Images of St. Anthony are easy to spot. He is traditionally shown holding the Child Jesus in his arms. Anthony (1195-1231) was not a contemporary of Jesus (though he was blessed to be present at the last great gatherings of Franciscans at which St. Francis himself was present), but a 17th century believer, who had a vision of Anthony holding the Holy Child, determined the composition of virtually every statue and painting of Anthony from that century to this.
There are many wonderful stories about Anthony. People say that this Franciscan’s preaching was so powerful and so beautiful that merchants closed their shops to hear him speak and that people camped out in the churches days before his preaching in order to secure a spot. Imagine Black Friday at Wal-Mart, but with St. Anthony rather than a video game console at the end of the line.
People called him “The Wonder Worker,” not because he cured sick bodies but because his words cured sick hearts and minds. Enemies were reconciled and heretics repented when they heard Anthony preach. The story is told that once a group of heretics, angered by Anthony’s preaching, stormed off. Left alone, Anthony walked by the seashore, reflecting on fishes in scripture. The faithful followers trailing behind Anthony saw the fishes gathering. Then they saw the fishes lift their heads above the water, as though listening to the Wonder Worker preach the gospel to them and all the creatures of the deep.
Anthony was known as much for his love of the poor as for his preaching. He lobbied kings and princes on behalf of imprisoned debtors. (It was Anthony’s plea that those who could be allowed to pay their debts with goods and services if they had no money. In this way, many avoided jail terms.) He denounced usury and worked for the release of captives. His devotion to the poor remains in the tradition of St. Anthony’s Bread, which is simply money given to the poor in thanksgiving for God’s many gifts to us.
Anthony did not live a long life. Ill and unable to continue his public life, Anthony spent his last months in a tree house his Franciscan brothers built for him.
Consider climbing a tree in Anthony’s honor today. Or bake some bread and share it. Visit an aquarium or a lake or the ocean and watch the fishes swim to God’s glory. Take some money you have set aside for a new gadget or pair of shoes and give it to your local Catholic Charities in Anthony’s honor.