I’ve lost a lot of things in my life, and while sometimes those things eventually are found, other times I never see them again. I often put something aside for safekeeping, and then when I’m looking for it, the item is nowhere to be found. I usually just blame my ADHD, but when it’s really difficult to find something and I just cannot locate it anywhere, I do what others also may do, and I ask St. Anthony to help me find it. Ever since I was little, we were told, “Say a prayer; St. Anthony will help you find it,” and usually the item showed up soon after the search party hit full speed. So as I was preparing for this reflection, I learned a lot about who St. Anthony was, why he’s the patron saint of lost things, and how we can find what’s missing in our lives in this new year.
Anthony was born in 1195, just thirteen years after St. Francis, in Portugal. Anthony was baptized with the name Fernando, and at the age of fifteen, having lived with his wealthy family up to that point, he left home and entered religious life in order to join the order of St. Augustine. Fernando, however, had a hard time adjusting to his new life. His friends visited frequently, and his time there was anything but peaceful and studious. After only two years, he was sent away for nine years to study Augustinian theology and become a priest. Fernando didn’t remain an Augustinian, however. He requested and was given permission to join the Franciscans after witnessing Franciscan martyrs of Portugal give all they had to preaching the Gospel. He received the name Anthony and left for Morocco, but he was blown off course and landed in Sicily. While in Italy, Anthony amazed people with his sermons and preaching, because he spoke in a way that connected with the people. Anthony became a teacher and taught other friars theology, and he was known to the people for going out to larger spaces so more people could hear him preach. He wrote volumes of sermons called Sunday Sermons and Feast Day Sermons that used allegory and simplistic pictorial expression, perfect for relating to the community he served. Just before his death, Anthony left for Padua, a place that was a central player in the study of law, and he was well received there. He died at the age of thirty-six, having been a Franciscan friar for ten years.
Many traditions have been associated with St. Anthony, especially in relation to his ability to help people find missing things. It is said that Anthony’s own book of psalms was stolen by a thief, but Anthony prayed to God that it would be found. The thief’s heart changed, and the psalter was returned to him, still intact with his notes for his students. Word spread of this miracle, and soon, others also began praying to God through Anthony for their missing things. Another tradition is called St. Anthony Bread. After someone’s prayer has been answered, and they’ve found their missing item, they present St. Anthony with a loaf of bread in thanksgiving for the small miracle. In many places, on the feast of St. Anthony, small loaves of bread are still blessed and given to the poor.
St. Anthony of Padua has been characterized as a humble and positive man, a man of incredible penance and zeal, full of courage to preach, and considered a “man of the people.” His preaching was regarded so highly that he was made a Doctor of the Church in 1946 by Pope Pius XII. The Church particularly urges us to imitate Anthony’s “love of the word of God and his prayerful efforts to understand and apply it to the situations of everyday life”, found here. In some ways, his ability to meet his fellow apostles in their own faith journeys reminds me of St. Vincent Pallotti, a priest who was another humble saint who preached and served in the many streets of Rome. Pallotti’s life was dedicated to accompanying the faithful and helping them live out the Gospel in their everyday lives. He once said, “What God demands of you is love, gratitude, and cooperation,” and I think St. Anthony would agree with him on that.
In this new year, let us put on the life of Christ as St. Anthony did. Let us share the Gospel with others simply by being a witness to the love we feel in Christ. Our message and our actions can feel lost in the hustle and bustle. We can lose ourselves in the busyness and in the daily tasks, but in 2023, let’s really take notice of what’s missing in our lives and pray that St. Anthony’s intercession can help us find anything we’ve lost.
Information from this post on Anthony’s life can be found here at: https://www.stanthony.org/who-st-anthony/
Visit our Feast Day Site to find more information about Saint Anthony, too!