Saturday, 15 June 2013

On Thursday, we celebrated a special saint, one who has had a great impact on my life.Of all the Saints in our Calendar, St Anthony is the one that I've had the most direct experiences with, and consequently have numerous stories, mostly around lost objects since he's the Saint one prays to when one loses things! But the story I'll relate is a different one.
 But first, a few words on Tony of Pad

Feast: June 13

Feast Day:June 13
1195, Lisbon, Portugal
Died:13 June 1231, Padua
30 May 1232, Spoleto, Italy by Pope Gregory IX
Major Shrine:Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua in Padua, Italy
Patron of:animals; barrenness; Brazil; elderly people; faith in the Blessed Sacrament; fishermen; Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land; harvests; horses; Lisbon; lost articles; lower animals; mail; mariners; American Indians; oppressed people; Padua, Italy; poor people; Portugal; pregnant women; sailors; seekers of lost articles; shipwrecks; starvation; sterility; swineherds; Tigua Indians; travel hostesses; travellers; watermen

St. Anthony of Padua is one of the most famous disciples of St. Francis of Assisi. He was a famous preacher and worker of miracles in his own day, and throughout the eight centuries since his death he has so generously come to the assistance of the faithful who invoke him, that he is known throughout the world.

Born in the year 1195 A. D. at Lisbon (Portugal) where his father was a captain in the royal army. Already at the age of fifteen years, he had entered the Congregation of Canons Regular of St. Augustine and devoted himself with great earnestness both to study and to the practice of piety in the Monastery at Coimbra (Portugal). A few years later, the first members of the Order of Friars Minor, which St. Francis has founded in 1206 A. D. came to Coimbra. By their evangelical poverty and simplicity they edified and touched everyone in the region. But it was the Franciscans martyrs of the faith that would touch Anthony the most.

The relics of St. Bernard and companions, the first martyrs of the Franciscan Order, seized St. Anthony him with an intense desire to suffer martyrdom in a like manner. So moved by their heroic example he left his order, and received a friendly reception at the Franciscan Monastery in Coimbria, and in the same year his earnest wish to be sent to the missions in Africa was fulfilled.

St. Anthony's Arrival in Italy

But God had decreed otherwise. And so, St. Anthony scarcely set foot on African soil when he was seized with a grievous illness. Even after recovering from it, he was so weak that, resigning himself to the will of God, he boarded a boat back to Portugal. Unexpectedly a storm came upon them and drove the ship to the east where it found refuge on coast of Sicily. St. Anthony was greeted and given shelter by the Franciscans of that island, and thus came to be sent to Assisi, where the general chapter of the Order was held in May, 1221 A. D..

Since he still looked weak and sickly, and gave no evidence of his scholarship, no one paid any attention to the stranger until Father Gratian, the Provincial of friars living in the region of Romagna (Italy), had compassion on him and sent him to the quiet little convent near Forli (also in Italy). There St. Anthony remained nine months as chaplain to the hermits, occupied in the lowliest duties of the kitchen and convent.

St. Anthony, Preacher and Teacher

But the hidden jewel was soon to appear in all its brilliance. For the occasion of a ceremony of ordination some of the hermits along with St. Anthony were sent to the town of Forli. Before the ceremony was to begin, however, it was announced that the priest who was to give the sermon had fallen sick. The local superior, to avert the embarrassment of the moment, quickly asked the friars in attendance to volunteer. Each excused himself, saying that he was not prepared, until finally, St. Anthony was asked to give it. When he too, excused himself in a most humble manner, his superior ordered him by virtue of the vow of obedience to give the sermon. St. Anthony began to speak in a very reserved manner; but soon holy animation seized him, and he spoke with such eloquence, learning and unction that everybody was fairly amazed.

When St. Francis was informed of the event, he gave St. Anthony the mission to preach throughout Italy. At the request of the brethren, St. Anthony was later commissioned also to teach theology, "but in such a manner," St. Francis distinctly wrote, " that the spirit of prayer be not extinguished either in yourself or in the other brethren." St. Anthony himself placed greater value in the salvation of souls than on learning. For that reason he never ceased to exercise his office as preacher despite his work of teaching.
The number of those who came to hear him was sometimes so great that no church was large enough to accommodate and so he had to preach in the open air.  He was so energetic in defending the truths of the Catholic Faith that many heretics returned to the Church. This occasioned the epitaph given him by Pope Gregory IX "the ark of the covenant."

In all his labors he never forgot the admonition of his spiritual father, St. Francis, that the spirit of prayer must not be extinguished. If he spent the day in teaching and heard the confession of sinners till late in the evening, then many hours of the night were spent in intimate union with God -so intimate in fact, that he was once seen in prayer holding the Child Jesus in his arms,  as we see in the picture above-.
 In 1231, at the young age of 36, exhausted from all his work and penance, he slipped into eternity, still in close communion with his beloved creator until the very end! On the day of his death, it is said that the children of Padua were in the streets, collectively mourning the death of the man they already called Saint.
(Taken from the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate)

 In  St Anthony, we find not only an example of great humility and simplicity of faith, but also an example of intimacy with God that is essential for any Christian to experience.  His devotion to God and to his people is so legendary that we still turn to him on a regular basis these days, mostly when we lose various items in our life...but also when we travel, and we ourselves can be lost!

 3 years ago during my pilgrimage across the Northern part of the Appalachians, I had a strange encounter with St Anthony. It began in New York city, where I started my pilgrimage by hanging out with the Jesuits in SOHO.  One of the places I visited with my host were the Joseph and Mary houses, -buildings that are associated with the famous Catholic Worker movement.-. In Joseph house, I met a man who was trying to get rid of his junk mail by passing it on to me. In it, was a prayer card for St Anthony. I knew very little about St Anthony -except to pray for him for lost articles!-  but I figured it'd be nice to have 'a companion' for the road.  I was about to set out for the great unknown in the Appalachian mountains, and would need all the help I could get (my plan was to camp out every night on the Appalacian trail...but the problem is, I"m not outdoorsy type. This was my first time trying something so bold on my own! Needless to say, I was scared and needed all the comfort I could get).
 I prayed with him on the very first night of my actual walk on the trails, and soon learned that he was (lo and behold!) the patron saint of Travellers, especially of pilgrims!! ( This would be one of those instances when I would tell people who don't believe in God " there's coincidence..and then there's moments like these. It's because of such moments that my faith is what it is!" I didn't plan to pray to Saints during my pilgrimage...never mind the Patron Saint of pilgrims!! Yet here I was doing so!!). So for the first week, he was a regular prayer companion of mine. Then near the end of the week, a crisis happened: 

 I lost my sleeping bag on the trail. To this day, I still don't know how this happened. It must have fallen off from my bag at some point. Whatever happened, it couldn't have happened at a worse time: The first night I was without a sleeping bad was the coldest one I had experienced during that pilgrimage, and there were 2 others nights like it coming up. I spent the first two nights struggling with the elements..but on the third one, I decided I'd go into a local village to find shelter for the night. I wasn't having much luck, so I went into an Italian place for Chicken wings and a burger -a nice change of pace, compared the bread, nuts and crackers that were part of my usual pilgrim's diet!!- The owner of the restaurant came to serve me, and she saw me praying for St Anthony. She absolutely lit up, saying St Anthony was her favorite Saint and that she longed to visit Padua one of these days. We chatted a bit, I told of her my predicament, my need for shelter, or a sleeping back or a blanket for the night. She said if she had, she'd give me right away.  I appreciated the sentiment and was getting ready to go visit the local shelter. As I was planning my exit, she came out.. 
"Wait a minute...I have something for you"

She went out to her car to get something...and reappeared with a big fluffy blanket.
 " I forgot I had this in the back of my car"
I continued my pilgrimage with this big blanket, which I immediately  dubbed my 'St Anthony Blanket'. I ended up leaving it outside a shelter in Boston when the camping component of the pilgrimage were done, much to my chagrin, but also in the hope that it's kept many others as warm as it kept me!


 That experience during the pilgrimage was an excellent opportunity for me to really face the question 'how much do I trust the Lord'.  It was a time when I faced my biggest fears, and just plunged into the big scary unknown with all my heart fully trusting that God would provide. My prayer life during this period of my life was unlike I had ever experienced. It was as if this veil had been lifted from my mind, and I was now, in my vulnerability, in my fear, in my insecurity, was able to have a genuine encounter with the fullness of the living God. I've learned from St Paul  (from 2nd Corinthians, the first reading for Thursday) that the reason I experienced that veil being lifted is that my moment in the mountains and forests of the Appalachians was one in which my entire being was turned to the Lord. I could no longer depend on my own resources, on my community, on my was me...and the Lord. It was scary, but it was also an incredible moment of growth in trust and confidence in God's fidelity to us!

 Indeed, as difficult as those weeks in the mountains were for me, I also believe they were an experience of true freedom. For as St Paul says in the same passage, 'where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom'. And how can I not see the spirit of the Lord being strongly present in my moment of vulnerability and need!!??

 It sounds so disheartening to believe this:  can we truly only experience the Fullness of God in our most vulnerable moments?  That's not necessarily what's being said, but at the same time, we can't turn away from the fact that Christianity, contrary to what many think in the secular world, is a challenging, radical, difficult journey. We need only look at Matthew 5 to realize this. Once Jesus explains to us the essence of the Beatitudes to our journey of faith, he then challenges us to the core of our existence by saying things like (I'm totally paraphrasing! bear with me!) " While most people out there would have you believe that if someone hits you, you ought to hit them back, and if they hate you, you ought to hate them back...I'd like to present to you another way of doing things". These words are confusing and challenging to our days, and I imagine they were rather unpopular to the people of his time as well. Despite this, we still carry them with us. The question becomes: can we do more than just carry them? Can we live them. Can we, as Pope Francis suggested this week, genuinely say to ourselves 'I'm angry at this person. Let me pray that God bless them''. I guess we spend the rest of our lives trying to answer that question!!

First reading2 Corinthians 3:15-4:1,3-6 ©
Even today, whenever Moses is read, the veil is over their minds. It will not be removed until they turn to the Lord. Now this Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, with our unveiled faces reflecting like mirrors the brightness of the Lord, all grow brighter and brighter as we are turned into the image that we reflect; this is the work of the Lord who is Spirit.
  Since we have by an act of mercy been entrusted with this work of administration, there is no weakening on our part. If our gospel does not penetrate the veil, then the veil is on those who are not on the way to salvation; the unbelievers whose minds the god of this world has blinded, to stop them seeing the light shed by the Good News of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For it is not ourselves that we are preaching, but Christ Jesus as the Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. It is the same God that said, ‘Let there be light shining out of darkness’, who has shone in our minds to radiate the light of the knowledge of God’s glory, the glory on the face of Christ.

PsalmPsalm 84:9-14 ©
The glory of the Lord will dwell in our land.
I will hear what the Lord God has to say,
  a voice that speaks of peace.
His help is near for those who fear him
  and his glory will dwell in our land.
The glory of the Lord will dwell in our land.
Mercy and faithfulness have met;
  justice and peace have embraced.
Faithfulness shall spring from the earth
  and justice look down from heaven.
The glory of the Lord will dwell in our land.
The Lord will make us prosper
  and our earth shall yield its fruit.
Justice shall march before him
  and peace shall follow his steps.
The glory of the Lord will dwell in our land.

GospelMatthew 5:20-26 ©
Jesus said to his disciples, If your virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.
  ‘You have learnt how it was said to our ancestors: You must not kill; and if anyone does kill he must answer for it before the court. But I say this to you: anyone who is angry with his brother will answer for it before the court; if a man calls his brother “Fool” he will answer for it before the Sanhedrin; and if a man calls him “Renegade” he will answer for it in hell fire. So then, if you are bringing your offering to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, go and be reconciled with your brother first, and then come back and present your offering. Come to terms with your opponent in good time while you are still on the way to the court with him, or he may hand you over to the judge and the judge to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison. I tell you solemnly, you will not get out till you have paid the last penny.’

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