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One of the most loved friends in heaven is St. Anthony of Padua. Your church might have a statue of him, and you might even have a holy card with his picture on it. People ask St. Anthony for help all the time, and for the most ordinary things, and that's okay. Like a good friend, St. Anthony is always willing to help. People especially like to ask St. Anthony to help them find things that are lost. In a minute, we'll find out why.
We turn to St. Anthony for help with our ordinary problems, but his life was really anything but ordinary. St. Anthony was born in Portugal, and when he grew up, he studied to be a priest. He was a brilliant student and knew the Bible backward and forward. Someone once said that if all the Bibles in Europe were burned, it wouldn't be a terrible problem. People could just go to St. Anthony, and he could write the Scriptures down for them!
Anthony was a good teacher, but one day something happened that inspired him to follow Jesus in a slightly different way. Five Franciscan priests had traveled to Morocco, a country in Africa, to preach the good news about Jesus. They were brutally killed, and what was left of their bodies was brought to the town where Anthony lived.
Anthony couldn't sit still any longer. More than anything, he wanted to go to Morocco himself and try to give the love of Jesus to the people who had done this terrible thing. No one seemed to need Christ's love more than people who would torture and kill innocent men.
So Anthony joined the Franciscan order, got on a ship, and sailed to Morocco. Things didn't work out as he had hoped, though. He fell ill soon after he arrived and had no choice but to return to Europe.
Anthony's plans weren't working out, but perhaps that's because God had something else in mind for him. The ship Anthony was on, the one he thought was taking him back to university life in Portugal, got blown off course by a sudden strong wind. It went straight to the island of Sicily, where a huge meeting of Franciscan brothers happened to be taking place at that very moment.
Anthony didn't speak at the meeting, since he was really an outsider. He sat silently and listened. Perhaps he even heard St. Francis of Assisi speaking of holy poverty as the way to follow Jesus and of how important it is to preach the love of Jesus to all people, especially the poor.
After the meeting, Anthony continued to live a quiet life as a friar, working in a hospital in Italy, taking the humblest jobs of all. Back in Portugal, Anthony had already begun to gain fame as a scholar and teacher, but he said not a word about that in the hospital. He worked hard in the kitchen and the garden, helping the sick in the most ordinary, everyday ways.
Then one day something happened that was almost as strange as the ship wandering off course. There was a large meeting of Franciscans and Dominicans, but oddly enough, the plans for who would give the sermon at the meeting fell through. There were plenty of fine preachers present, but none of them were prepared.
Those in charge of the meeting went down the line of friars. “Would you care to give the sermon, Brother? No? What about you, Father? No? Well, what about you, Fr. Anthony—is that your name?”
Slowly, Anthony rose, and just as slowly, he began to speak. The other friars sat up to listen. There was something very special about Anthony. He didn't use complicated language, but his holiness and love for God shone through his words. He was one of the best preachers they had ever heard!
From that point on, Anthony's quiet life in the hospital kitchen was over. For the rest of his life, he traveled around Italy and France, preaching sermons in churches and town squares to people who came from miles around.
His listeners heard Anthony speak about how important it is for us to live every day in God's presence. As a result of his words, hundreds of people changed their lives and bad habits, bringing Jesus back into their hearts.
Anthony wasn't always successful, though. In most cities, businesspeople would shut down their shops to come listen to Anthony. But in one city the townspeople closed their hearts to him and listened with hard faces and harsh eyes.
St. Anthony had done his best. He shrugged and turned around. The fish in the bay poked their heads out of the water to see what was going on, and St. Anthony started preaching to them instead!
Now, back to the first question. Why do we ask St. Anthony to help us find lost things?
St. Anthony had a book of psalms that was quite special to him. It was special because in those days before the printing press, books were rare and expensive. But it was also special because it contained many notes Anthony had made to help him in his preaching and teaching.
Late one night, a young Franciscan decided to leave the community. He'd had enough of that life, so he made plans to just sneak out in the middle of the night. He saw Anthony's book of psalms on his way out, and he snatched it up and ran. He knew that he could sell this precious book for a good deal of money.
Of course, Anthony was quite upset. He prayed that God would change the young man's heart and bring him back to the Franciscan life. He also hoped that while God was at it, he would return Anthony's book too.
The next day, the young man returned, tired and ashamed, with Anthony's book. He also brought back his own gifts and talents, which he decided once more to offer to the Franciscan community.
So that's why we like to ask St. Anthony to help us find lost things. He was an extraordinary man who can still help us from heaven, even in the most ordinary ways.