GBAJA, SURULERE, LAGOS
ABOUT ST. ANTHONY OF PADUA
ST. ANTHONY was born in Portugal in 1195; on 15th August according to Baroque tradition. He was the son of the nobleman, Martino de Buglioni and Donna Maria Taveira, who lived a few metres away from the cathedral. He was christened with the name Fernando.
He spent his formative years under the cultured guidance of the canons of the cathedral. Many of his school companions were boys who were considering the priesthood as a career. It is likely that young Fernando's commitment to join the priesthood was born among his close friends. In fact, the moral mediocrity and corruption of the society around him convinced Anthony to choose this path. He entered the Augustinian monastery of St. Vincent, outside the walls of Lisbon, where he lived uncompromisingly according to his evangelical ideal. Among the Augustinians: He stayed at St. Vincent for approximately two years. But, distracted by continuous visits from friends, he asked to be transferred elsewhere. He thus undertook his first great journey to Coimbra, then the capital of Portugal. The new monastery of Santa Cruz was about 230 km from Lisbon. He was seventeen years old and was to live in this monastery of nearly 70 members for eight years from 1212 to 1220.
These were very important years in the young saint's humanistic and intellectual development. He was surrounded with good teachers and a vast, up-to-date library. Fernando completely dedicated himself to the study of human and theological sciences in an attempt to remove himself from the tensions in the community. The years in Coimbra left a deep mark on the future apostle's personality and existential development. Moreover, he already began to show signs of his solitary nature. He was a man indifferent to outward appearances and ostentations of any kind, without social ambitions or a desire to be seen in public, unless spurred on by the duty of spreading the Gospel. When it was time to leave Coimbra, he had become a man of mature stature. His theological training, based on a solid biblical and patristic tradition, had been firmly engrained.
Fernando the priest: Fernando was ordained a priest in the monastery of Santa Cruz in Coimbra, probably in 1220.This would have made him twenty-five years old, and it thus appears that the canonical rule which forbids ordination before the age of thirty was for some reason waived for Fernando
Saint Anthony was a Franciscan: Obviously, because in 1220 he left the Augustinian Order and joined the followers of Francis of Assisi, becoming a "minor monk." Son and disciple of Francis, but broadly speaking, toned down, original. Anthony is deeply "Franciscan," but he lived his "Franciscanism" with his own particular spiritual sensibility, with his temperament and on the basis of his cultural formation, in addition to the pure and simple testimony of the Gospel.
When did Francis and Anthony meet? What are the differences and the originalities that distinguish them? What are the convergences, the elements in common between the two saints? What kind of Franciscan was Anthony? Is it possible to speak of a direct dependence on Francis and his spirituality? The two saints were contemporaries for six years, from 1220 to 1226, in the order of the Minor Monks. Their personal contacts, as far as we know, were minimal, spread out over three brief meetings.
We know that Saint Anthony participated at the General Chapter of the Mats, celebrated in Assisi in May 1221. It lasted about one week and a varied assembly of 3,000 monks participated in it. Anthony, among the crowd, saw Francis and heard him speak. That is it. We have no evidence of a meeting between the two saints. Given the situation, it would have been impossible. Francis was overburdened with problems, thick and urgent, and he was not in good health. His time was carefully scheduled. Those attending were disorderly. Anthony was only a young novice, unknown by anyone, back from a failed missionary expedition: he was a personality that had yet to emerge.
The only testimony we have of a second contact between the two is an affectionate note, full of veneration and esteem, that Francis sent to Anthony "his bishop," between the end of 1223 and the beginning of 1224 in Bologna. With this, he authorised him to teach theology to the monks, but asking him to ensure that this did not interfere with prayer. The significance of that note is that Francis invested Anthony with the role of preacher and teacher of theology ex cathedra. It is the historic seal on Anthony's decision and the way in which Anthony embarked on the road of predication. The note also represents the direction which the Franciscan movement would take: to come into line with the pastoral needs required by the historical and the ecclesiastical moment, as their Dominican contemporaries had decided. Another sign of this direction was a change in the style of predication: the modus concionandi, typical of Francis, was completely set aside to return to the development of a traditional religious sermon, which the saint enriched and elaborated upon.
A third "meeting" has Francis as its main actor. He appeared at the Chapter of Arles, in 1224 (the days of the stigmata!), while Anthony was holding a sermon for the monks on the theme of the cross. Only one monk, Monaldo, had a vision, not even Anthony did; the others participated in its presence only indirectly. However, this was still in the context of an assembly, not an intimate, friendly meeting held apart in confidence. The image of the praedicator is the one that most commonly identifies Anthony's presence in the Franciscan Sources. It is interesting to note the reference to an assembly - during a Chapter - of monks convened to be prepared for predication by scholarly men like Anthony.
The Saint the world loves: Saint Anthony is the most well-known and loved saint in the world. Millions of pilgrims and faithful, from all round the world, visit his Basilica in Padua every year. There isn't a church in the world which doesn't have an altar, painting, statue, fresco, or niche dedicated to St. Anthony, not to mention the countless little statues and small holy pictures in people's homes. Many associations in the world have been founded and operate in the name of Saint Anthony, and express his charitable presence. For centuries, millions of people across the world have revealed themselves to be devoted to St. Anthony with a love and veneration which is never diminished or obscured.
Why is this affection, this love, so strong, wide-spread and spontaneous? What is the secret of this affectionate and faithful trust in St. Anthony? What are the characteristics of this special relationship? The faithful recognize St. Anthony for what he has always does for them. Above all, he is a confidential listener. He is the intercessor of the poor, and enters into a dialogue with whoever needs to share physical or spiritual suffering. Many do not even know where he was born, they know nothing about his life or his teaching, but they have experienced him as a protector and a benefactor in their lives.
St. Anthony is a companion in our daily lives. He is not only a giver of graces and favours to whom we turn when we are in need. He is an older brother, a best friend, always ready and willing to help others, whatever their problems, big or small. The faithful ask him for light in their existence. They ask him to help those who are lost, to console those who suffer, to assist the poor and forgotten. They recognize and love him with the lily (the purity and transparency of life), with the baby Jesus (sign of tender and freely-given love), and the book (the Word of God).
The faithful feel that Saint Anthony is an intercessor and benefactor in the name of God. St. Anthony is the face of the caring goodness of God, who reveals Himself, and becomes a concrete and tangible reality. St. Anthony is thought of as a merciful and delicate call to conversion and to penitence.
Love expressed in devotion: As well as personal prayers, devotion to St. Anthony has manifested itself over the centuries in several different ways which are still in use today and which we will briefly examine.
The hand on the Tomb: This is the most characteristic gesture of pilgrims to the Basilica of St. Anthony. As well as expressing the desire for concrete contact with the Saint, this is a gesture of faith and trust, accompanied by a silent heartfelt prayer. Attention is focused on the Saint, not so much by means statues or other images which can be found throughout the basilica, but rather by his tomb.
The Tredicina: This term refers to the thirteen days of preparation for the feast of St. Anthony which is on the 13 June. The Tredicina is still celebrated at the Basilica as well as at other shrines dedicated to St. Anthony and in many Franciscan churches and private homes. This term also signifies a prayer which is articulated in thirteen parts, which like an invocation focuses on the most significant aspects of the life and holiness of Anthony, alternating them with the most common prayers of Christian devotion.
The Transit: Once celebrated with many and varied prayers and chants, the transit is still a striking ceremony. It recalls the last moments of St. Anthony's earthly life: arriving closer to death, he asked to be carried on a carriage driven by oxen from Camposampiero to Padua, where he wanted to die. Having reached Arcella he was forced to stop and there he died serenely, comforted by the vision of Jesus. He died on Friday 13 June 1231, at dusk. It is for this reason that the friars of the Basilica commemorate the moment of transit every Friday night, with a simple but moving ceremony.
The "Si quaeris": These are the first words in Latin (translated: If you seek) with which perhaps the most well-known prayer in honour of St. Anthony begins. It is thus sought after by the many faithful who come to the Basilica, and therefore can be found in many pamphlets and prayer books, as well as here. Set to music by famous composers who were organists or choir masters at the Basilica, the text dates back to Fr. Giuliano da Spira who composed it in 1235, as the responsory of the Rhythmic Office (now called the Liturgy of the hours) for the feast of Saint Anthony. It is called responsorial (from the Latin
respondère, meaning to answer) in that the soloist proclaims or sings a text, and the choir responds using the same expressions or words of a similar content.
The entrusting of children: Saint Anthony was particularly fond of children. Among his miracles, whilst he was alive, more than one involved children. It is for this reason that there is the widespread tradition of placing children under his protection right from birth. From this custom followed the tradition of dressing children in a little Franciscan habit to thank the Saint for his protection and to make it known to others
Blessing of objects: In the Chapel of Blessings, the faithful love to have their personal objects blessed. Beyond the inevitable exaggeration, you mustn't underestimate the need for concreteness in popular devotion and the painful experiences that urge many faithful to seek these blessings. Often religious objects are blessed, objects which the faithful want to take home as a long-lasting and visible remembrance of the encounter with grace in the Basilica; or which are to be given to loved ones in order to offer them the protection of the Saint. Sometimes the faithful bring photos of family members who were dramatically stricken by illness or whose lives are falling apart; occasionally they bring an item of clothing, some food or drink to take to someone who is fighting to stay alive.
The motives for these humble gestures of supplication are never completely revealed, not even to the priest. The value of faith is certainly too vibrant and pressing not to induce pilgrims to disregard the numerous forms of frivolity and their normal routine.
The bread of Saint Anthony: In some Franciscan churches or, those which are particularly linked to Saint Anthony, on his feast day (13 June) it is common to bless bread, which is then handed out to the faithful and eaten as a sign of devotion. In some countries it is the faithful who take the initiative. Such devotion certainly derives from the programme "bread of the poor" which in the past was very common in churches. Today, near the Basilica, Saint Anthony's Charities and the bread of Saint Anthony, two humanitarian organisations, give aid in a material way to the needy. The accentuated and complex phenomenon of charity which revolves around the Basilica depends on the generosity of pilgrims who leave offerings to help the poor. However this is merely a continuation of the long-standing tradition of giving back to St. Anthony what has been received in the form of graces, assistance and favours granted, much like the mother who, having seen her child cured at the hands of St. Anthony, decided for a certain period of time to offer her child's weight in bread to the monastery so that it could be distributed to mothers in need..
Messages of supplication to Saint Anthony: Many devoted write to Saint Anthony. "When you go to the Tomb of Saint Anthony you will have a lot to say. You cannot say it all as there isn't time. There are lots of people who like you have lots of things to confide to him. You would like however to leave him something of your own, something that can remain there in your place, something for him to remember you by, in order to prolong a dialogue which time and haste interrupt too soon." Leaving a note, a prayer, a petition or a message for St Anthony is a sign of devotion on the part of the faithful. These are messages which demonstrate a close and spontaneous relationship unrestricted by language or nationality. At the entrance to the Basilica the faithful can find special cards on which they can write to St. Anthony telling him what is in their hearts. Once written, these card are placed at St. Anthony's tomb. It is a very personal sign which remains there next to St. Anthony almost as if he guards the thoughts of the faithful, prolonging the time spent together, thoughts which they nevertheless carry home with them, after having shared and entrusted them to St. Anthony. You can also bring a postcard to someone who was unable to come to the Basilica, especially those who are lonely or ill.
The Iconography of St Anthony includes a series of symbols: youth, the habit, a book, the baby Jesus, the lily, a flame, a heart, bread. These express either a characteristic of his personality (memory functions), or the gifts and qualities which popular devotion have attributed to him (symbolic function). The most widely diffused image is of Anthony as a young religious, with the Christ child in his arms and a lily in his hand. Youth is connected to the ideal image of him as, pure, good, and receptive to everyone.
The Saint Of Miracles: St. Anthony is known as the performer of miracles, or the wonder worker., better known as the Saint of miracles. Miracle derives from the Latin mirari, to marvel. It indicates an event which surprises whoever witnesses it directly or indirectly. In the environment of Catholic theology, a miracle is defined as a tangible act (i.e. something which is heard, seen, touched, experienced by the person), performed by God through a saint, a fact which goes against, or rather beyond common "laws" of nature, as acknowledged by the particular era in which they occur. There are many miracles attributed to St. Anthony, some of which are:
The reattached foot: A great miracle was caused by a confession. A man from Padua called Leonardo, once told the man of God that, among his other sins, he'd kicked his mother, and with such violence that she fell heavily to the ground. The blessed Father Anthony, who strongly detested all wrong-doing, in the fervour of the spirit said deploringly: "the foot which kicks a mother or father, should be cut off straight away". This simpleton, having misunderstood the sense of this phrase, and out of remorse for his ill deed and the cruel words of the Saint, rushed home and cut off his foot. The news of such a cruel punishment spread through the city, and reached God's servant. He went to the man's house straight away after an apprehensive, devout prayer, joined the cut off foot to the leg, making the sign of the cross. A miracle! As soon as the Saint had attached the foot to the leg, tracing out the sign of the Crucifix, passing his sacred hands gently over the leg, the foot became attached to the leg so quickly, that the man stood up happily, and began to run and jump, praising God and giving infinite thanks to the blessed Anthony, who had made him sound again in such a miraculous way. (Benignitas 17,36-40).
The mule: In the region of Tolosa blessed Anthony, having vehemently argued with a hardened heretic about the redeeming sacrament of the Eucharist, had nearly convinced and attracted him to the Catholic faith, except that, after many arguments in which he tried to back out, he added these words: "Let's cut the chat and come to the facts. If you, Anthony, can prove with a miracle that in the Eucharist of believers there is, however hidden it may be, the true body of Christ, I will renounce every heresy and submit myself to the Catholic faith". The Lord's servant replied with great faith: "I trust in my saviour Jesus Christ that, for your conversion and for that of others, thanks to His mercy I will obtain what you ask". The heretic stood up and, asking for silence with a gesture of his hand, said: "I'll keep my beast of burden locked up for three days and I will starve him. After three days, in the presence of other people, I'll let him out and I'll show him some prepared fodder. You, on the other hand will show him what you believe to be the body of Christ. If the starving animal, ignoring the fodder, rushes to adore his God, I will sincerely believe in the faith of the Church". The saint agreed straight away. The heretic then exclaimed: "Listen well, everyone!".
Why delay with many words? The day of the challenge arrived. people arrived from far and wide and filled up the square. Christ's servant, Anthony, was present surrounded by a crowd of faithful. The heretic too, with a number of his accomplices. God's servant entered a nearby chapel, to perform the rites of the Mass with great devotion. Once finished, he exited where the people were waiting, carrying reverently the body of the Lord. The hungry mule was led out of the stall, and shown appetising food.
Finally, asking for silence the man of God said to the animal with great faith: "In the name of virtue and the Creator, who I, although unworthy, am carrying in my hands, I ask you, o beast, and I order to come closer quickly and with humility and to show just veneration, so that the malevolent heretics will learn from this gesture that every creature is subject to the Lord, as held in the hands with priestly dignity on the altar". God's servant had hardly finished speaking, when the animal, ignoring the fodder, knelt down and lowered his head to the floor, thus genuflecting before the living sacrament of the body of Christ. The faithful were filled with uncontrollable joy, the heretics and non-believers were filled with sadness and humiliation. God was praised and blessed, the Catholic faith was honoured and exalted; heretical depravity was shamed and condemned with everlasting insults. The heretic, renounced the his doctrine in front of all present, and from then on was obedient to the precepts of the holy Church (Benignitas 16,6-17).
Preaching the fish: If intellectual men sometimes ignored his preaching, God intervened to show that was worthy of respect, giving signs through dumb animals. In the area near Padua, there was once a group of heretics who criticised and ridiculed his preaching; the Saint went to the edge of a river, looked in the distance, and said to the heretics so that everyone would hear: "From the moment in which you proved yourselves to be unworthy of the Word of the Lord, look, I turn to the fish, to further confound your disbelief".
And filled with the Lord's spirit, he began to preach to the fish, elaborating on their gifts given by God: how God had created them, how He was responsible for the purity of the water and how much freedom He had given them, and how they were able to eat without working. The fish began to gather together to listen to this speech, lifting their heads above the water and looking at him attentively, with their mouths open. As long as it pleased the Saint to talk to them, they stayed there listening attentively, as if they could reason. Nor did their leave their place, until they had received his blessing. He who had made the birds listen to the preaching of the most Holy Father Francis, gathered the fish together to listen to the preaching of his son, Anthony. (Rigaldina 9,24-28).
The conversion at Ezzelino: During his tyranny, that wicked, arrogant despot, the cruel tyrant Ezzelino da Romano, had massacred an enormous number of men in Verona. The intrepid father, as soon as he heard of this event, took the risk of meeting him in person, at his residence in the city. He reproached him with these words:
"O enemy of God, merciless tyrant, rabid dog, how much longer will you continue to shed the blood of innocent Christians? Look, the Lord's punishment is hanging over you and it is terrible and severe!" He said many other harsh, vehement expressions to his face. The guards were waiting for Ezzelino, as usual, to give the order to kill him. But something else happened instead, thanks to the Lord.
In fact, the tyrant, struck by the words of the man of God, lost all his ferocity and became gentle as a lamb. Then, hanging his belt around his neck, he prostrated himself before this man of God and humbly confessed his ill doings, giving the assurance that, with his consent, he would repair any wrong doing. He added: "Fellow soldiers, do not be surprised by this. I am telling you in all honesty, that I have seen a type of divine splendour emanating from the face of this priest, which has frightened me so much, that faced with such a terrifying vision, I had the sensation I was falling straight into hell". From that day on Ezzelino was always very devoted to the Saint, and for as long as he lived, he restrained from the many atrocities he would have wanted to perpetrate, this according to what the tyrant himself said (Benignitas 17,42-47).
The vision: Blessed Anthony found himself in a city to preach and was put up by a local resident. He gave him a room set apart, so that he could study and contemplate undisturbed. While he prayed by himself, in the room, the landlord continued his bustling about the house. While he was devotedly observing the room in which St. Anthony had immersed himself in prayer, peeping through the window, he saw a beautiful joyful baby appear in blessed Anthony's arms. The Saint hugged and kissed him, contemplating the face with unceasing attention. The landlord, awed and enraptured by the child's beauty, began to think of where such a graceful child might have come from.
That baby was the Lord Jesus. He revealed to the blessed Anthony that his host was watching. After a long time spent in prayer, the vision disappeared; the Saint called the landlord, and he forbade him from telling anyone whilst Anthony was still alive what he had seen. After the Saint passed away, the man told the tale crying, swearing on the Bible that he was telling the truth (Liber miraculorum 22,1-8).
The miser’s heart: In Tuscany, the great region of Italy, the funereal rites of a very rich man were being celebrated with great solemnity as was common in these cases. At the funeral St. Anthony was present and, moved by a sudden inspiration, began shouting that this man should not be buried in a sacred place, but outside the city walls, like a dog. And this was because his soul was damned to hell, and the corpse was without a heart, according to the saying of the Lord, reported by Saint Luke the Evangelist: Where your treasure is, there also is your heart. Everyone was naturally shaken at this statement, and there was a long and heated exchange of opinions. Some surgeons were called who opened the deceased's chest. But they could not find his heart which, as the Saint predicted, was discovered in his safe with his money. For this reason, the citizens praised the Lord and the Saint. The dead man was not buried in the prepared mausoleum, but dragged like a mule along the embankment and then buried there. (SICCO POLENTONE, Life of St. Anthony,n. 35).
The new-born who speaks: This woman was saved from death. Another, in Ferrara, was saved from an dreadful suspicion. In fact, the Saint reconciled the wife with the husband, a renowned person among the influential people of the city. And greater still, and indeed a true miracle, he made the baby, who had recently been born a few days earlier, talk; and the infant answered the questions posed by the man of God.
This man was being tortured by a jealous suspicion about his wife, and didn't even want to touch the baby, born a few days earlier, convinced that he was the child of adultery. St. Anthony thus took the baby into his arms and said to him: "I implore you in the name of Jesus Christ, God and Man, born of the Virgin Mary, to clearly tell me, so that everyone can hear, who your father is." And the child, without mumbling as little ones do, but with a clearly understandable voice as if he were a child of 10 years, fixed his eyes on his parent, because he couldn't move his arms which were wrapped in swaddling clothes, and said: "Here he is, this is my father!" Turning to the man, the Saint added: "Take your son, and love your wife, who has been blameless and who deserves all of your gratitude" (SICCO POLENTONE, Life of St. Anthony, n. 37).
The resurrected young man: In the city of Lisbon, of which St. Anthony was a native, whilst his relatives were still living, that is to say his father, his mother and his brothers, two citizens were enemies and they hated each other to death. It so happened that the son of one of them, a young boy, encountered the enemy of the family, who lived near blessed Anthony's parents.
This merciless man grabbed the boy, took him home and killed him without further ado. Then, in the deep of the night, having entered into the garden of the Saint's parents, he dug a ditch, buried the body and fled. As the young boy was the son of a well known family, there was an inquest into his disappearance, and it was ascertained that the young boy had traveled through the enemy's part of town. The home and garden were therefore searched, but no clues were found. While carrying out an inspection of the garden of blessed Anthony's relatives, the boy was found, buried in the garden. For this reason, the king's executioner arrested Anthony's father and everyone else in the house, for the assassination of the boy.
Blessed Anthony, even though he was in Padua, came to know this fact through divine inspiration. That night, having obtained permission, he left the convent. While he walked during the night, he was transported miraculously to the city of Lisbon. Upon entering the city in the morning, he went to the executioner, and began to plead with him to acquit these innocent people of the accusation and set them free. But, as the man had no intention of doing such a thing, blessed Anthony ordered that the assassinated boy brought to him. Once the body was placed before him, he ordered the boy to rise up and say whether his relatives had killed him. The boy awoke from death and affirmed that blessed Anthony's relatives were not involved. As a result, they were exonerated and released from prison. Blessed Anthony stayed with them all day. Then, in the evening, he left Lisbon and the following morning he found himself in Padua (Bartolomeo da Pisa 4,19-32).