It is a wise man who realizes that his powers of vision and accomplishment can be bettered through the guidance of someone more capable than himself. Not to allow this is to presume on the fitness or correctness of one’s ideas and conduct, and very often that results in mediocrity, if not worse. Musicians, for example, look upon a director, not as someone just waving his hands in front of them, but as an expert through whose guidance and musical interpretation a composition is performed with greater beauty and understanding. An art critic does the same thing: through his explanation and description of a painting one is given a wider insight into the work of the artist.
The secret to some measure of success in any field of activity is to allow ourselves to be guided by an expert, and to profit by his teaching. It should be an admitted fact by all that the art of living, or the proper way to live, is the most important and valuable of all activities, for herein we either do or do not achieve peace and happiness. Sad to say, there are a great many who do not find contentment and joy. Some fail miserably, twisting their lives into a web of sadness and confusion, simply because they are trying to live this tremendous thing called life according to their own private viewpoint. They have not as yet learned the first and basic rule of living-namely, to seek first the kingdom of heaven, to live the supernatural life to the fullest. The art of living cannot even be conceived of without emphasizing the supernatural note, for it alone leads to the proper fulfillment of man according to his true make-up.
Man is not meant to dabble in the temporal as though it were his whole and only end. This is what leads to sadness, disappointment and inner conflict that rob man of peace and happiness. Man is not destined to pass away as all things are to pass away. He is meant to go on for all eternity. And so his interests, his values, his accomplishments must primarily be of the kind that do not pass into nothingness when life on earth is ended. To see the truth of this is to see the necessity of living the supernatural life, for it is only the fruits of the supernatural life that man can take with him into eternity.
The Expert’s Way
The saints are the ones who realized this truth and made it the foundation of their lives, so that they alone can truly be called experts in the art of living. They have received an eternal stamp of approval. And what they have done, we must do- live the supernatural life above everything else. Unfortunately, however, the mere mention of sanctity aiOFects many in a very negative, cold way. It strikes them as something entirely foreign to what life should be. And so it is that man has to be convinced that saintliness is his goal and not merely that of a few so-called privileged persons who lived in the distant past. We were all made by God, we belong to Him, and we must one day return to Him. God’s interest in us is the perfection of our soul. That is what He wants from us. Whatever He gives us is primarily directed to our everlasting life.
The obstacle to giving ourselves over to a life of virtue and sanctity is that such a life is judged stale, a choking up of all that a person is and should be, something that contains no pleasure and is made up of a continual denial of our desires. This, of course, is as wrong as wrong can be, and anyone who has such an idea is being guided solely by his own prejudices, not by the experts. Certainly he is not being guided by God’s words on the subject.
It takes a very short time to discover, much to one’s surprise, that sanctity actually means freedom – the greatest freedom man can possess. Through it he becomes master of himself, rises to the highest level of life – namely, life in God, and becomes imbued with love, . . . living, working, playing, yes, even suffering, in love. Love is what makes the world go round, we are constantly told. And we believe it. But there is a much greater love than that between man and woman. It is the love that exists between man and God, and it is the most wonderful, consoling love that man can possess, resulting in a peace and happiness that are beyond any human description.
In an attempt to explain his joy on the occasion of his engagement to his future wife, G. K. Chesterton wrote: “On rising this morning, I carefully washed my boots in hot water and blackened my face. Then assuming my coat with graceful ease and with the tails in front, I descended to breakfast, where I gaily poured the coflFee on the sardines and put my hat on the fire to boil. These activities will give you some idea of my frame of mind. My family, observing me leave the house by way of the chimney, thought I must have something on my mind. So I had.”
Chesterton’s words are an exaggeration, of course; but not entirely so. They represent the “out-of-this-world-liness,” the “walking on air” feeling of the man who is in love with a woman. What, then, must be the experience of one who falls in love with God, the all-wise, powerful, beautiful, perfect being! On Mount Thabor, our Lord became transfigured before three of His disciples. So overwhelmed were they by such beauty that they fell to their faces, unable to withstand the sight. When man loves God he reaches his greatest and most noble fulfillment. Herein is man’s highest accomplishment, and through this love, and the growth of it, he becomes the perfect man.
Another point to be considered about sanctity or love of God – it is the most attractive and the most powerful influence in all history. The effect of one saint upon the world is more enduring, more beneficial, more influential than that of any other figure. Here we are presenting Saint Anthony of Padua as an expert in the art of living, and a better example of enduring influence and benefit to the world can scarcely be given. Although he lived in the distant time between the years 1195 and 1231, a life that covered only thirty-six years, today, over seven hundred years later, he is venerated almost the world over. Countless persons today seek his help; they turn to him in adversities, they regard him as a friend. Faith in his powers of intercession is almost universal, as is evidenced every Tuesday by devotions in his honor.
Saint Anthony’s Way
Historical figures come and go. Artists, writers, musical composers have made some impression on future generations. But there is no greater and more lasting impression made than that made by the saint. One need only think of the pilgrimages to Lourdes and Assisi to be convinced of the lasting popularity of a saint. Seven hundred years after his death, Saint Anthony exerts a greater influence on our present generation than does any currently popular world figure. But what did Saint Anthony do to achieve all this fame? At fifteen years of age he joined the Canons Regular of Saint Augustine. Two years later, wishing to separate himself further from his family and friends, in order to apply himself more fully to a life of prayer and study, he asked to be moved to a more distant town. There he remained in comparative oblivion, concentrating on the spiritual life and Scriptural study. Then, at the age of twenty-five, he entered the Franciscan Order. For a while his Franciscan life was spent in the performance of his regular priestly duties.
One day he was asked to preach a sermon in place of someone unable to perform the assigned task. He did so, and with that one sermon all his years of dedicated study and prayer came into dazzling focus. Everyone was amazed at his knowledge and appreciation of Scripture. Thereafter, Saint Anthony was ordered to preach and teach, tasks which he performed with great success. He became known as “the hammer of the heretics,” and his fame for both saintliness and holy knowledge spread like wildfire. When he died, even the children ran about the streets proclaiming, “the holy father is dead!”
And so the cold facts of history record that Saint Anthony lived for thirty-six years over seven hundred years ago. But there is nothing cold about his effect on all future generations who have regarded him as their friend and helper, as a beacon in the midst of darkness and despair or trial. That this should come to pass defies all human explanation, for actually Saint Anthony achieved all this in the short span of twenty-one years, after he was fifteen, simply by devoting himself entirely to God and the good of mankind.
According to the worldly view, those years Saint Anthony spent shut away in a monastery were of no popular interest or importance. Today, for example, one never reads in the secular press about the souls dedicated to God, living in worldly obscurity behind monastic walls. They are scarcely ever thought of except by their families, friends and religious-minded people who know and understand the value of such dedication. But see the results of such dedication! It is the most powerful factor in all history in bringing good and nobility into the lives of mankind. Love of God, living in virtue and prayer, working first and foremost for the salvation of souls: these are the deeds that bring lasting benefit to the world, even hundreds of years after such a life has come to its earthly end.
Everyone wants to accomplish something important and valuable. Too often, however, judgment is guided by material gain. There is far more envy of the man with a million dollars than of the humble and devout follower of Christ. That is a great tragedy. All earthly gain must fade into lifeless unimportance. Only the saintly life survives endlessly. Man is not convinced that the more he perfects his humanity by virtue, the more godlike he becomes, and that this is the greatest and most valuable accomplishment in life.
If we wish to bring genuine meaning and purpose into our life – if we wish to possess the feeling of really doing something that matters- we will emphasize the spiritual life over and above all earthly pleasures and achievements. We must understand what this entails. There is nothing headlined about this type of life. It is quiet, unassuming, and even hidden. Frequent attendance at Mass, frequent reception of the sacraments of Penance and Holy Communion, regular prayer, concentration on the avoidance of all sin, coupled with the practice of virtue – this is the spiritual life. It goes on quietly, without any fanfare. It highlights the daily spiritualization of our actions, thoughts and words, so that more and more we become a greater image and likeness of almighty God.
Profit and Loss
There are immediate results from this kind of life. There is nothing that brings more peace and genuine happiness than a sinless, virtuous life. Nor is there greater security. It is a wonderful feeling to possess security before God. How much existing sadness and confusion are caused by a remorseful conscience! Such a conscience lies at the bottom of much of the world’s evil and turmoil. A man with a remorse of conscience tries to run away from himself. He turns to material means to blot out his inner conflict; he tries to cover it up, mask it, suffocate it by steeping himself in work or pleasure. But he knows he is not happy, and he has no peace, and after a while he becomes blind to the true source of peace and security.
Talk to the man who has been away from the sacraments for many years and who finally, by the grace of God and very probably the prayers of dedicated souls, returns to the sacrament of Penance. Talk to him after he has gone to confession. Men have wept openly with the release of the burden from their soul. Such a man has become unchained, released from a dark and miserable imprisonment. Now his life is like a rebirth. Though it is the same world, it seems entirely new and diflFerent to him. There is a definite and more important meaning to his existence. And though there may be difficulties and problems of one kind or another, still he feels a peace and security deep down inside him. He is happy!
All these wonderful benefits of the spiritual life are evident in the life of Saint Anthony. Because we, too, are meant to possess them, we are drawn to Saint Anthony, hoping to share in the results of his saintly life. Why we also do not seek to live the saintly life rather than concentrate on enjoying the results of it in someone else’s life, is a great and sad mystery. At a very tender age Saint Anthony was far advanced in true wisdom, for he realized and appreciated the value and meaning of the supernatural life. He realized that there is not only the natural life to be lived, but that man is destined for a much higher and nobler state – he belongs in the supernatural life: a life of vast importance and value, for in it is the element of eternity. Its theme is an unending existence in union with God. Saint Anthony made this supernatural theme supreme in his daily living, and because he did so he is now known and venerated throughout the world as a friend to turn to in time of need and tribulation.
Although public acclaim is furthest from the mind of anyone living a virtuous life – Saint Anthony would have laughed at the suggestion that his fame would flourish throughout the ages- still it is a result of sanctity, drawing the attention to noble and consoling interests. Rightfully, then, it should be considered as a valuable effect whenever saintliness is discussed. The total good that results from a virtuous life is incalculable, for it continues on and on throughout time. Somewhere today, for example, there are noble souls who will be canonized in the future and will exert a wholesome influence on future generations. Where are they? Who are they? They are anywhere and anyone living the supernatural life as his most important duty and interest, placing God and the kingdom of heaven above all else.
We are part of the human race, just as Saint Anthony was many years ago. We are creatures of God, placed on earth because God loves us with an infinite love. By this gift of life God oflFers us the opportunity of reaching for and obtaining everlasting happiness in heaven and at the same time of doing immeasurable good to our fellow man. Saint Anthony realized this truth and directed his total energies to gaining sanctification through prayer and good works. He succeeded. Because he did he is the spiritual companion of millions, and will continue to be so until the end of time. As sponsors on television would say, “If you like the way the product works, why not buy it for yourself?”
Why not make Saint Anthony’s way your way of life? Love of God and practice of virtue will produce the same result. Perhaps your fame will not be equal to Saint Anthony’s. All saints are not equal in that respect. But one thing is sure: good always has a lasting effect on the world. But what is more important is the fact that through imitation of Saint Anthony’s love of God and life of prayer and virtue, final success is assured. That, after all, is what really counts when at the final reckoning we are called upon to give an account of our stewardship. We have everything to gain, nothing to lose.
Why Saint Anthony?
Now we come to the meat of our consideration of Saint Anthony and you-namely, the nature of our association with him, and how and to what extent we are truly affected by him. What principles and motives lead us to pray to him? Does our regard for him better the life of our soul because of the truths we see shining forth from his union with God? Exactly why do we seek his friendship? In our experience we may have had the misfortune to discover that someone whom we thought to be our friend was simply using us for his own advantage. A fair-weather friend! Is it possible that our relationship with Saint Anthony is of this same nature? Are we interested only in what we can get from him for our material profit? Or does our regard for him go much deeper and redound to our spiritual benefit?
Saint Anthony’s sanctity should be a reminder to us of a basic truth taught by our Lord. Indeed, our Lord told us to ask in order to receive; but He also told us to examine our conscience with critical honesty before praying, and said that if we found anything against our neighbor, we should first make peace with him and then come and make our prayer. The point of making peace with our neighbor means that when we pray we should be in a worthy condition to do so. The state of our relationship with God must be of primary concern. Can anyone be so presumptuous as to think that God will grant what he asks if he is flaunting God’s commandments and staining his soul by repeated sins? One doesn’t insult a person and then expect favors from him!
We should not only expect to receive, but to give by ridding ourselves of sin, giving ourselves over to a better and more spiritual way of life, striving with greater zeal to love almighty God in our daily living, and uniting ourselves to His will so that we advance in goodness and spirituality. Not to be concerned with our spiritual laxity or mediocrity is to be a fair-weather friend, turning to God through Saint Anthony only when something is desired. To seek Saint Anthony’s help when we are an enemy of the God he loves so much, is not devotion but sheer selfishness and shameful presumption. It is only when we are sincerely striving to serve and honor God in our daily living that we can be found worthy of presenting our requests to Saint Anthony.
It is generally true that whenever anyone seeks a favor from Saint Anthony he desires it without delay, immediately. Have we ever thought for a moment that God is just as insistent in His desire to possess our soul, that He demands adoration, nobility of life, love from us, and that He wants all of this from us now, this very day? He desires to inhabit our soul, to dwell within it, to have it as His own. It is rightfully His. It is His property, His creation. But are we giving Him that soul of ours? Let us compare our eagerness to receive favors from God with our eagerness to give Him our soul in love and service. We may find that we seek many things from God many times, but give Him so very little in return.
Christ told us to seek first the kingdom of heaven and then all these other things would be given to us. How encouraging and consoling are His words: “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow, or reap, or gather into barns: yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you of much more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26)
To those who love Him, God supplies in abundance. There is no surer way to God’s heart than through love and devoted service. It is through this and only this that we are in a position to ask a favor of Him. Therefore, if we wish to truly venerate Saint Anthony, let us imitate his love of God. With our Lord, Saint Anthony can say to us: “I have given you an example” (John 13:15). His model throughout life was Christ crucified, so much so that he desired to lay down his life in imitation of his Divine Master. To him, sin was the greatest tragedy on earth; love of God the greatest accomplishment. More than anything else he desired to love God and have Him loved by all mankind.
In his many great and moving sermons, Saint Anthony attempted to convince mankind that God should be loved for what He is: almighty, eternal, infinite, all-powerful, all-wise. To love God for these reasons is to love Him as He deserves. Loving God for what He is, is like admiring the beauty of a sunset just for what it is, or like standing in admiration at the complex design in nature, in a flower, in the growth of a tree, in the work of a bee. God is perfection in Himself, and so He is to be honored and loved for that reason alone. That is the way Saint Anthony looked upon God, and that is the reason he received such great gifts from Him. He gave himself to God.
There is another point to be considered in our devotion to Saint Anthony: we should not so much seek his intercession for the things of this life, but, rather, for the things that lead to eternity. No doubt there are many things we need; many trials press upon man from which he seeks release. But our main concern must be the daily condition of our soul. If our soul is not as it should be, then our requests to Saint Anthony should be to obtain the graces from God to purify our soul from sin and be reborn in God’s love. Here is where everyone really needs help, for no one can work for his soul’s salvation without God’s graces. Of all the intentions presented to Saint Anthony, this plea to receive the help necessary to sanctify our soul and grow in the love of God will most surely be answered.
If we truly admire Saint Anthony, his use of God’s grace must be of particular note and imitation. As a young man of only fifteen he possessed great wisdom in that he recognized the graces of God, appreciated them and used them. This, of course, is the reason for his outstanding sanctity. At fifteen Anthony left the world and joined the Canons Regular of Saint Augustine. This step was accomplished by his recognition of God’s call and then his obedience to it. His steady progress in spirituality was aided by his request to be moved further away from the surroundings of his family in order that he might lessen his distractions and concentrate more zealously on the life of his soul. This development too, resulted from God’s grace. In the hidden monastic life Anthony devoted himself to prayer and study, advancing daily in sanctity, knowledge and appreciation of the Scriptures. Always, then, Anthony made himself the willing subject of God’s will.
Willing co-operation with God’s graces is the basic requirement for a virtuous life. Saint Anthony is a model of perfect submission to God’s inspirations. So many emphasize Saint Anthony’s ability to find lost objects, or the fact that he is the saint of the impossible and even of the miraculous. No doubt many are drawn to him because of these qualities. But a more accurate regard should guide our consideration of him-namely, his appreciation of God’s graces. He worked daily for the preservation and increase of sanctifying grace in his soul. This is necessary if one is to live without sin. Grace is acquired first in the sacrament of Baptism; then, if it is lost through sin, it is regained through the sacrament of Penance. This should be man’s primary concern – living without sin and in the love of God, filling his soul with sanctifying grace. This he does by making use of what is called actual grace, which comprises all the countless daily helps God gives in so many different ways.
Here again Saint Anthony offers us the perfect model, for it was his proper evaluation of the daily graces he received that brought about his increase in spirituality and knowledge. God inspired Saint Anthony to achieve what he did in his life; and these inspirations, received, recognized and applied, were the daily graces, the aids, the consolations, the determination and desires that come to all mankind and which everyone experiences from day to day. These graces God gives to mankind according to His own wise plan, not in the same degree to all, for man differs from man in that each one is called to a specific spiritual achievement. No one can say just how far he is being called by God; only the constant acceptance and application of God’s daily graces can tell him that. In Saint Anthony’s case, the degree of sanctity to which he was being called was indeed great, but that could be known only through a day-by-day co-operation with actual grace.
Saint Anthony’s daily progress in holiness and learning, his entrance into the Franciscan Order, his influence on all who heard him preach- all these were accomplished through God’s daily graces; and the more Saint Anthony used these graces the more he received, for God gives to those who appreciate His gifts. Here is a factor of Saint Anthony’s life that we must appreciate, admire and imitate. We should praise him for his submission to God’s plan, whereby he allowed himself to be guided by God’s inspirations.
A Terrible “If”
It is a matter of disturbing thought to consider the great loss if Anthony had refused to listen to the voice of God’s daily graces, if he had not used these graces as he did; if, rather, he had allowed himself to be distracted by worldly values and pleasures. If that had happened, no one except God would know what might have been accomplished by this young man. But now that we do know what was done through perfect submission to God’s invitations, we can realize the tragic loss if Anthony had done the opposite. We can even imagine him as some nonentity among the vast and countless souls that have lived and died in the past and who did not achieve what God had planned. We can further think of the terrible judgment of God upon such a failure, when so much was to be achieved, when so much personal and world-wide good was to be accomplished. What a tragedy it would have been if Saint Anthony had lived but a mediocre life, ignoring God’s graces, setting a higher value and interest on the passing gains and pleasures of earth!
Such failures have happened in the past many times; of that there can be no doubt. And how much good was lost to the world thereby! Just one example – there was once an invitation given to a young man to become St. Judas Iscariot! He was called by our Divine Lord to be one of His apostles, to learn at the feet of the Divine Master, to work for the sowing of Christ’s Gospel in the world, as did Saint John, Saint Matthew and the rest. If ever there is a case of wasted grace, it is the history of Judas. Christ saw in him the great qualities necessary for an apostle, and He called him. What happened after that is universal history: greed, desire for worldly honor, unwillingness to submit to God’s plan and direction…; all these and more twisted the mind of Judas so that finally he rejected Christ entirely.
If Judas had fallen to his knees, even after his horrible deed had been committed, if he had cried out from his tortured soul for forgiveness, he would have received it, and throughout history he would have been known and loved as the saint of refuge and hope to all sinners of the world. How many would have been influenced by his conversion and acts of penance! How many would have gained consolation and strength from his example to abandon his sinful life! How many would have found hope where they thought no hope existed! But that is all gone, lost in the tragic history of wasted grace.
Where is the man or woman today doing exactly the same thing, making the same horrible mistake? Where is the mediocre Catholic, the sinner, the lapsed Catholic, the apostate, the Catholic in name only who gives nothing more than the minimum of service and thought to his God and religion? Here are grave examples of frustrated graces, all leading crippled lives by denying themselves and the world the benefits of submission to God’s graces.
And in this matter of unaccepted and unused graces, in view of the scarcity of vocations in these times of confusion and spiritual hunger, may we not also ask where are the ones who are refusing God’s invitation to follow Him, preferring to remain in the world and not to heed God’s call to the priesthood, the sisterhood, the brotherhood? Some who are disregarding God’s beckoning nod of complete dedication, perhaps even many, may be living good lives, but is there not a loss of incalculable good because of their refusal to accept God’s special invitation?
Saint Anthony’s example in this matter of recognizing God’s graces is a sterling proof of what can be accomplished by one person who treasures God’s daily gifts and puts them into practice. Anthony was prompt to do God’s bidding, prompt to answer the call to love God, to serve Him and increase in holiness with every passing day. All of this has served for the good of mankind throughout the ages. When we attend Saint Anthony’s devotions or the novena in honor of his feast day, as so many do, do we ever think that we are seeking to profit from his submission to God’s will in all things and that we seek to gain from his spiritual success? If we are so impressed with the value of such a spiritual life, then why do we not imitate that life and make it our own!
How alert are we to God’s graces? Do we recognize them when they come to us? Or are we for the most part deaf to God’s inspirations that seek to lead us on the path of virtue and goodness? It may well be that we do not even recognize a grace from God when it is upon us. Such graces come to us from a variety of sources and in a number of different ways. First of all, they come to us directly from God, as in a sudden inspiration to perform a good deed: to attend Mass on a weekday, make a visit in church, partake of the sacraments, and so forth. If we reflect a moment, we will recall times when we felt a sudden pull or attraction in the direction of performing one of these good works. We may also find that we ignored the inspiration, discarding it for some worldly satisfaction.
Perhaps the thought occurred to us to go to confession and then receive Holy Communion at Sunday Mass. That was a grace. Perhaps we rejected this thought in favor of a material attraction. That was when we discarded the grace. Such actual graces come to us, too, from sources other than directly from God: a sermon, or something read, the sight of a passing funeral, sickness, the influence of good example. The sources of actual grace are countless, and we have experienced them many times. Our own conscience tells us so. And what have we done with all these opportunities? How often have we recognized their presence and submitted to their invitation to do good? It is a question for each one to answer, and thereby come to realize just how much he is cooperating with graces given to him so that his life might be more closely united with that of God.
The Importance of One Person
If these graces have been bypassed, then what of the good left undone? We have been guilty of a personal failure as well as cheating mankind. In the face of a subject such as this, one often counters with the argument, “But who am I? Fm not that important!” The answer is, everyone is important, for God has a definite plan for each one of us. How great it is, no one but God knows. In the past many have been called to a life destined to affect the whole world.
So it was with Saint Anthony, and he was only one man. So it was with Francis of Assisi: one man who founded the Franciscan Order. Ignatius of Loyola was one man, but from him came the Society of Jesus, known the world over. Page through the calendar of saints, men and women, and you will find therein a man, a woman, who listened to the inspirations of grace and achieved sanctity, thereby influencing his or her own contemporaries and future generations to imitate the saintly way of life to some degree. Might not these men and women have said, “I am just one person. Of what importance am I?” God had a plan for them, and they listened to it, accepted it and lived it. From such co-operation with God’s grace has come all the good to the world. From the refusal of God’s grace has come all the evil in the world.
To know God’s plan for our life and to live it, is the most important achievement of all existence. At the end of life that will be the all-important factor, and we know this to be true. It remains for us to obtain the wisdom to learn of that plan and to apply it to our life. Saint Anthony is the finder of lost objects. He can be the finder of a lost soul by obtaining for that soul the grace to return to God. He is the saint of the impossible. He can obtain for us the grace to believe with all our heart that living a saintly life is possible for us. He is the saint of the miraculous. He can obtain for us the grace to be reborn and to live a new life forever guided by God’s graces.
The petition that Saint Anthony will most readily listen to and answer, is the request to help us see and accept God’s graces, so that if we are in sin, we may repent sincerely; if we are mediocre in our religion, we may increase our love of God; and if we are loyal to God, we may remain steadfast in our loyalty. A prayer, then, that we may forever realize that the life of sinlessness is the life to which all are called; that we may see that all our failures are caused by ignoring the inspirational suggestions of grace to love God and obey all His commandments. A prayer, finally, that we may see that only by a virtuous life will we gain the eternal prize of God’s friendship and be forever an influence for good throughout the world. For if we achieve this end, then we shall have really lived. All other things pass away. Saintliness alone lives on forever.