rejected, partly because Anthony was well acquainted with Scripture commentaries by Saints Augustine, Jerome, and other Church fathers.
In Anthony’s day, the Catholic Church’s fiercest critics loved to contrast biblical passages with current events clearly reflecting non-biblical values. For example, Jesus said that the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head (Mt 8:20), but a local bishop or abbot might then be involved in a nasty fight over land and a contested inheritance.
Do we follow Anthony’s example in allowing the word of Christ to dwell in us richly (Col 3:16)?
“You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart. Notice that Christ says: Your whole heart. He doesn’t say: Leave a corner of your heart for yourself. He bought the whole of you by giving his whole self for you, that he alone might possess every part of you. Do not try to hold back any part of yourself….If you really wish to have the whole, then give it all to him, and he will give you all of himself.”
God of infinite love and compassion,
you inspired St. Anthony to be a
missionary, willing to lay down his life
in spreading your Good News.
In Baptism, you have made us missionaries.
Show us how to live your Good News with
zeal and humility, neither one cancelling
out the other. May each of these
virtues lead us to accept any change of
plans that you may have in store for us.
Anthony was a missionary in Morocco for less than a year (1220-21). Little is known about those months except that Anthony became so ill that his superiors decided to send him back home. When his ship went aground off the coast of Sicily, Anthony was welcomed by the Friars Minor in Messina and soon joined them on their journey to Assisi for the 1221 Chapter of Mats celebrated at the Portiuncula (chapel of St. Mary of the Angels) around the feast of Pentecost.
At these chapters, friars would share stories about what God was doing in their lives since they had last met. Francis of Assisi was still alive, but we have no record of any words he exchanged with Anthony—if there were any. There will approximately 3,000 friars at this chapter.
After they had heard exhortations from Francis and confessed their failings, the friars would collectively decide on new areas of ministry. In 1217, the friars chose to establish a presence in the Holy Land, for example. Friars at the Chapter of Mats would be reassigned to new ministries or return to the ones in which they were already engaged.
Apparently, there was no thought that Anthony would return to Portugal or to Sicily. The provincial minister in Italy’s Romagna region needed a friar priest to celebrate Mass for the friars at their hermitage in Montepaolo (near Forlì).
Anthony joined the friars with one goal (to be a foreign missionary) but happily engaged in other ministries. Do we show similar flexibility?
“The avaricious man is really not rich, but poor. He does not control his money, but is controlled by it. He does not possess his wealth, but is possessed by it. He may have many things, yet for him he has all too little.”
O God, lover of the human family,
help us to overcome our fear
of drawing closer to you, a fear that
a deeper conversion will be required of us.
Lead us to the delights of living
generously in your grace,
no matter where it may lead us
and no matter what changes it may
inspire us to make.
All glory and praise to you forever.
Anthony had sought greater solitude as an Augustinian canon in Coimbra, but that city served as a royal capital and attracted many visitors. He would find much greater solitude at Montepaolo because there were only three other friars in that hermitage. The custom was for two friars to engage in more intense prayer (the Marys) while the other two looked after them (the Marthas), based on the biblical story.
Anthony was quite content there, but a visit to nearby Forlì and the accidental discovery of his preaching talent changed all that. The Friars Minor and the Friars Preacher were there, but there was some confusion: Who was responsible for preaching that day?
Anthony’s guardian delegated him to preach. He responded with a riveting sermon about the obedience of Christ. Who knew that this hermitage chaplain was also an excellent preacher? Anthony had no personal life plan to become one of Italy’s most famous preachers, but he had a rare talent, practical sense, and a deep humility—a combination not easy to find. His years of study and his year in the hermitage at Montepaolo led him more deeply into the divine wisdom that he was eager to share.
Are we moving more deeply into divine wisdom?
“Nothing apart from God can satisfy the human heart, which is truly in search of God.”
Lord Jesus, you were a master teacher
through your words and deeds.
Give us the humility to draw closer to you,
especially through the study of your
self-revelation in the Bible.
Help us quiet our self-assurance long
enough to allow your liberating word
to take deeper root in our hearts.
We ask this also in the name of God the
Father and God the Holy Spirit.
Anthony’s knowledge of the Scriptures and his ability to apply them to daily life led to an assignment from Saint Francis himself: Anthony should go to Bologna and teach Scripture to the young friars.
Francis cautioned that this study should not extinguish the friars’ spirit of prayer and holy devotion. He need not have worried that Anthony might lead the young friars in that direction. Spreading the Good News required zeal, knowledge, and humility. Anthony had all three and would encourage his students to develop the same virtues, yet according to their individual gifts.
Begun in the 11th century, the university in Bologna is Europe’s oldest. The friars’ theology school there was not formally connected with this university in Anthony’s day, but both the Friars Minor and Friars Preacher developed major study centers there. In the 13th century, studying theology meant primarily studying Scripture. Anthony was well qualified to teach young friars how to break open the word of God for the benefit of God’s people.
Is my spiritual life sufficiently rooted in the Scriptures?
“Today Christ stands at the door and knocks in the person of his poor. It is to him that we open when we give aid, when we give ourselves to those in need. For he tells us plainly, ‘Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me’ (Mt 25:40).”
Loving God, in many ways
you prepared Anthony to be
an outstanding preacher of your
grace and mercy.
His actions never undercut what
he had just preached.
Help us constantly to witness
by word and deed to your unfailing love,
constantly inviting others to embrace
your overflowing love and forgiveness.
A crisis in southern France prompted Anthony’s reassignment there between 1224 and 1227. The town of Albi was ground zero for a group that adamantly regarded everything spiritual as good and everything material as evil.
Therefore, they rejected the Incarnation, the sacraments, and especially the Eucharist. All of these relied entirely too much on “the flesh” in their view.
Encountering these Albigensians (known elsewhere as Cathars, Greek for “the pure”) led Dominic Guzman, who was traveling to Rome with his bishop, to establish in 1216 the Order of Preachers to try to win them back to the Catholic faith. There had been an unsuccessful Church-sponsored Crusade against the Albigensians (1208). Catholic preachers whose theology was orthodox but whose lifestyle imitated the rich could never stem the tide of this new movement.
In addition to preaching, Anthony was put in charge of a custody (subunit of a Franciscan province). One of the most famous stories about Anthony occurred in France. A young friar decided to leave the Order, taking with him a handwritten copy of the New Testament, a very valuable book in pre-Gutenberg days. Anthony prayed for at least the book’s return. The man brought it back and rejoined the friars, going on to lead an exemplary life until his death. Thus, Anthony was linked to finding lost objects. More importantly, many people have found anew a faith that previously seemed lifeless and useless.
Am I allowing the Incarnation to influence every aspect of my life?
“When a crystal is touched or struck by the rays of the sun, it gives forth brilliant sparks of light. When the man of faith is touched by the light of God’s grace, he too must shine with his good words and deeds, and so bring God’s light to others.”
Lord Jesus, when you wanted to
give your disciples an unforgettable
example of servant leadership, you
washed their feet.
Help us always to remember that
your power is never given to anyone for
its own sake but always for the service
of our sisters and brothers.
Show us how to speak your truth in
love, whatever the circumstances.
Francis of Assisi died in 1226 during Anthony’s ministry in France. The story is told that while Anthony was once preaching at a regional meeting of the friars there, the now-deceased Francis appeared at the door, a sign of support for what Anthony was saying. In those days, provincial ministers (regional leaders of the friars) were appointed by the minister general (worldwide leader of the Order).
It probably came as no surprise that Anthony was chosen to lead the friars all across northern Italy. He did that between 1227 and 1230, spending most of his name visiting the friars and encouraging the older friars in their ministries and preparing younger ones to accept more serious responsibilities.
During these years Anthony became linked to the city of Padua although he did not live their permanently until he had completed his service as provincial minister. The friars were already well established in Genova, Torino, Milano, Trento, Bozen, Brixen, Bologna, Padua, Venezia, and many other cities. Bishops were usually quite happy to invite friars to minister in their dioceses.
By the time that Anthony became a provincial minister, the Pentecost chapter was no longer attended by all the friars but only by the provincials and a few other friars. During the Chapter of 1230, a question arose among the friars that required a decision by Pope Gregory IX. Anthony was chosen to be part of a delegation to represent the friars in this matter.
Do I see leadership as a possession to be jealously guarded or as an opportunity to serve?
“During the meal, Jesus took bread, blessed it and broke it as a sign that his body would be broken, too, through his freely accepted death. The humanity of Christ is like the grape because it was crushed in the winepress of the cross so that his blood flowed forth over all the earth…. ‘This is my blood of the new covenant, which shall be shed for many unto the forgiveness of sins.’ How great is the charity of the beloved! How great the love of the Bridegroom for his spouse, the Church!”
Lord Jesus, Scripture tells us
that you were like us in
every way—except sin.
We know, however, that you
did not live long enough to
enjoy a time of retirement.
Lead us to appreciate every
season of life, always able to
see your loving providence
at work—even if it may seem at
times to be hiding.
Anthony’s retirement as provincial minister lasted less than a year. He spent most of that time writing sermon notes for the feasts of major saints. He had already written sermon notes for Sundays, holy days of obligation, and feasts of Mary. In those years the same Scripture readings were used every year, for example, on the First Sunday of Advent.
When he knew that his health was seriously declining, he asked to be taken back to Padua. In fact, he died along the way at the Poor Clare monastery in Arcella. The local people understandably wanted him buried there. The friars, however, managed to bring his body back to Padua where construction of the present basilica began immediately.
Father Luke Belludi, Anthony’s companion on his last preaching journeys, lived for another 30 years and served as a living link to the man who was formally canonized within 12 months of his death—a record that still stands.
Am I willing to be mentored? To mentor someone?
“No one is closer to us than he who healed our wounds. For the Head is one with his members. Let us therefore love him as our Lord and God.”
Triune God, we thank you for
drawing us to yourself through
the gift of your grace and the
example of the saints, especially
Anthony of Padua.
Lead us to follow him in never
fearing that you might ask for
a conversion beyond what we
can offer you, our ever-gracious God.
Was Anthony’s faith when he died in 1231 the same as when he became a Friar Minor in 1220? In many ways yes, but in other important ways no. In those intervening years, he had experienced God’s grace in new ways and encountered new challenges to faith.
Some people speak of their faith as though it is a diamond to be safeguarded in a bank vault. Other people speak of their faith as the result of incorporating the joys and sorrows of life into a seamless response to God’s inexhaustible grace.
Is my faith primarily an object or a relationship with God? How I answer that question determines the role of religious conversion in my life. As a disciple of Jesus, my faith has content—I believe some things and because of that don’t believe other things. But clarity about content arises from the growth of my relationship with Jesus. Without that growth, the content can easily become a hollow shell.
Every ministry led Anthony into some deeper conversion and openness to God’s grace. We follow Anthony not by replicating the details of his ministry but by allowing our faith to grow as much as his did.
Am I allowing my faith to grow as God wants it to grow?
“We beg you, Lord Jesus, bind us with the love of you and our neighbor so that we can love you deeply with our whole heart, and not be separated from you.”