Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh
The Relics of Saint Anthony of Padua were welcomed at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh, today at 4.00pm. Evening prayer will take place at 5.30pm. At 7.30pm Archbishop Eamon Martin will celebrate a special Mass of welcome for the relics. Night prayer will begin at 10.00pm. Tomorrow Masses will be celebrated at 8.00am and 10.00am, and the Holy Rosary will be prayed at 12.00pm. Relics depart the Cathedral at 1.00pm. See further background information on www.armagharchdiocese.org
Conversations with me in recent days about the visit of the relics of Saint Anthony have included accounts of a missing engagement ring, lost car keys, absent pets and even a dropped dental crown all being found thanks to the help of Saint Anthony of Padua! There’s hardly a parish that doesn’t have a statue or image of this much loved Portuguese friar. Apparently next to the Sacred Heart, our Blessed Mother and Saint Joseph, the image of Saint Anthony carrying the child Jesus is one of the most recognisable for Catholics across the world.
What is it about Saint Anthony that makes devotion to him so widespread and so fervent? After all he died young, at the age of 36, without really doing anything to mark him out for worldwide fame. He lived a simple, unremarkable life, except perhaps for his gentle holiness and his wonderful preaching which drew many people to the love of God. Anthony’s gift for preaching was discovered quite by accident when he was once called upon at short notice to deliver the homily at an ordination ceremony in front of many Dominican preachers, none of whom was willing to preach in the bishop’s presence without adequate time to prepare! Saint Anthony, speaking off the cuff, impressed them all with his strong theology yet simple and practical style of applying God’s Word to everyday life.
It took until 1946, almost seven centuries later, for the Church to declare him ‘doctor of the church’ – not because of any great degrees or qualifications, but because of how he brought the words of Holy Scripture to life. The precise title he was given was ‘Doctor of the Gospel’, in other words, ‘Doctor of the Good News of Jesus Christ’. Apparently huge crowds from miles around would gather to hear him preach and, although he could go on for maybe two hours, people remained listening because he really opened them up to God, challenging them to conversion and to become better people. That’s why he is depicted most often with the child Jesus in his arms, sometimes with an open book of the Scriptures and with a torch of faith in the other hand. Holding up for us the ‘Word which was made flesh and lived among us’, he’s opening up for us the treasures and riches of God’s Word so that it can touch our lives and make a difference. That was why the great Saint Francis allowed Saint Anthony of Padua to teach the young Franciscan novices, because even though he spoke with great erudition and depth of scholarship, Saint Anthony’s heart remained rooted in the simplicity and silence of a life of deep prayer, as befitting a monk who has turned his whole life over to God.
Like any poor Franciscan, Anthony lived a frugal life, with very little possessions, but apparently he did have one favourite book of the psalms on which he had written many notes and to which he was very attached. This book is said to be the source of Saint Anthony’s fame as the head of the ‘Heavenly lost property department’! Anthony’s psalm book went missing and he prayed and prayed that it would be found. It had been stolen by a novice who had left the monastery, but the strength of Anthony’s prayer drew the novice back, not just with the book, but also with his vocation restored.
I’ve thought a lot this week about what I might ask Saint Anthony on the visit of his relics to our Cathedral and to Ireland. I’ve decided to ask his help that many people in Ireland may rediscover the gifts of faith, hope and love, especially those who feel they have lost these powerful Christian virtues.
It might seem surprising that I would mention ‘losing’ the gift of love, but it does happen. Last Christmas a young woman asked me to pray because she was finding it more and more difficult to love, to reach out in Christian charity to others. She said she felt increasingly unmoved by tragedy, poverty, hunger and need in the world – she wanted to be a more kind, more generous, more loving person. I’ve thought a lot about her request since and I know there are many people who wish they hadn’t lost love in a relationship, or in their family, or find that their ability to feel for the marginalised and unloved in the world has grown dim. Just yesterday morning when on pilgrimage to Rome I heard Pope Francis speak about how easy it is for us to be deaf or blind to those who call out to us from the peripheries – like the blind beggar who called out to Jesus from the side of the road. I pray Saint Anthony that he will help us rediscover and rekindle the gift of love.
We all know people who have lost faith – for one reason or another they find that God has become distant to them. It is easy to drift away from faith because life has become so busy and confused. Finding time and space for prayer seems more and more difficult; sinful habits become more ingrained and the next thing to lose is that sense of God’s presence – just as a friendship grows cold because of not ‘keeping in touch’. Finding faith again is not as difficult as it may sound, because even if we have been lukewarm or uncommitted to the friendship, God never leaves us, God our Father is right there beside us, waiting patiently for our return. So Saint Anthony, help us to find our faith again.
There’s nothing as awful as losing hope, and sadly it is all too common for that to happen today – maybe in many cases it’s because of first losing faith, or losing the gift of loving or feeling loved. Too many people today are gripped by despair, including young people whose lives are meant to be filled with dreams and wishes for the future. Anxiety and depression have a hold on many Irish lives. No doubt the heavy hand of austerity, financial pressure and unemployment has played its part, but so too have the impossible expectations of appearance, popularity, instant gratification and the shallow fantasy of celebrity culture. Perhaps we’ve also ‘unlearned’ how to cope with the reality of sacrifice, disappointment, and the failure that is part and parcel of life in this ‘vale of tears’.
Christ is our light and our hope, the one who never lets us down and who offers purpose and meaning to life. If Saint Anthony wants to help rekindle hope, no doubt he will want to call upon the kindness, encouragement, perseverance and unselfish commitment of others, including ourselves, to light the flame of hope for someone else.
I’ve given our beloved Saint Anthony quite a tall order this evening, but if even one or two people who come here to visit the relics find their love, faith or hope restored, I will be happy. And I know that all of you, inspired by the ‘Doctor of the Good News’ can help make that happen.
Actions speak louder than words, Saint Anthony taught; we witness to Christ by the way we live our lives. Saint Paul wrote that when God’s power is at work in us we can do immeasurably more than we can ever ask or imagine (Eph 3:20).
If each of us left here tonight determined, like Saint Anthony of Padua to carry the child Jesus in our arms wherever we go, holding up to others our friendship with Jesus, opening to them the consolation found in God’s Word, then who knows how many lives could be touched by the visit of these relics to our country and our Cathedral!
- Archbishop Eamon Martin is Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland.
- The Feast Day for Saint Anthony of Padua, priest and Doctor of the Church, is 13 June. Saint Anthony died in Padua in 1231, at the age of thirty-six. Born in Portugal, he joined the Franciscan Order and preached against heresy throughout France and Italy.
For media contact: Catholic Communications Office Maynooth: Martin Long 00353 (0) 86 172 7678 and Brenda Drumm 00353 (0) 87 310 4444