Saint Anthony of Padua and the New Evangelization
Today we celebrate the feast day of Saint Anthony of Padua, Italy, who was born to a noble family in Lisbon, Portugal, and baptized with the name Fernando. Canonized only a year after his death at the age of 36 on this day in 1231, and named a Doctor of the Church in 1946, Saint Anthony has been historically popular and he continues to offer a magnificent example and witness for today.
Basing his life on Christ, Saint Anthony “found the way to kindle faith in souls, to purify, console and enlighten them,” attested Saint John Paul II. More specifically, “his preaching, his writings and, above all, the holiness of his life also offer the people of our time living and inspiring guidelines for the necessary commitment to the New Evangelization” (Letter of June 13, 1994).
When he was fifteen, Fernando entered a community of Canons Regular of Saint Augustine and after five years of intensive study, he was ordained a priest. His plans changed, however, a few years later when five Franciscan missionaries to Islamic North Africa were killed for their faith. Inspired by their supreme witness of martyrdom, Father Fernando left the Augustinian Canons to become a Friar Minor, taking the name Anthony. He then set out to be a missionary to North Africa, but illness and a violent storm forced him to land at Sicily.
From that point, after meeting Francis of Assisi, Father Anthony would be a missionary to Italy and with his outstanding gifts, he spurred many to spiritual renewal and a virtuous life. “The Gospel virtues, particularly poverty of spirit, meekness, humility, chastity, mercy, the courage of peace, were the constant themes of his preaching,” said Saint John Paul. “He used all the scholarly tools known at the time to deepen his knowledge of Gospel truth and to make its proclamation more easily understood. The success of his preaching confirms that he could speak the same language as his listeners and that he was able to effectively to convey the content of the faith and to ensure the acceptance of Gospel values in the popular culture of his age” (Id.).
In this respect, we could say that Saint Anthony was one of the forefathers of the New Evangelization that is our calling today. The New Evangelization is not a passing slogan. It is not a transitory program, but a mystery that is as permanent as the earth, a glory eternal as the heavens. To a secularized world where there is an eclipse of the sense of God, we are tasked with re-proposing the perennial truth and love of Christ’s Gospel. We must somehow re-propose the kingdom of God to those who are convinced that they already know it – and who have already concluded our message is irrelevant. We have to invite them to hear the Gospel all over again, as if for the first time.
Now is the opportune time and we can be confident that the Holy Spirit will help us in living and witnessing our faith. As Saint Anthony once preached, “The man who is filled with the Holy Spirit speaks in different languages. These different languages are different ways of witnessing to Christ, such as humility, poverty, patience and obedience; we speak in those languages when we reveal in ourselves these virtues to others. Actions speak louder than words; let your words teach and your actions speak.”
Like the first disciples, we are called to envision ourselves walking alongside Jesus as the sower of the seeds of a new way of living, of a share in a kingdom that will last forever. Planting new seeds so that they may take root means opening our hearts and minds to learn new styles of communication and a more influential approach to connect another person with the abundant springtime that God promises.
Each of our actions – every kind word we speak, every gesture of generosity – sets in motion a series of future events that will continue forever. Particularly when we correspond to the grace of the Spirit, we are extending the kingdom. This is how Christianity changes the world.
The ground may be rocky, filled with thorns, or heavily trafficked by many feet, but in spreading the seeds of Christ’s love and truth, each and every Catholic can make a difference. The Church had little influence in the corridors of imperial Roman power, and it may have little today in the corridors of modern government, but the kingdom breaks through in spite of these limitations. It breaks through in the lives of saints like Anthony who was inspired by the blood of the martyrs, and it breaks through in the lives of the everyday faithful today.
This blog post draws from passages of my book “Seek First the Kingdom: Challenging the Culture by Living our Faith (2012).”