Real talk, I am not particularly connected to St. Anthony of Padua. Not yet anyway. I tend to be devoted to the lady Saints, in particular the female Doctors of the Church like Teresa and Thérèse. However, I regularly wear a St. Anthony’s medallion around my neck, along with a golden bee given to me by my mother and a slender silver crucifx. I found the St. Anthony medal in my jewelry box: my jewelry box is a mysterious uncharted territory full of undiscovered wonders. And earrings missing their match. The medal is solid gold and has a date engraved in cursive on the back, 12-16-1962, which I can only assume was someone’s confirmation date? Who that someone was, I have no idea. When I learned that St. Anthony was patron to the poor, I felt called to wear it.
Saint Anthony was a Franciscan Friar and Priest who lived between the years of 1195- 1231. He was known for his spirited preaching, so spirited in fact that apparently the fish raised their heads from the waters to listen. Anthony has rather interesting patronage but is best known for feeding the hungry and helping to find lost items and souls. He is also the Patron Saint of American Indians, amputees, barrenness, Brazil, elderly people, faith in the Blessed Sacrament, fishermen, harvests, horses, lower animals, mail, mariners, oppressed people, Portugal, pregnant women, shipwrecks, single people seeking a match, starvation, sterility, swineherds, Tigua Indians, travel hostesses, travelers, and watermen. (Someone feel free to comment and tell me what a waterman is.)
A variety of wild miracles are attributed to St. Anthony, including the ability to bilocate. (If only I too had this ability, I would never have to bring my kids into a grocery store ever again!) His best known quote is probably Actions speak louder than words; let your words teach and your actions speak. This advice is still heard on the regular, almost 800 years after his death. I love this article examining the iconography of St. Anthony, who is typically shown holding the Christ Child in a most tender way. The author tells us that Anthony, as a follower of St. Francis and the Franciscan tradition, would have deeply honored the beautiful vulnerability of God as helpless infant. St. Anthony is also associated with lilies and many churches bless lilies in his honor on his feast day, June 13th.
So what does one do on the Feast of Saint Anthony? Well, in Italy and in Italian neighborhoods across the United States, they have proper festivals and street processions. The Clarkson family is very not Italian. (What a sentence!) Moreover, we had already made plans to attend a birthday dinner at my mother’s house in honor of all the June-Born in our family, so we knew we wouldn’t be making an Italian meal. We would be eating piles of smoked meat like Southerners. But drinking Sangria is customary on the feast of St. Anthony and we were more than happy to make some and haul it with us to our dinner! Sangria was served at our wedding reception, which like St. Anthony’s feast was also held during the sultry month of June. Besides, a visit to Mammy and Grandpa’s bright blue villa always brings our little family a lot of joy.
The sharing of St. Anthony’s bread, in which the word bread can refer to either a donation of actual bread or money, is another common practice on this day. This is an area where Tim and I have really fallen short as parents: while we have tried to teach generosity to our girls, they don’t exactly have an image of us serving others or donating time or money to those in need. But I’ve realized that it is foolish for me to refrain from giving just because I’m worried that its pointless to offer a skimpy amount. A skimpy amount is something. We plan to start bringing spare change with us to Mass, enough to tithe and put something in the envelopes provided in the pews for helping the poor. Tim and I were both really moved by the homily given last week, which expounded on the life of Blessed Oscar Romero. Romero, an Archbishop in El Salvador, was assassinated on the altar while offering Mass in 1980. He spoke beautifully on the rights of the poor and the marginalized; I cried in Church listening to a reading of his words. My man Pope Francis has wasted no time having Romero beatified and rightfully so. Illuminated souls like St. Anthony and soon-to-be-Saint Oscar Romero can guide us towards sharing whatever we can with those in need, even if our contributions are meager. I admit that both these men are strangers to me and yet I hope they have been revealed to me for good reason. We’ll see.