Tomorrow, June 13, is the Feast of Saint Anthony of Padua. He's probably one of The Most Famous and Popular saints out there, and what's really interesting is that even though so many people know of him, I'd bet that very few know too much about him.
First of all, Saint Anthony wasn't from Padua. He wasn't even Italian--he was Portuguese! And his whole life story, which is fascinating, involves one situation after another when he set out with a goal in mind and wound up doing something, or being somewhere, completely different. He set out to become an Augustinian friar, but became a Franciscan after encountering some at his monastery. He hoped to become a martyr after preaching the Word of God to the Moors, in the manner of the first Franciscans he met. Always he was willing to listen for the will of God in his life; he was always ready to change his course to follow where the Lord was leading. Saint Anthony was a model of obedience; the word obey comes from the root "to hear" and this is exactly what he did. He heard the voice of God and followed it.
He was famous for preaching, and for his scholarship in Scripture and theology. There is a story that when Anthony discovered once that he was preaching to people who refused to accept God's truth, he turned around, faced the water and preached to the fish instead. Because the Child Jesus miraculously appeared to Anthony, he is often pictured in art holding the Baby Jesus, as well as a Bible and a lily (for purity).
Growing up, I was surrounded by family members who held great devotion to Saint Anthony. Because I was nurtured in a Franciscan environment (school, parish and an uncle who's a Franciscan priest) there were lots of opportunities to participate in this devotion through the Tuesday novenas to Saint Anthony. As a child I looked forward to the little breads that were given to novena attendees, in commemoration of Saint Anthony's practice of feeding the poor. One of the prayers that is part of the novena ritual is taken from Saint Anthony's sermons:
Bind us to you and to our neighbor with love.
May our hearts not be turned away from you.
May our souls not be deceived, nor our talents or minds enticed by allurements of error, so that we may never distance ourselves from your love.
Thus may we love our neighbor as ourselves with strength, wisdom and gentleness.
With your help, you who are blessed throughout all ages. Amen.
There's a lot more to Saint Anthony than the whole "finder of all lost things" title that has been conferred upon him by centuries of tradition. A few years ago I read a book called "A Rich Young Man" by John Beahn (which apparently is out of print); it was excellent. The most important thing that I took away from this book was that when presented with the choice: "My Way or God's Way?", Saint Anthony chose God's Way.
Pray for us, Saint Anthony, that we too will be willing and courageous enough to listen for and follow God's will in our lives.