Seasonal Reflection: St. Anthony of Padua
by John Maganzini, OFM
In anticipation of the feast of St. Anthony of Padua on June 13, John Maganzini, OFM, of St. Anthony Shrine in Boston, has submitted a reflection about how he learned about the saint and some of the songs and prayers to the patron saint of travelers, fishermen and, of course, lost items.
Growing up in the Boston area and belonging to a very small Italian parish named St. Anthony of Padua allowed me at a very young age to develop a devotion to this saint. I can remember the special novenas in honor of St. Anthony and the small pieces of bread that resembled “mini-bread sticks” being blessed and given out on Tuesdays. The church had special lilies for his feast day, and the pious people of the parish would fill the church with more lilies, which became so symbolic of this saint.
As children, we were taught a hymn in honor of St. Anthony that we sang every week:
St. Anthony, we praise thee and sing
Thy wondrous power
Oh, never fail to aid us
In every needy hour.
St. Anthony, oh, teach us
Thine ardent zeal and love
And with our hearts turned toward Thee
Bring aid from God above.
Our prayers were simple. We could see St. Anthony holding the Christ Child, and we were told, “Whisper your needs to St. Anthony and tell him to whisper them to Jesus.” Lots of whispering continued into adulthood.
Getting to Know the Shrine
As I grew up, I came to know St. Anthony Shrine & Ministry Center and visited the shrine every time I would come into Boston. I was always struck by the numbers of people at Masses, confession, and just spending time visiting and praying, especially in front of the very large statue of St. Anthony. He came to be known by so many as the “Wonder Worker of Miracles.”
I always enjoyed listening to the many stories of Anthony’s life. But the one that always stayed with me was when Anthony was only 27, a number of Dominicans and Franciscans were ordained. The person chosen to give the homily did not show, so Anthony was asked to say a few simple words. I recall reading, “… he began to speak slowly and as he began to speak his words, captured their imagination and their hearts caught fire…” When he finished the friars realized they were in the presence of a brilliant and powerful preacher. St. Anthony was truly one of “God’s surprises” for St. Francis of Assisi.
Nearly everywhere St. Anthony is asked to intercede with God for the return of things lost or stolen: “Tony, Tony, turn around. Something’s lost and must be found.” We learned that Anthony had a book of psalms that he loved, and a novice, about to leave the Order, took the psalm book. Anthony prayed it would be returned. The novice not only returned the book, but returned to the Order!
Other devotions to St. Anthony give him the titles of patron of sailors, travelers, and fishermen and teacher, preacher, and doctor of Scripture.
The symbols of St. Anthony are significant:
- The lily represents St. Anthony’s purity of heart and his devotion to Mary under her title “Immaculate Conception” and Queen of the Order of Friars Minor.
- The Franciscan habit is a reminder of Anthony’s journey to the Franciscan Order.
- The Christ Child expresses his attachment to the humanity of Christ.
- The open book of the Gospels reminds us that Anthony was a great preacher and brilliant communicator of the Word.
- The flame is a symbol of his zeal and passion.
- The bread recalls Anthony’s charity to the poor. In many Franciscan churches, “St. Anthony’s Bread for the Poor,” which goes back to 1263, is a way of giving that enables the friars to carry on their ministry to the poor. But, the bread not only symbolizes bread to eat, but the nourishment we receive from the Word of God.
Seeing a Model for Living a good Christian Life
St. Anthony’s spirituality is exemplified in his famous sermons:
- Give yourself wholly to Christ!
- Never forget that Jesus loves us wholly in the Eucharist.
- Serve the poor in Christ.
- Seek God before all else.
At St. Anthony Shrine & Ministry Center, each Tuesday a special novena prayer is read at all the liturgies. The feast of St. Anthony includes a yearly street fair, blessing and distribution of St. Anthony Bread and lilies, and culminates with a festive day of celebration on June 13.
As we look to the life of St. Anthony of Padua, we see a model for living a good Christian life. As we celebrate this great Saint and his special feast, we pray that St. Anthony work “little miracles” in each of us that touch our hearts and transform us, that we, too, might “carry Christ to the world.”
— Br. John is a vicar at St. Anthony Shrine, where he has lived and worked since 1996. His previous assignment was at Holy Cross Parish, Bronx, N.Y., where he was a teacher in the parish school and also served as part of the administrative team.