Son of St Francis

December 13 2020 | by

INTELLECTUALS, the wealthy, and the educated, love, above all other saints, Francis of Assisi who, culturally speaking, was an ordinary man. Undoubtedly the best-known saint in the world, after the Blessed Mother, Francis inspires even non-Christians to emulate him. Nearly everyone who has heard of Francis can recount the broad outline of his life – rich young man become poor, joy in God’s creation, service to the poor. These qualities inspire the wealthy, the educated, and the intellectuals to live less ostentatiously, to financially help the needy, and to patronize beauty.

In contrast, Anthony, a well-educated and cultured intellectual from a noble family, is best loved, after the Blessed Mother, by ordinary people. They acclaim him as a miracle worker, finder of lost articles, and universal helper. Possessing neither money, power, nor prestige to solve life’s challenges, ordinary people turn to Anthony’s intercession with God. However, his devotees know little about his life.




Both saints were born into wealth, Francis as the son of a self-made rich merchant and Anthony as son of a lesser noble. Both were called by the Holy Spirit to relinquish their prestige and money and to follow God in a religious way of life. Francis embraced a radical vision. He became a homeless volunteer worker who begged for food if those he helped didn’t feed him. Anthony joined the Augustinians, a well-established religious order which had a monastery in his area. Having transferred away from home to escape visits from family and friends, Anthony met poor Franciscan brothers when they came begging. Their precarious life convicted Anthony to surrender to the Lord his security of monastery life. Becoming a Franciscan, he received permission to preach to the Islamic Moroccans who had martyred previous Franciscan preachers. However, just as two years earlier, Francis, by the sultan’s respect for him, had escaped martyrdom, so now Anthony’s desire to be martyred was foiled when illness prevented his preaching.

Just as sickness had broken Francis’ willfulness and led him to give his life to God, so illness caused Anthony to reflect on his life. Realizing that he was striving for holiness in his own way, he finally surrendered all his will to the Lord.

Anthony knew that Francis and his friars, although untrained, were preaching simple messages of conversion, not only to humans, but also to birds and other creatures. Early in his life as a Franciscan, Anthony preached to the fish, who lifted their heads out of the sea, attentive to his words. Yet he had not intended to preach even though, as an Augustinian, he had been trained as a preacher. Humbly hiding his talent, Anthony was forced by the Lord into a situation where a preacher was needed, and he was the only one available. Thus he began a preaching career that brought his listeners conversion and himself fame.

However, fame did not impress either saint. Recognizing their own imperfections, both were annoyed by accolades. Francis was quick to confess his sins to a priest, and even to his brothers, and encouraged them to confess likewise. Anthony followed this advice but, being a priest himself, he also spent long hours hearing confessions and offering absolution to others, most often to those converted by his preaching.


Love and compassion


Francis’ poverty and love of nature are legendary. He embraced poverty because he was imitating Christ who emptied Himself of glory and assumed poor human flesh. Francis loved nature because every creature reflected God’s goodness, beauty, and wisdom. He venerated the Eucharist because, under the form of bread and wine, God visibly comes to us. Because of the Eucharist, Francis respected the dignity of priests who receive the grace to consecrate bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. Devotion to Christ led to devotion to Christ’s Mother, whose “yes” brought Christ into our world.

Francis’ life and writings reflect these views as do Anthony’s. In his sermons, Anthony frequently uses nature to explain spiritual realities. Many sermons speak of the Eucharist and the dignity of the priesthood. However, Anthony directs stinging rebukes for corrupt clergy, even calling them “idols.” In contrast, Anthony presents the Blessed Mother as a sinless, obedient vessel of God’s grace: daughter of God the Father, spouse of God the Holy Spirit, mother of God Jesus Christ.

Francis’ compassion for lepers and the poor flowed not only from pity, but also from piety, for in them he recognized the marginalized Christ. He bathed lepers’ sores and gave his mantle and clothing to those poorer than himself. Anthony advocated for debtors in Padua and succeeded in getting a law passed to prevent their incarceration. The compassion of both men extended even to public sinners whose sins they condemned in their preaching, but whom they never publicly named. By respecting the dignity of sinners, who recognized themselves in the homilies, the saints left sinners open to eventual conversion.


Lives of prayer


Prayer fueled each saint’s life. Francis spent half the year in hermitages in prayer and meditation. He so intensely contemplated the Passion that God imprinted its marks on his body through the stigmata. Likewise, Anthony spent long hours deep into the night in prayer, the fruit of which inspired his writing and preaching.

Both Francis and Anthony were devoted to Christ in the flesh. Francis’ meditation on the birth of Christ inspired him to create the first live Nativity tableau. At this, an attendee saw the Christ Child come alive in the manger. At another time, a count saw the Christ Child appear in Anthony’s arms, an acknowledgment of the saint’s purity and love of the incarnate Lord.

Francis’ love for God was paramount. ‘Real Franciscans’ are those who are devoted to Jesus, to the Blessed Sacrament, and to the Blessed Mother. ‘Real Franciscans’ live simply, poorly, and humbly in the manner of Jesus. They recognize and serve God in the poor. They rejoice in their Creator, whose reflection they see throughout creation.

Francis’ genuineness drew thousands of followers. These included Saint Clare and her Poor Sisters, living and praying in their cloister. It also included lay followers who lived at home, but who put aside their weapons, reduced their possessions, assisted those in need, and increased their prayer. Likewise, Anthony’ preaching drew many people into the First, Second, and Third Orders of Saint Francis.


Kaleidoscope lives


Francis and Anthony ought not be pigeonholed into one aspect of their kaleidoscope lives. While history records the story of Francis taming the wolf of Gubbio, it also records numerous times when he interacted with earthworms, insects, birds, fish, rabbits, and lambs. While the story is told of Anthony missing his Psalter which, upon his praying, was returned to him, history also divulges many other seemingly miraculous events. One time a servant girl bringing Anthony’s friary garden produce during a driving rain, but, upon her returning home, her clothes were completely dry. Another time, Anthony restored spilled wine when a woman forgot to turn off the tap to the wine barrel. To convert a heretic, Anthony showed both hay and the Eucharist to a starved mule which, ignoring the hay, knelt before the monstrance.

Francis and Anthony were ‘real Franciscans’. They loved God, venerated the Eucharist, respected the Blessed Mother, continually surrendered to Christ, and were compassionate to all. That’s what ‘real Franciscans’ do.

Updated on December 13 2020