Celebrating the Life and Miracles of St Anthony of Padua on his Memorial today 13 June
St Anthony and the Holy Eucharist
Anthony has been pictured by artists and sculptors in all kinds of ways. He is depicted with a book in his hands, with a lily or torch. He has been painted preaching to fish, holding a monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament in front of a mule or preaching in the public square or from a nut tree.
To prove to the heretics that Jesus is truly in the Blessed Sacrament, a horse was not given any food for three days. Oats were placed in front of him. The horse refused to eat the oats till he had knelt down and adored Jesus in the Holy Eucharist that St Anthony held in his hand. This took place in Rimini Italy.
St Anthony and the Child Jesus
But since the 17th century we most often find the saint shown with the child Jesus in his arm or even with the child standing on a book the saint holds. A story about Saint Anthony related in the complete edition of Butler’s Lives of the Saints (edited, revised and supplemented by Herbert Anthony Thurston, S.J., and Donald Attwater) projects back into the past a visit of Anthony to the Lord of Chatenauneuf. Anthony was praying far into the night when suddenly the room was filled with light more brilliant than the sun. Jesus then appeared to Saint Anthony under the form of a little child. Chatenauneuf, attracted by the brilliant light that filled his house, was drawn to witness the vision but promised to tell no one of it until after Anthony’s death.
Some may see a similarity and connection between this story and the story in the life of Saint Francis when he re-enacted at Greccio the story of Jesus and the Christ Child became alive in his arms. There are other accounts of appearances of the child Jesus to Francis and some companions.
These stories link Anthony with Francis in a sense of wonder and awe concerning the mystery of Christ’s incarnation. They speak of a fascination with the humility and vulnerability of Christ who emptied himself to become one like us in all things except sin. For Anthony, like Francis, poverty was a way of imitating Jesus who was born in a stable and would have no place to lay his head.
Patron of Sailors, Travelers, Fishermen
In Portugal, Italy, France and Spain, Saint Anthony is the patron saint of sailors and fishermen. According to some biographers his statue is sometimes placed in a shrine on the ship’s mast. And the sailors sometimes scold him if he doesn’t respond quickly enough to their prayers.
Not only those who travel the seas but also other travelers and vacationers pray that they may be kept safe because of Anthony’s intercession. Several stories and legends may account for associating the saint with travelers and sailors.
First, there is the very real fact of Anthony’s own travels in preaching the gospel, particularly his journey and mission to preach the gospel in Morocco, a mission cut short by severe illness. But after his recovery and return to Europe he was a man always on the go, heralding the Good News.
There is also a story of two Franciscan sisters who wished to make a pilgrimage to a shrine of our Lady but did not know the way. A young man is supposed to have volunteered to guide them. Upon their return from the pilgrimage one of the sisters announced that it was her patron saint, Anthony, who had guided them.
Still another story says that in 1647 Father Erastius Villani of Padua was returning by ship to Italy from Amsterdam. The ship with its crew and passengers was caught in a violent storm. All seemed doomed. Father Erastius encouraged everyone to pray to Saint Anthony. Then he threw some pieces of cloth that had touched a relic of Saint Anthony into the heaving seas. At once, the storm ended, the winds stopped and the sea became calm.
Among the Franciscans themselves and in the liturgy of his feast, Saint Anthony is celebrated as a teacher and preacher extraordinaire. He was the first teacher in the Franciscan Order, given the special approval and blessing of Saint Francis to instruct his brother Franciscans. His effectiveness as a preacher calling people back to the faith resulted in the title “Hammer of Heretics.” Just as important were his peacemaking and calls for justice.
In canonising Anthony in 1232, Pope Gregory IX spoke of him as the “Ark of the Testament” and the “Repository of Holy Scripture.” That explains why Saint Anthony is frequently pictured with a burning light or a book of the Scriptures in his hands. In 1946 Pope Pius XII officially declared Anthony a Doctor of the Universal Church. It is in Anthony’s love of the word of God and his prayerful efforts to understand and apply it to the situations of everyday life that the Church especially wants us to imitate Saint Anthony.
While noting in the prayer of his feast Anthony’s effectiveness as an intercessor, the Church wants us to learn from Anthony, the teacher, the meaning of true wisdom and what it means to become like Jesus, who humbled and emptied himself for our sakes and went about doing good.
Franciscan Father Norman Perry (1929-1999) served as editor-in-chief of St. Anthony Messenger magazine for 18 years.
St Anthony of Padua, Pray for us!