Saint Anthony: Lost and Found

St. Anthony of Padua with the Child by Bartolome Esteban Murillo, 1665

“Dear Saint Anthony, come around, something is lost and can’t be found…”

Over the centuries, Saint Anthony of Padua, whose feast day we observe today, has remained one of the most popular saints for Catholics around the world.  By popular custom, he is the “go-to” saint for lost items.  One can almost picture him at a call desk in heaven, listening to panicked requests about lost cats or homework or misplaced car keys or cell phones.

What truly seems to have been lost, though, is the story of Saint Anthony’s life and his relevance to today’s Catholics – but this can certainly be found.

Born in Lisbon in 1195 and given the baptismal name “Fernando,” he joined the Canons Regular of Saint Augustine at the age of 15 and gained extensive knowledge of the Scriptures and the writings of the Fathers of the Church.  In 1220, seeing the remains of the first Franciscan martyrs who had been brutally murdered in Morocco for preaching the Gospel inspired him to join the Order of Friars Minor and become a missionary, taking the name Anthony.

After being stricken by a severe illness, he had to turn back from Morocco and tried to return home to Lisbon, but a violent storm forced the ship to land at Sicily.  He recuperated there, and became part of a Franciscan community, living a life of prayer and humility, which reportedly included working in the kitchen.  At an ordination Mass, no one had been appointed to preach, and in that emergency, Anthony was given the task.  He gave a plainspoken, spellbinding homily, and soon his fame grew within his order and throughout Italy.

Learning of Anthony’s educational background, Saint Francis of Assisi appointed him as the order’s lector in theology, and he taught the priests and brothers in that new religious order and played a key role in developing Franciscan spirituality.  But it was as a preacher of the Gospel of Christ that Saint Anthony became famous, drawing overflow crowds to churches and tens of thousands to marketplaces, where he urged people to follow Jesus in their daily lives and turn away from sin.  He addressed controversial issues of his day and preached the Gospel to the young and old, to the powerful and powerless.  He challenged people to love and serve the poor and to live a life of simplicity as Jesus did, to look to God and not the things of this world.

Renowned for his holiness, Saint Anthony of Padua died in 1231 at the age of 36, and within a year, Pope Gregory IX declared him a saint.  In 1946, Pope Pius XII named him as a Doctor of the Church.

A great basilica in the Italian city of Padua is named for the saint, as is San Antonio, Texas, the eighth largest city in the United States.  In the Archdiocese of Washington, we have a parish named for Saint Anthony of Padua in North Beach, located in Calvert County on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, as well as Saint Anthony of Padua Parish and School in the Brookland neighborhood of Washington, near The Catholic University of America.

In addition to being the patron of lost items, the saint is popular for the tradition of Saint Anthony’s Bread, the practice of giving alms to a charity in thanksgiving for the saint’s intercession.

In a 2010 audience, Pope Benedict XVI said that Saint Anthony of Padua offered important insights on prayer, saying that prayer needs silence – not so much a lack of noise, but an inner silence where distractions and worries are put aside.

Pope Benedict also said that Saint Anthony offered four “indispensable” steps to perfecting the art of prayer.  First, “opening one’s heart to God’s presence,” the pope said, adding that the second is to “have an affectionate dialogue with God.” The third step is to tell God what’s on your mind, and the fourth is to praise and thank God.

Saint Anthony urged people to seek “true wealth – that of the heart” and bring Christ’s love and mercy to the world, Pope Benedict said.

So with Saint Anthony, we can find qualities that are too often lost in our own lives and in today’s world.  Like him, we can live holy lives rooted in prayer.  Just as he preached the Gospel of Jesus, so too can we take up the call of the New Evangelization, and deepen our faith, grow in our conviction of its truth, and share it with others, especially with family members, friends, neighbors and coworkers, who may have drifted from the Catholic faith, or never heard the Gospel.

Like Saint Anthony, we can help someone find something precious that has been lost – their faith in Christ and His Church – and rejoice with them in its rediscovery.