Photo by Francesca Martino

DEAR friend, with the feast of St Anthony approaching, I decided to pick up a book I had not read for years: The Book on St Anthony’s Miracles. It is an extensive collection of his prodigious deeds written by the Franciscan friar Arnaldo de Serrano around 1370.

Of course, the book contains a lot of famous miracles such as the Sermon to the Fish, the Heretic’s Mule, the Re-attached Foot and the Apparition of the Baby Jesus, but there are several others that are less well known. Among them, I really liked the story of when St. Anthony healed a person with a mental illness, showing not only great gentleness, but also extraordinary skills as a psychologist.

One day, while Anthony was preaching in front of a large crowd, a man with a mental illness stood up and began to interrupt the homily and upset the listeners. Anthony asked him to be quiet, but the man replied that he would not do so until he gave him his cord.

The request might have seemed to have been made to ridicule the Saint, yet Anthony, not at all concerned, quite simply removed the cord and gave it to the poor man. The latter took it, clasped it to his heart and began to kiss it. In a short time, to the amazement of all the bystanders, he regained his wits and reason, and as soon as he realized this, he knelt down before the Saint and thanked him for healing him.

It is a short and simple account of a miracle that certainly does not have the spectacular nature of the other, more famous ones, but our beloved Saint does not aim for ‘special effects’; he seeks above all closeness to the person and his problems. And indeed, he first tried to convince the disturber to be quiet and did so with extreme delicacy. Then, faced with a request that might seem disrespectful, he did not take offence, but played along.

The poor man with a mental illness needed a sign of attention, a sign of affection. And that poor gift, the Franciscan rope, which had an extraordinary value for him since Anthony was already revered by all as a saint, triggered a violent emotion in the poor man. It was like regaining possession of himself, of his own conscience. And the miracle happened.

Is not this loving attention precisely the main remedy that even modern psychiatry prescribes in the case of so many people living with mental health issues? Centuries ahead of his time, Anthony put these very principles into practice: his holiness enabled him to realize that the discrimination, the contempt in which people with a mental illness were held, must be overcome in the name of a profound love for the human person.

Over the centuries many stories have been handed down to us of miracles of healing performed by Saint Anthony. However, many more are the healings that have never been recounted, but which are represented by the many objects left beside the Saint’s Tomb as a sign of gratitude by all those who have obtained a grace through his intercession. These are small pictures, silver hearts, wax models of diseased body parts, photos…

Dear friend, today at the end of the evening Mass, I shall go to the Chapel that houses St. Anthony’s remains, and with my hand on his Tomb, I shall say the following prayer for you and your loved ones: “O Holy St. Anthony, during your life you have always shown great love for the sick; you were moved by their sufferings, and many times you restored them to health. Please intercede with the Father so that our dear sick relatives and friends may receive the gift of health. Amen.

Updated on June 01 2023