Imagine you are a young man, of noble birth, living in a foreign country, far from family, living amongst the poor and lower classes in 13th century Italy. You have a fine education, the breeding of nobility, your father is a knight to the King of Portugal, and you are now wearing rags, begging for your meals and often living in a tree or a cave. And yet you are profoundly and inexplicably filled with joy.
The young boy’s name is Fernando Matins, and his origins are the noble family de Bulhões of Lisbon, Portugal in the 1200’s. He is the first of four children. He was educated by the best teachers of his city, the Augustinian Canons, a religious order of men who were followers of the Rule of St. Augustine.
As a boy, Fernando was popular, easy going, a brilliant student and an attentive son. It is easy to imagine that his father, a knight, impressed on him the idea of knighthood, service to the King, and the great values of 13th Century chivalry: where defense of the innocent and honor towards all women were of utmost importance.
But Fernando did not follow in the footsteps of his father, but did take this sense of chivalry on another path. At age 15 Anthony joined the Augustinian Canons in his native Lisbon, where he received an excellent knowledge of the Bible. But at age 25 he encountered the funeral procession of 5 early Franciscan friars, who were martyred in Morocco preaching to the Moors. One can almost picture him meditating on the Gospel, finally discerning that he too must go out on mission to preach the kingdom of God as Jesus commanded his first disciples to do. He joined the Franciscans, was sent off to Africa, but by fate or Providence the winds took his ship to Sicily, where he joined some Franciscan friars on the way to the famous chapter of the Mats in Assisi.
stained glass" src="http://saltandlighttv.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Anthony-of-Padua-stained-glass-e1371049764203.jpg" width="210" height="235" />Assigned by St. Francis himself to the province of Romagna, Anthony soon demonstrated brilliance and persuasion as a teacher of his fellow friars and especially as a preacher. During the next 10 short years of his life, Anthony emerges from the obscurity of a poor friar working in the kitchen and saying mass without preaching a homily, to one who becomes a de-facto “celebrity preacher” and compassionate confessor to thousands who would eventually hear him. But not after first submitting himself to a life of perfect obedience to his superiors, and service to his fellow friars in their shared life of poverty and service to the poor. Anthony died at age 36, and was canonized by Pope Gregory IX less than a year later.
The 13th Century is a time riddled with scandalous abuses inside and outside the church. It is a chaotic time as Medieval Europe is slowly emerging into a new era. It is a time of many serious heresies that are born from the great disappointments many have in the church and her ministers. It is a time in which new movements for renewing both society and church are coming from the example of men and women who embrace total poverty – renouncing all earthy possessions in order to posses God only.
The young Anthony shines as a remarkable model of this new style of religious commitment. And in this he touches the hearts of many people. His life is a great witness to the presence of God’s love in the world and in his actions he helps many understand God from a renewed perspective. Anthony, together with his fellow friars, is a great champion of faithfulness to the Church and the hierarchy. He helps people understand the wisdom of the Church while also preaching against the vices and abuses that men in power, clerics as well, often fall into. It is his combination of strong clear words, compassion and dedication to a life of Gospel poverty that propel Anthony forward as a great preacher.
With a remarkable memory for and understanding of scripture, he possesses, already as a young man, the unique gift for candid and moving speech. From town squares to country fields to the halls of the Vatican, as a young Friar he astonishes everyone with his learning and wisdom. After Pope Gregory IX hears him for the first time, he will, with great admiration, refer to the young Anthony as “The Ark of the Testament”.
This gift of preaching, humbled by the life of Franciscan poverty, also serves as a healing balm for many who had lost their faith or are infected by the avarice of the times. He therefore finds himself in a unique position of preacher and confessor to the masses. It is not know how many people turned back to faith after hearing Anthony, nor how many confessed to him and found new light over their personal darkness, but primary sources of the day suggest the numbers are easily in the thousands. Anthony was a light in the darkness, or better yet, bore well the light of Christ to the darkness that had infected his world.
One thing that Anthony helps us understood is that God desires that each one of us become a saint. Saint in the sense of finding a personal union with God. Saint in the sense of fulfilling the life God wants for us as an individual. Saint in the sense that “there is more joy in heaven for one repentant sinner than for 99 righteous men.”
Understanding that we are each called to be saints. Saints in the everyday life of service to each other, being love in all our actions, doing what is right even when it is not easy, avoiding the lust for money and power which blind our hearts and poison our souls. He gives us lessons on sanctity that are as relevant today as in the 13th Century.
Anthony walked with people, listened to their sorrows, consoled the outcast, gave food to those who asked, treated children with special care, held womanhood in great respect, maintained a very special love for Mary, came to the defense of the defenseless, fished for the souls of men even while sweeping a floor or cleaning pots in the kitchen, wrote notes on sermons as tools for his fellow friars, obeyed his superiors, and lived out the chivalry he learned from his father, a knight.
When he dies it is no wonder that a great sadness envelops the valley of Padua and within a year the Pope declares him a Saint. Anthony left his homeland of Portugal, determined to give his life as a martyr in the foreign lands of Morocco to a foreign people. But instead God brought him to the heart of his own church, to help heal it of its miseries. He died a “martyr” all the same in a “foreign land”, as he spilled his life slowly and consistently for the God he loved so much.
The one thing that finally ends the debate over St. Anthony really “belongs” to is the agreement that he is a model of holiness and devotion to him is not limited to any one geographic region. People around the world credit St. Anthony with helping them “find” things, whether it be a lost umbrella, a vocation, or much needed help in times of difficulty. Today images and statues of him grace countless chapels and churches around the world, as he is fondly remembered and invoked by the name of St. Anthony of Padua.
Our unique story, Finding Saint Anthony: A Story of Loss and Light, directed and produced by filmmaker Edward J. Roy of J6 Entertainment in New York, is a one-hour documentary that explores the life of the thirteenth century Saint Anthony of Padua. A journey punctuated by moments of loss as young Anthony searched for the right path in life, which led to the courageous choice of total surrender to God’s plan for him.
Filmed in various locations in Portugal and Italy, the production of this film was made entirely possible through the generous financial contributions of the Longo family. They have dedicated the film to the memory of Rosa and Antonino Longo - who instilled not only a love of family, but also a solid foundation based on hard work, good values and a sense of doing the right thing, that guide and inspire their family’s legacy. The Longo family has a great devotion to St. Anthony of Padua and wished through this film to make his story known to contemporary audiences. The late Tommy Longo, patriarch of the Longo family, was not only a successful business man, founder, dreamer, visionary, success story. He was a man of great decency, honesty, integrity, faithfulness, humanity, goodness and uprightness. He not only built up a family chain of highly successful supermarkets, but he built up and transmitted a culture of decency and goodness to all those around him. Now may St. Anthony embrace Tommy and richly bless the Longos for their generosity.
Broadcast Times: Thursday, June 13 8:00 pm ET / 5:00 pm and 9:00 pm PT Friday, June 14 12:00 am ET Friday, June 14 1:00 pm ET / 10:00 am PT Sunday, June 16 9:00 pm ET / 6:00 pm and 10:00 pm PT Monday, June 17 1:00 am ET Monday, June 17 12:30 pm ET / 9:30 am PT Wednesday, June 19 9:00 am ET / 6:00 am PT
(Images courtesy Theophilia, Loci B. Lenar, and CatholicTradition.org)
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