There is something common among all the saints. As a matter of fact that is what made them saints: They put God first above all things. Our Christian faith, pastoral ministry in the church, and Christian holiness consists in giving primacy for God. When we fail to give the first place, that is God’s right place soon we will be secularised. When God is no more in Him prime place we lose meaning in life. Surely Europe that nourished the Christian faith of the world seems to be in an crisis of faith due is God not given his primacy. It is unfortunate truth that Africa is following the same trend. Saints constantly remind us of primacy of God in our life. Perhaps St. Antony whose feast we celebrate on 13th June is a shining example giving God His Primacy.
St. Antony of Padua who lived in 13th century stands as solid witness for primacy of God. He is often praised as miracle worker and made patron for many human needs. But studying his life makes us realize that he was truly a man of God who lived with the thought of God in every moment of his life. He is known for his sermons and teachings which are simple yet profound. Few statements extracted from his homilies make us reflect deeply…
“Christians must lean on the Cross of Christ just as travellers lean on a staff when they begin a long journey… Attribute to God every good that you have received. If you take credit for something that does not belong to you, you will be guilty of theft… The life of the body is the soul; the life of the soul is God.”
For the past eight centuries Church has venerated St. Antony as a miracle worker, with the title, “Finder of Lost Articles.” Antony was born of wealthy parents in Lisbon, Portugal, in 1195 and rather young at the age of 36, on 13 June 1231. From age 15 – 25, he lived as a monk in the Order of St. Augustine. Later he became a Franciscan priest and exercised his priesthood for the last 11 years of his life. He amazed his listeners with his speaking skill and knowledge of the Bible. Anthony was made a saint in a record time of only one year.
During his life time there was a tension between the Church and Islamic faith. When group of missionaries were killed in Morocco for their faith, Antony was so moved and pledged to become a missionary himself. He joined a group of sailors and reached Morocco but due to ill health he had to return back to Europe. But God’s will was different for him. The sail that he travelled with was forced to land near Sicily due to a heavy storm.
Moving to northern Italy, Anthony went to live in a little Franciscan hermitage on the top of Monte Paolo for about one year. Long periods of solitude and prayer were interspersed with manual labour, such as cooking and washing dishes for the community. Anthony’s challenge was to discover what God wanted, rather than what he wanted. Anthony saw failure as a kind of heaven-sent guidepost telling him that God was leading him in another direction. Failure in what Anthony considered the primary goal of his life, to be a martyr, turned into the vehicle by which he became the extraordinary saint that he is today.
Antony’s prayer was “Here I am Lord, I have come to do your will,” he became a preacher to the Franciscans and the people of Italy. Seeing his wisdom and eloquence St. Francis of Assisi assigned him to teach theology and help out in the formation of young monks. He rooted his spiritual life on the Eucharist and devotion of the Blessed Mother Mary. On making him the Doctor of the Church Pope Pius XII suggested we go to St. Anthony, not just for favours, but to learn the path of holiness of life. For him devotion to God is mightier than all else.
The same thought Pope Francis echoes in a homily he gave at Mass on July 26, 2014: “The precious pearl of the kingdom should precede every other earthly good; we must put God first in our lives, prefer Him to everything. Giving primacy to God means having the courage to say no to evil, violence, oppression, living a life of service to others and in favour of the law and the common good. When a person finds God, the true treasure, they leave a selfish lifestyle and look to share with others the love that comes from God.”
St. Anthony helps us to understand the great truth taught by St. Paul: “Jesus learned obedience to the Divine Will and came to realize his own perfection through the things that he suffered.” He gives us hope when things appear hopeless. He seems to tell us “I did it in God’s way.”
PRAYER OF CONFIDENCE TO SAINT ANTHONY
O holy St. Anthony, Beloved Friend of Jesus,
I place myself in your heavenly care.
Be with me, especially in life’s troubles and difficulties.
Intercede before the Lord for me,
so that I may confidently know I do not face my problems alone.
I join my prayers to yours, O Great Saint,
as I ask God to give me consolation in times of sorrow,
courage when I am afraid,
and healing from all the ills that afflict me.
Obtain for me from God, Most High,
the grace to accept whatever is God’s holy will
for me and my loved ones.
Strengthen my faith so that I will never despair,
but always have hope in God’s healing presence and power in my life.
Fr. Lazar Arasu SDB