Eleventh Sunday, year B.
Novena of St. Anthony Concluding Mass at St. John’s Cathedral
I met a man the other day who told me he had recently met a friend of many years who said to him, “You know, I’ve reached the age of wonder”. “What do you mean?” said his friend. “More and more I find myself saying, ‘I wonder where I left my glasses, I wonder where I left my keys, I wonder where I left my jacket…”
Admittedly, you don’t have to be a senior citizen to have these moments of wonder. And which of us has not experienced the frustration of having lost or mislaid something and searching for it frantically. So often we turn to St. Anthony for help to find things that we’ve lost or wondered where we’ve put. More seriously, we turn to St. Anthony when we are worried about a family member, a difficult situation when our inner peace is taken from us.
Though he was greatly known for his theology, his preaching, his Franciscan lifestyle, what St. Anthony is mostly remembered for today is the help he gives us when we lose things or feel lost in some way. He is the Patron Saint of Lost things, lost people, lost spiritual reality.
On this last day of the Novena, helped by our Sunday readings, I want to suggest a few points about our devotion to St. Anthony.
A first point. We remember that when we venerate a saint we are venerating Christ at work in them. In each saint, we see some particular aspect of Christ at work. In St. Anthony and the devotion associated with him, we see perhaps Christ who came to save the lost. The people of Israel ended up lost when they were sent into exile. But as we read in the First Reading, God was on their side. He promised them he would bring them back. The prophet uses the imagine of low small branch that will become a fine noble cedar tree. Though it seemed the People of Israel had become lost, little, irrelevant, God did bring them out of exile and re-shaped them as a people. God can do that with us too. This is what he does in Jesus Christ who laid down his life for us. There is no situation of pessimism, darkness or discouragement or feeling lost that God cannot help us overcome. So this is a first point to remember in our St. Anthony devotion. Be confident, as St. Paul puts it, in the second reading. It is one of Anthony’s great virtues. Be confident because of your faith in Jesus Christ.
A second point. When we lose something, we can often become quite distressed. Our hearts sinks. We get frustrated. We worry. We feel a little powerless, out of control. Experiences like this, however, teach us patience, another virtue associated with St. Anthony. The Gospel uses the image of the farmer sowing a seed and then waiting, having patience for it to grow. He doesn’t even know how it grows. Somehow, by some miracle, it grows. Perhaps in the moments when we lose things, we are being invited by God to exercise patience. We’re not in control. And in these moments, we find ourselves realising we have to accept that. It’s at moments like these that we find our heart crying out to God for help. Maybe this tells us something about prayer. When St. Anthony defined prayer, he didn’t speak of it as “raising our mind” to God which we normally say. Rather, St. Anthony spoke of prayer as “raising our heart to God”. Yes, prayer is a heart to heart conversation with God. We turn to God from our heart in sincerity, speaking to him from our real life situation, telling him how things are, expressing our frustration. But all the while knowing God has a heart that loves my little heart. So, in praying for our lost things, we remember God is inviting us: “Give me your heart; live for me”.
A third point. When we lose things, we can often find ourselves giving out to ourselves! We blame ourselves for not being more careful, or not organising ourselves better or keeping the house or desk tidier… At moments like this we can think of our little defects that annoy us. The fact is that we all have defects and little personality traits that we know could be improved on but we seem unable to get beyond them. The people who live with us know them only too well: “he is always losing things; she’s always rushing; he’s always absent-minded…”. St. Anthony had an interesting thing to say about this. He points out that even virtuous people retain defects. But, he said, those defects can be good for their humiliation. His point is that even though they are small defects, the fact that the virtuous person can’t overcome them is like a continuous reminder to live with humility. So when we lose things, it helps us be a little humbler.
These are the three points I thought of offering this morning as we remember St. Anthony and our devotion to him as Patron of lost things, persons and spiritual reality: be confident and trust; give God your heart; live with humility. Next time you lose something and turn to St. Anthony, certainly tell him what you need but remember what’s going on: you are being called to make a new act of trust in Jesus and the Holy Spirit, declare your heart-felt love for God and recognise your humility.
Yes, let’s say our prayer to St. Anthony. But like St. Anthony, let’s live the will of God moment by moment, trusting, loving and being humble.