Have faith in the powerful intercession of St. Anthony

DEAR friend, The Little Flowers of Saint Francis is the title of a book written in the late 14th century by an anonymous writer from Florence. It relates many colorful anecdotes, miracles and examples of piety from the life of St. Francis and his followers. In one of these stories, Brother Masseo, one of Francis’ first companions, asks him, “Why does the whole world come after you?”

A humble and simple friar, Masseo asked this question not out of envy, but rather out of a deep sense of wonder and amazement. He was struck by the fact that people from all walks of life were attracted to St. Francis and his message of simplicity, poverty and devotion to God.

In these days leading up to the feast of St. Anthony, seeing all the people of every age group and background crowding his Basilica here in Padua, one of my fellow friars who recently joined our community, asked me a similar question, “Why do so many people come to Padua to pray to St. Anthony?”

This is certainly not a new question. Over the centuries, theologians, historians, and scholars have tried to give their answers, but perhaps they have not been entirely convincing, at least to me. Or rather, they were not as convincing as some sociologists who, a few years ago, came to Padua to ask devotees why they were part of the 3 million people who come to the Basilica each year to pray at the Tomb of a Saint who died almost 800 years ago. The answer received from the vast majority of devotees was, “I come here because for me this is the home of Saint Anthony, and he is our closest family friend.”

Remember the famous proverb He who finds a friend, finds a treasure? It comes to us from the Bible.  In Sirach, we read, “A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter; he that has found one, has found a treasure” (6:14). In the Bible, in fact, the theme of friendship is treated extensively in practically every book that make it up, books that also present us with beautiful stories of friendship such as that between David and Jonathan or between Ruth and Naomi.

Jesus too, during his earthly life, was surrounded by friends: the Apostles, Martha, Mary and Lazarus, and many others who knew him and with whom he had close friendships. In all of these relationships, the Lord showed us the value of friendship, and how necessary it is in life.

A few years ago, during a General Audience, Pope Benedict XVI urged all of us to have a special “travelling companion” on the journey of our Christian life. Then he added, “Everyone must have some Saint with whom he or she is on familiar terms, to feel close to with prayer and intercession, but also to emulate.”

This thought of Pope Benedict describes very well why so many people come here to Padua every day. Anthony is their closest friend, always willing to listen to them and give them the help they need. That is why they stop in front of his Tomb, caress the marble slab that separates them from his body, and whisper their prayers to him. They know that Anthony listens to them, and that sooner or later he will give them an answer.

Dear friend, you have no idea how many people my fellow friars and I pray for each day, especially in these difficult times. I know that you too have asked us for our prayers. Have faith in the powerful intercession of St. Anthony. God is merciful and will hear your prayer. Don’t forget what Jesus said, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (Mt 21:22).

Happy Feast of St. Anthony!

Updated on June 19 2024