Anthony was a contemporary of St Francis of Assisi and died just a few years after Francis. We even have a letter that Francis wrote to Anthony in which he gives Anthony permission to teach Theology to the Brothers:
'To Brother Anthony, my bishop (i.e. teacher of sacred sciences), Brother Francis sends his greetings. It is my pleasure that thou teach theology to the brethren, provided, however, that as the Rule prescribes, the spirit of prayer and devotion may not be extinguished. Farewell'. (1224)
Anthony was famed for his learning, preaching and holiness of life however he wasn't always a Franciscan! Anthony, or Ferdinand as he was then known, joined the Canons Regular of St Augustine. In 1220, Anthony witnessed the funeral procession of the first Franciscan Friars to be Martyred and was so taken by the strength of their faith, even to the point of death, that he resolved to become a Friar Minor. He took the Franciscan habit and the name Anthony.
Anthony's call to be a Franciscan came to him through the example of the Franciscan Martyrs. In seeing their love of Christ, love of others and desire to preach and uphold the Gospel, he felt he couldn't go on without being part of this.Today we are surrounded by example: some good, some bad. These examples, whether we notice it or not, influence how we are, who we are and what we do.
The call to faith, to prayer and to vocation is based upon good sound example. This example comes, primarily, from our faith community and family. Each of us is a unique product of generations of good faith example, passed on in the home, the parish and the school. Today, sadly, things are changing. Our society is becoming one based on instant results and passing on something like 'faith' takes too long. The good example of faith formation is being replaced by the bad example of 'lack-of- faith' formation in the media and society. The message of Hope, which the Gospel of Jesus Christ brings, is being threatened by a message of 'self' as centre. Many no longer need or want God and many no longer need or want each other.
Christ's message, the message preached by St Anthony, is a message of Love. God is Love...you are loved infinitely more than you can even comprehend. You are needed, you are valued, you are uniquely important and irreplaceable. You also have a responsibility. That responsibility is to project a positive example into the world: Christ's example. Pope Francis recently said' Ask God what he wants of you....and then be brave'.
We thank God for the example and witness of all those people who have helped us in our faith journey, who have been heroic in their own way, who have asked God what they should do, listened to Him and then forged ahead bravely in Faith, Hope and Love.
St Anthony, Pray for us!