I probably learned about St. Anthony of Padua before I knew how to say the Hail Mary. I have lost things since I first could grasp them, and my sweet grandmother, with her folksy trust in the saints, taught me to ask St. Anthony for help finding lost objects. To this day, I am amazed at the concrete assistance I get. (My late husband, confirmed Evangelical Protestant that he was, made friends with St. Anthony as with a buddy in the trenches. He lost things, too. A lot.)
But that's all I've known until, in the throes of planning an upcoming trip to Italy, I came across Padua and more about "The Saint," as he has been known in his home town since the day of his death. What a remarkable soul!
The thing that strikes me is how homey his miracles are. A barrel of wine runs dry because his companion's cup breaks as he's trying to fill it -- but the saint's prayers result in a repaired cup and full cask. One day, as he's preaching to crowds as storms threaten, he miraculously preserves them from the rain. These are the actions of an abundantly generous God, reminiscent of the wedding at Cana.
But St. Anthony is primarily revered as an inspired preacher whose words resulted in the conversion and reconciliation of thousands and who so inspired the Pope that he was canonized within a year of his death. In 1231, he preached a series of sermons during Lent, primarily directed against hatred and enmity. The crowds, often numbering close to 30,000 responded in tremendous depth as they reconciled relationships, forgave debts, and flooded the available priests with requests for confessions. (Patron of the lost -- souls, that is.)
Contrary to our expectations that heroic sanctity, like an Old Testament prophet, is not recognized in one's home town, when St. Anthony died (at the tender age of 36), children ran through the streets weeping as the entire region mourned his loss.
And to think I only gave him a thought when my car keys were missing. Sorry, St. Anthony. It's good to know you.
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