June 13, 2013 by lucieromarin
Today – on the Old Calendar, anyway; I can’t speak for the New – is the Feast of Saint Anthony of Padua – a thaumaturge, an orator, a visionary, a memoriser of Scripture so astonishing that he was nicknamed ‘Ark of the Covenant’ by the Pope, and an exorcist, who, despite this, ended up as the patron saint of lost articles.
How did he come by this patronage? I do not know, though it may be a sort of trickle-down effect from an earlier practice of invoking him in relation to shipwrecks; he’s also the patron of lost persons. However, he certainly doesn’t consider himself above his modern-day assignments. This time last year, I lost my wallet, which contained not only important bits of plastic, but also my rent. Heartrending pleas to St Anthony ensued. A few days later, the wallet manifested itself wedged behind an empty flowerpot, which was itself wedged behind the back gate.
Some time later, my parents lost a mobile phone (one of those fancy ones that contain your whole life – not just your contacts list.) Weeks of anguished searching followed.
“You need to put up an image of St Anthony and offer him a donation to charity,” I said.
“Why?” they said.
“Because St Anthony likes poor people,” I answered, “and that’s what he does.”
This proved irrefutable; up went an image of St Anthony, and my parents offered the donation of a Mass via the Cardinal Kung foundation.
My father rang me.
“We haven’t found the phone,” he said. “But we’ve found a twenty-year-old camera we thought we’d lost. Are you sure this is the thing?”
“You only offered him one Mass,” I said. “You have, like, two incomes. How much do you want this phone?”
My parents returned to St Anthony, read more about Cardinal Kung, and quadrupled their offering.
The next day, the phone was found. It was wedged in a flowerpot in their back garden.
I can think of two other classes of people who should invoke this saint (other than people like me and my parents, who, apparently, throw our possessions into flowerpots in their sleep.)
One class is (are?) those who love his nickname ‘The Hammer of Heretics’ and aspire to its imitation. See, the thing is that St Anthony wasn’t a self-appointed Hammer. He would never have preached at all, were it not for a series of providential coincidences and the orders of his legitimate superiors. Once he was stuck with the job, he did it well – but he never sought it.
The other class is (are?) those confused or disappointed by their vocations or careers. We think of St Anthony as having some kind of wonderful life, bilocating around the place, ticking off bishops from the pulpit, converting heretics, holding the Infant Lord and so on. But he reached the kind of holiness that manifests itself this way by accepting the continual frustration of his actual hopes. He wanted to preach and die in Morocco. Illness kept him from getting there. He then decided to go to Italy, and was blown off course by a storm, to another place that also rejected him on account of illness. He, who wanted to be a martyr, ended up half a hermit and half a kitchen-hand in a rural hospice where his order had put him because they couldn’t think of anything more suitable for this sickly friar.
Just think of that: Saint Anthony became a wonder-worker because he loved God while sweeping kitchens and feeling ill and not complaining about not getting to be a martyr. He is the tenderness of a moment’s embrace with the Infant Jesus. He is the humility of silence and pot-scrubbing labour. He is the kindness that can be bothered to care about everyone else’s daily bread (never resenting the triviality of these requests compared to the depth of his own meditations.) He is the triumph of preaching over hearts and minds. He, like St Joseph, is the terror of demons. He joined the Franciscans so he could go to Morocco. And he never got there.