June 13 is the feast day of one of the most popular and loved saints of the Catholic church, Saint Anthony of Padua. St. Anthony of Padua was the fastest canonized saint in Church history, taking place a mere 11 months after his death. In 1946 he was proclaimed a doctor of the Church. St. Anthony was a Franciscan friar who lived during the lifetime of the founder of the Franciscan order, St. Francis of Assisi.
St. Anthony was born in Lisbon, Portugal in 1195 and became known as Saint Anthony ‘of Padua’ because he founded a convent near the Italian city where he spent the last years of his life. He died near Padua, Italy in 1231 when he was just 36 years old. He was the foremost preacher in his day and also taught theology.
At 15 years of age Saint Anthony relinquished a life of nobility, wealth, and honor, and chose instead to live a life in service to God among the Augustinians. Many years later St. Anthony witnessed the dead bodies of martyred Franciscan friars passing through the town where he was stationed. Filled with renewed zeal to follow Christ even more completely after the example of these martyrs, St. Anthony joined the Franciscan order and traveled to Morocco to preach to the Moors. However, ill health prevented him from this task and he was forced to return to Italy. There he lived a largely quiet and secluded life, spending his time in prayer, study, and priestly duties. However, no one had any idea of St. Anthony’s studies or of his giftedness as a preacher and teacher of theology.
It wasn’t until a turn of events left an ordination service without a prepared homily that St. Anthony’s talents as a preacher emerged. With no one prepared to speak, Saint Anthony was pressed by the other friars in attendance (both Franciscans and Dominicans) to take on the impromptu task. After initially hesitating, St. Anthony was encouraged by the others to speak whatever the spirit of God gave him to say.
St. Anthony proceeded to preach with great brilliance, much to the shock of all in attendance. His time spent studying the Scriptures, praying, serving God, and living a life of poverty, chastity, and obedience prescribed by the Franciscan order prepared him to be used mightily by God. St. Anthony of Padua was appointed as the first Franciscan friar to teach theology to the other friars due to his giftedness and love for God. He was later sent to preach to heretics who were spreading their false doctrines far and wide, often converting them from their erroneous path. His zeal, oratory skill, and many conversions won him the title “Hammer of the Heretics”.
In saint statues and prayer cards Saint Anthony is often depicted holding a book to emphasize his great learning, or a lily to emphasize his purity, as well as the infant Jesus. Unfortunately, St. Anthony is never depicted holding a hammer to emphasize his oratory skill against the heretics!
St. Anthony reminds us that life is very short, and the eternal rewards of living a life completely committed to Jesus are very great. A quote from one of St. Anthony of Padua’s sermons serves as a mini autobiography of the life of this great saint:
“The saints are like the stars. In his providence Christ conceals them in a hidden place that they may not shine before others when they might wish to do so. Yet they are always ready to exchange the quiet of contemplation for the works of mercy as soon as they perceive in their heart the invitation of Christ.”
Read more from St. Anthony of Padua online from the Franciscan Archives.