Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Anthony of Padua

Today the Catholic Church, and communities of Franciscan men religious especially, celebrate the feast of Saint Anthony of Padua, a Portuguese priest of the 13th century. He was among the first generation of Franciscan friars, one of its first major theologians, and a renowned preacher and teacher.

It is a custom among Catholics to acknowledge their name-day, that is, the feast day of the saint whose name they bear. Now, there happen to be four Anthonys in the calendar of celebrations observed throughout the Roman Catholic Church. So you could also wish me well on January 17 (Saint Anthony of Egypt, a pioneer of monasticism), July 5 (Saint Anthony Zaccaria, a priest), and October 24 (Saint Anthony Mary Claret, a bishop). However, I prefer to observe June 13, obviously! I can identify with this Anthony. You could say he experienced a conversion-within-a-conversion. Moved by the evangelical poverty and subsequent martyrdom of a band of Franciscan friars he had met, Anthony, already a priest, left his clerical community and his scholarly pursuits to join the Franciscan community. He found his niche with the friars when called upon one day to preach because no one else was qualified to do so. His eloquence, empathy, and learning shone through, and he was commissioned by the minister general to preach across northern Italy. Then he caught the attention of Francis of Assisi himself, who entrusted to Anthony's tutelage the training of young friars destined for ordination. Having abandoned theological studies to follow Francis, now Anthony had reclaimed his gift of education for the sake of the brothers.

In truth I do not know much more about Anthony than this, but I would like to learn more about him, because I am confident his life in all it turns, and his distinctive example, would be instructive for me as I aspire to evangelical fraternity. Like him, I want my head to be connected to my heart and hands. I want my intellectual gifts to be put in the service of community. I want a spirit of fraternity to invigorate me and equip me for discipleship.

With such pious desires stirring beneath the surface, it is with gratitude and good humor I receive my religious brothers' congratulations and well wishes today.

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