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On the Feast of St. Anthony

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By Fr. Russell Becker, OFM

St. Anthony of Padua Holding Book“The Church proclaims the Paschal Mystery achieved in the saints who have suffered and have been glorified with Christ. She proposes them to the faithful as examples, drawing all to the Father through Christ; and through them, she pleads for God’s favor.” (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 104)

This quote from the Second Vatican Council reminds us of the traditional esteem with which the Church holds the holy men and women who have gone before us. We celebrate the saints because they give us the courage to believe that living by the Gospel is not impossible, but very possible. On June 13, the whole Church joins the Franciscans in keeping the feast of St. Anthony. He is beloved by so many because of all that he did in his very short life. Because he was a preacher who made people’s hearts stir, like Jesus did, and his preaching was confirmed by marvelous deeds in a way similar to the Lord, he is called the Doctor of the Gospel. When people came in contact with St. Anthony, they began to know the Gospel because of his preaching and his life. He made Christ visible to them and recognized as the One worthy of being followed:

Christ is our way in example, truth in promise, life in reward; a way that is straight, a truth that does not deceive, a life that never ends.

In his preaching, following in the footsteps of St. Francis, Anthony proclaimed the Good News. As he went about, he reminded people that God hears their cries for help, that all are called to be faithful followers of the Lord, and that we serve the Lord most particularly in caring for the poor.

God hears our cries for help
Tradition tells us that St. Anthony is considered to be a wonder-worker. Go to any shrine of St. Anthony and you will see people who seek his intercession. In Padua, there is always the sound of people asking for help at his tomb.

St. Anthony PreachingAs St. Anthony preached and prayed for people who were trapped by sickness, sin, misfortune and even disbelief, people began to experience peace. They knew that God would listen to them and that God cares for everyone in a special way. Many of the miracles attributed to St. Anthony helped people to face the confusion in their lives with confidence, as they began to understand just how closely God watches over them. This is what Anthony believed and helped others to come to trust: “The compassion of God is without limits or measure; it is incomprehensible to our finite intelligence. God’s compassion embraces and includes all.”

Called to be faithful followers
St. Anthony constantly challenged his listeners to faithfulness: “To say, “Lord, Lord” in the right sense means to believe in our heart; to praise God with our lips, and to bear witness with our deeds. If one of these is lacking, we are not confessing but denying; if our life belies our belief, it counts for nothing to shout God’s praises.”

St. Anthony Holding Infant Jesus - Nice PortrayalSt. Anthony poses a difficult challenge indeed. Faith, which does not result in a change in the way we live, is NO FAITH. Just as the words of St. John in his first epistle challenged early Christians to remember that the only way they could prove that they loved God was by loving their brothers and sisters, so did St. Anthony to the people of his time. And just as St. John speaks to us, so do the words of St. Anthony. Without deeply loving, cherishing and serving all that the Creator creates, we could not say that we love, cherish or serve the Creator:

Love is essential, so that without love all our efforts are in vain, no matter how much good we do… With love in our hearts, we will approach God in humility, others with compassion and ourselves with respect.

And this love spreads: “When a crystal is touched by the rays of the sun, it gives forth brilliant sparks of light. When people of faith are touched by God’s grace, they too must give forth sparks of light in their good works and deeds, and so bring God’s light to others.”

We can easily see St. Anthony in this quote, but he was not speaking of himself, he was inviting his hearers to be the crystals of the ages to come.

Caring for the Poor
St. Anthony and Friars Feeding Bread to the PoorSt. Anthony was gifted with a special vision: he could see Christ in the poor. Since his lifetime, many people have been helped, through his compassion and the compassion he stirs up in those who look to him for a guide. Today there are all kinds of ministries to the poor and the outcast under the patronage of St. Anthony: hungry people are fed because of St. Anthony’s bread; there are shelters for the sick, the homeless, AIDS ministries, homes for battered women and families, help for refugees often called Anthony House. This all continues because he has shared his special vision with all of us. Anthony calls us to recognize Christ in the poor:

Today Christ stands at our door and knocks in the person of the poor. It is Christ that we honor when we give aid. For he tells us plainly: “When you did this to one of the least of my brothers or sisters, you did it to me.”

There is a special vision Anthony shares. He does not just encourage people to help large services to the poor; he wants all of his followers to realize that it is Christ who comes to us in the poor personally when someone asks for help. He does not want us just to help answer the knock on the door of the church or institution, but also the knock on our personal doors. This knock he asks us to answer too! For that is also Christ knocking.

God is wonderful in his saints. In them we find hope. St. Anthony is one of those wonders. His preaching echoes the quote from the Council at the beginning: “The stonemason and the bricklayer are careful to use measuring lines, pendulums and bobs to make walls straight. Can we not say that the virtuous lives of the saints are the measuring lines stretched out over our souls to make sure our lives take the proper shape and measure up to their good example? Whenever, then, we celebrate the feast of a saint, let us look to them as giving us the pattern our lives should take.”

Let us join St. Anthony in prayer especially on his feast:

Let us ask the Lord Jesus Christ to pour out on us his grace, that we may ask and receive the fullness of true joy. May he ask the Father for us to grant us true piety, that we may deserve to come to the place of eternal life. –Amen.

Reflection Questions:

1. Do you use any saints as special patrons and guides?

2. Do you hear Christ when he knocks at the door? Have you had the courage to answer?

3. Do you trust in God’s compassion? Do you witness to God’s compassion?

Fr. Russell BeckerBorn in Buffalo, N.Y., Fr. Russell has been a friar since 1966. He has served as Secretary for Evangelization for Holy Name Province and director of the Franciscan Missionary Union. Fr. Russell is currently pastor of the Franciscan Chapel Center in Tokyo, Japan.

Our Videos

SAG St Anthony 2013 letterSAG St Anthony 2013 letter2

 Guide for a Gospel JournalRead and pray  the Gospel passage assignedfor the day and after you finish,  write down your thoughts or compose a prayer.

 

Guide for Lent 2

Each day before and after 
you read the section
from the Bible, pray this 
traditional Lenten prayer
composed by St. Ephrem of Syria.

O Lord and master of my life,
keep me from the spirit of
indifference and discouragement,
need for power and idle chatter.

+
Instead, grant me, your servant, 
the spirit of wholeness of heart,
humble-mindedness, 
patience and love.

+
O Lord and King, grant me the grace
to be aware of my sins,
and not to judge 
my brothers and sisters;
for you are blessed, for ever and ever. 

Amen

        

Feb 13: Ash Wednesday: Miracle: Matthew 8, 1-4: If you will to do so, you can cure me!

Feb 14: Parable: Luke 5, 36-39: New cloth, new wineskins.

Feb 15: Parable: Matthew 5, 13-16: You are the salt of the earth, the light of the world.

Feb 16: Parable: Luke 6, 43-49: Hear my words, put them into practice.

Feb 17: Miracle: Luke 8, 22-25: Jesus walks on the water.

Feb 18: Parable: Matthew 7, 1-5: The speck and the plank.

Feb 19: Parable: Luke 14, 7-11: Places of honor.

Feb 20: Parable: Luke 14, 12-24: The invited guests.

Feb 21: Parable: Matthew 13, 44-46: The treasure and the pearl.

Feb 22: Parable: Matthew 18, 21-35: The merciless servant.

Feb 23: Parable: Matthew 13, 24-30: The weeds.

Feb 24: Miracle: Mark 5, 25-34: The woman with the hemorrhage.

Feb 25: Parable: Luke 13, 18-21: The mustard seed and yeast.

Feb 26: Parable: Luke 12, 13-21: Trust in God and not possessions.

Feb 27: Parable: Luke 13, 22-30: The narrow door.

Feb 28: Parable: Luke 16, 1-1 G3: One cannot serve two masters.

Mar 1: Parable: Luke 16, 19-31: The rich man and Lazarus.

Mar 2: Parable: Luke 13, 6-9: The barren fig tree.

Mar 3: Miracle: Mark 7, 24-30: The Canaanite woman’s daughter.

Mar 4: Parable: Matthew 25, 14-30: The silver pieces (talents).

Mar 5: Parable: Matthew 21, 28-32: The two sons.

Mar 6: Parable: Luke 12, 35-48: Be ready for the master’s return.

Mar 7: Parable: Luke 14, 31-35: A king goes to war.

Mar 8: Parable: Luke 15, 3-7: The lost sheep.

Mar 9: Parable: Matthew 25, 1-13: The wise and foolish bridesmaids.

Mar 10: Miracle: Mark 10, 46-52: Bartimaeus.

Mar 11: Parable: Luke 11, 5-13: Prayer.

Mar 12: Parable: Luke 18, 1-8: The corrupt judge.

Mar 13: Parable Mark 4, 1-20: The sower goes out.

Mar 14: Vision: Revelation 3, 20-21: He stands knocking.

Mar 15: Parable: Matthew 21, 18-22: Another fig tree.

Mar 16: Parable: Luke 18, 9-14: The pharisee and the tax collector

Mar 17: Miracle: Luke 7, 11-17: The widow’s son at Naim.

Mar 18: Parable: Matthew 13, 47-50: The net.

Mar 19: Miracle: Mark 2, 1-12: The cure of the paralytic.

Mar 20: Parable: John 10, 14-18: The Good Shepherd.

                      

   
 
          
   
Mary 9999By Fr. Russell Becker, OFM
 
The picture that you see is a beautiful statue of Mary, pregnant about eight months.   It comes from Ecuador.  When I saw it, I thought it was such a great image for Advent, which coincides with the last four weeks of Mary’s pregnancy.  Just as  she waited that last month for the birth of the Lord, so we wait in Advent for the celebration and the challenge we have to give birth to the Lord in our time.  Look at the statue and reflect.  See how this is the perfect icon for the Advent/Christmas Mystery.  Mary helps us to understand this precious time, this time of intense love, faith and sacrifice and how to keep this time as true disciples.
 

Pregnant.
 In a time when we want everything right away, pregnancy is a challenge.  Nine months is a long time, but a time that is filled with surprises and challenges which make us think and act differently than before.   At Mass, we hear the words “to wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”  But waiting is considered by many people a waste of time, not an opportunity for new possibilities.   Pregnant women remind us that waiting is not dull, not a waste of time and filled with surprises, possibilities and moments of profound influence.
When a woman conceives, her life is given over to the new life within her, and nothing will ever be the same.
The energy of her body nurtures and protects that life.  There are things she will give up for the sake of her child and there are things she will do for the sake of her child.   The child is a totally dependent in the mother’s womb.  Nothing will ever make up for that nine months.  That child is carried, nurtured, developed, strengthened and protected in that dark, safe place.
Everything that the mother does, everything she experiences, she does with her child and  passes along to her child.  The child learns so much from this intimate relationship she or he shares with the mother.  Most of us realize the bad things that can be shared.  Remember when people would say that they are afraid of dogs because their mother was scared by a dog when she was pregnant?   Smoking, drinking, eating bad foods, good and bad drugs, fear, injury all can hurt the child.  Well, if the bad things that a mother does and experiences can have terrible effects on her child, should not all the good things that she does and experiences also graciously affect her child?  So is it not possible that all that a mother does­—what she feels, what she speaks, what she touches, what she listens to, what she sees, how she loves, how she forgives, how she shows compassion, how she sings, even how she dances­­—would have a profound effect on her child?  A mother  passes along so much to that child so dependent on her in all those moments of intense love, sacrifice and generosity.
When the nine months come to an end, the child is born. The promise of conception is brought to fulfillment and the adventure continues: more surprises and more challenges along with joy beyond all telling.
 

Mary pregnant.
 When the angel Gabriel came to Mary, he told her she was to be the mother of the Savior.  Mary said, “Let it be...”   Almost the very words God spoke when God began creating.  Now one of us speaks those words with God in a moment of intense love.  Jesus is conceived by the Holy Spirit and the re-creation of all begins. Nothing will ever be the same again for Mary and for us all.
Mary’s experience of pregnancy was similar to the pregnancies of all women.  Jesus was totally dependent in Mary’s womb. Her life was given over to the new life within her and everything she did and experienced affected her developing child.  She was a woman of deep faith.   That faith was nurtured by a life of prayer and love, not only for her child but for her espoused, Joseph, and her family. Her sacrifices were not only for her child but for others.
Imagine all that Jesus experienced as Mary cared for those she loved! Her child was with her in ordinary daily tasks.  When she went to the synagogue to pray, she brought Jesus with her.   When she went to help her cousin Elizabeth, Jesus was there.  The joy and the love that they shared must surely have touched Jesus.  Surely the anxiety she must have had about the pregnancy, the journeys she made and giving birth in a strange place were also part of the experience. But, from all we know, even these anxieties were faced with great faith and confidence in God.  Remember how Jesus could pray “not my will, but your will be done?” In the safe darkness of Mary’s womb, Jesus may have learned that depth of faith in the Father.
Those long nine months came to an end on the first Christmas. The promise of the conception was fulfilled and a new phase of the adventure began with more surprises, challenges  questions, difficulties  and, of course, joy beyond all telling.
 

And us?
 This beautiful icon of God’s faithfulness to us and our faithfulness to God offers us real help to be true disciples. “Who is my mother and who are my brothers and sisters?” asked Jesus as he answered his own question: “ Those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” That can be us.  Meister Eckhart, a theologian of the Middle Ages asked this question at midnight Mass: “What difference does it make if Jesus was born 1500 years ago if we do not give birth to him today?”  This is the challenge to us that comes still, over 500 years later.
We stand at the beginning of Advent eight months pregnant and capable of giving birth to the Lord in this season. It will take acts of intense love and sacrifice.  Jesus becomes dependent on us to save us and to bestow on us the dignity of working with him to establish his kingdom. Though his love and sacrifice have a profound effect on us, we too can nurture his life with our sacrifice and goodness.
Does the Lord know our faith and prayer, as he did Mary’s?  Does the Lord know our love and compassion as he did Mary’s?   Has the Lord been brought to people in need by us, as Mary did?  Can we wait in joyful hope in the darkness of Advent?  It is our opportunity to prepare ourselves for that most wonderful moment when, filled with intense love, we will proclaim into our lives, the lives of those we love, and the life of all the world that Christ is born.  Together in him, we can have peace on earth, good will for all and, of course, joy beyond all telling.


Questions for reflection
1. What do you think of when you see the image of Mary?
2. How can we hear the word of God and keep it?
3. What does it mean to be a mother of Christ?

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Homily on The Feast of St. Anthony