St. Anthony Continues to Be Ubiquitous in the Life of the Church

HNP Communications by Gregory Gebbia

I always just assumed St. Anthony was Italian. He was celebrated with weeklong feasts at Italian parishes that concluded with dramatic processions that meandered through the neighborhood. The grand moment was reserved for the passing of his flower-adorned float. At certain points, the procession stopped, the music was silenced, and the float lowered so that a significant monetary gift of petition or gratitude could be pinned to the saint’s clothing. The evening of June 13 was brought to an exciting end with a display of fireworks. These scenes became permanently part of good memories that knitted our faith to the families of our neighborhood and parish community.

What made St. Anthony so loved and celebrated was unknown to me. For Italians, St. Anthony was family. Learning more about him, however, I grudgingly was forced to accept two facts about him. First, he was not Italian; he was Portuguese! Second, the Franciscans were not his first love. He initially was an Augustinian! After learning of the martyrdom of five Franciscans in Morocco, Anthony was set on following in their footsteps.

Anthony’s story shows us that God has other plans for us and makes crooked paths straight. When kissed by the Holy Spirit, the direction of any life is pivoted towards making God present and alive for others. It is important to see this and acknowledge how God’s Providence guided his life. Too ill to follow the path of martyrdom in Morocco, Anthony eventually made his way to the Chapter of Mats in Assisi. It was there that he met his soulmate, St. Francis. He thought all would be made right when a provincial from northern Italy offered him the experience of seclusion and contemplation.

His remarkable gifts for preaching were still left dormant until he was asked to preach at an ordination ceremony of both Dominicans and Franciscans. His gift was suddenly unveiled.

Centuries later, we continue to have access to his relevance for which he is celebrated. He is our “go to” person when we have lost something. He is also a friend of God for people who have lost a loved one, or for a relationship that is no longer life-giving. When our spirits and souls feel the agony of this loss, we need to pray, take hold of ourselves and remember that God is found present in our tears as much as our laughter. We can always find comfort in Anthony, for he is sought and celebrated under many titles: Consoler of the Afflicted, Example of Humility, Generator of Charity, Guide of Pilgrims, Liberator of Prisoners, Model of Perfection, Performer of Miracles, and Zealot for Justice.

Little wonder he continues to be ubiquitous in the life of the Church. He is our brother, friend, and living witness that God is our hope and the one on whom our hearts depend.

St. Anthony of Padua, pray for us.

Gregory is director of enrollment management strategic partnerships at Siena College in Loudonville, New York.