Tony, Tony Come Around: The Life of St. Anthony of Padua
Perhaps one of the most famous Catholic clichés is St. Anthony of Padua’s patronage of lost things. Did you lose your keys? You better get on your knees and start praying to St. Anthony.
There is the popular, more traditional prayer:
“St. Anthony, perfect imitator of Jesus, who received from God the special power of restoring lost things, grant that I may find [name the item] which has been lost. At least restore to me peace and tranquility of mind, the loss of which has afflicted me even more than my material loss. To this favor, I ask another of you: that I may always remain in possession of the true good that is God. Let me rather lose all things than lose God, my supreme good. Let me never suffer the loss of my greatest treasure, eternal life with God. Amen.”
The shortened version:
“Dear St. Anthony, please come around. Something is list and it cannot be found!”
Or the version that seems appropriate when you are in a panic (which I have prayed many times):
“Tony, Tony come around! Something is lost and must be found!”
St. Anthony has helped me find my prized positions from lost Rosaries, water bottles and headphones. But who is this mysterious saint who is celebrated by the church in such a unique way?
Like many of the saints of his time, a lot of legends surround the life of St. Anthony. Regardless, he lived a life of heroic virtue through his preaching and deeds.
St. Anthony was born in 1195 in Lisbon, Portugal to a prominent Christian family. He had a happy childhood and his parents were supportive of his practicing the faith. When he was 15, entered order of St. Augustine and intensely studied Augustinian theology. He was a bright student whose studies influenced his eventual ministry as a Franciscan. During his studies, he was ordained a priest.
After many years with the Augustinians, he eventually sought permission to take up the Franciscan habit. He heard the stories about the martyrdom of five Franciscans in Morocco, the first of the Franciscan order to be killed and desired to join their order. Both the Augustinians and Franciscans accepted that it was the will of God for Anthony to be a Franciscan and live a life of poverty.
He traveled to Morocco to preach, but suddenly fell ill and was sent back to Portugal by way of the sea. However, he never arrived. His ship ran into storms he arrived near Sicily. The friars at the local mission did not know him but accepted him as a fellow Franciscan brother and nursed him back to health.
He eventually worked his way to Northern Italy where he desired to live a life of seclusion and contemplation in a hermitage.
In 1222, he attended an ordination ceremony and was asked to give a short and simple sermon. Because he was a humble Franciscan, no one assumed he had the vast education he received from the Augustinians. However, St. Anthony blew everyone in attendance away with his wisdom, holiness and charisma.
St. Francis of Assisi heard about Anthony’s gifts, but was concerned that theological studies at such an academic level led to abandonment of the community and vow of real poverty. However, in Anthony, he found profound humility and assigned him to become a public preacher and entrusted him with the responsibility to teach members of the order seeking ordination.
Anthony was obedient, although concerned because many of the public preachers lived a life that contrasted that of the poor whom they preached. He recognized that his words would not be enough. He had to show gospel poverty in a public manner. Many people were moved by his example.
He taught throughout France and Northern Italy, but eventually settled in Padua to preach and write sermon notes to help other Franciscan preachers. He was also appointed provincial superior of Northern Italy.
He was known throughout the church for his writings. Even Pope Gregory IX invited him to visit Rome to preach. His words were so powerful, that many people later said it seemed like the miracle of Pentecost repeated. Often times, when he preached, the crowds would grow so large (upwards of 30,000 people), the churches could not hold them, so he preached in piazzas or open fields.
One famous legend about St. Anthony is that one day, while preaching, he grew frustrated because he felt that his words were falling on deaf ears, so he left the crowd and went to the river to preach to the fish who listened intently to him.
Another legend is that St. Anthony had a book of psalms that was of great importance to him because it contained notes that he used to teach his students. This was before the invention of the printing press, so all books were hand written, rare, and very valuable. A novice who decided to leave the order maliciously took the book with him. St. Anthony prayed that the book would be found and returned. The thief had a change of heart, returned the book and rejoined the order. The book is said to be preserved at the Franciscan Friary library in Bologna.
In 1231, Anthony became very ill with ergotism and died on June 13. He was 35 years old. He was canonized by Pope Gregory IX less than a year after his death after seeing the miracles that occurred at his tomb, including the recovery of lost items! He was named a Doctor of the Church in 1946 by Pope Pius XII.
St. Anthony lost himself totally to the will of God. He gave up the comforts of his studies with the Augustinians to join the Franciscans; he was lost at sea for months when he was already weakened and ill; he was entrusted to form young men in what would become one of the most influential religious orders in the world. He may have been lost in his life concerning his vocation, location and situation, but he never lost his trust in the Lord that he would be found.
There will be a day when find yourself in a panic because you’ve lost your keys and Mass starts in 5 minutes at a church that is 15 minutes away (speaking from experience…). Fall on your knees to pray that famous prayer and remember the life of the man who is racing to intercede for you. Then maybe you will find your keys still hanging in the lock of the front door from when you entered the house a few hours before…
St. Anthony of Padua, pray for us!