08 St Anthony - Preacher and confessor - Fr. William Saunders

posted Jun 6, 2018, 10:07 AM by Neil D'Souza   [ updated Jun 6, 2018, 10:07 AM ]
It is no easy task to sketch the character of Saint Anthony. There are so many facets to consider.

Preacher and confessor

We can certainly admit that Saint Anthony was, first of all, a tireless preacher and confessor. To get an idea of the intensity of his days, it is enough to quote one of his contemporaries: "Anthony would preach, teach and confess all day long, until sunset. Often, he would never eat all day long." Let us not forget, however, that the apostolic life of the itinerant preaching of Anthony was alternated with short or long periods of retreat in solitude.

Anthony's active life was an expression of his love for people, while the contemplative one showed his love for God. The two kinds of love are closely linked and interdependent, and can be considered as "twin" lives. For Anthony, the state of Christian perfection is not attained in action or in contemplation alone, but in the union of both.

Saint Anthony was a highly learned theologian. His writings, written in the form of sermons, reflect the doctrinal phase of the first manifestation of Franciscan theology. In Saint Anthony's work, Scripture had a fundamental importance because of the custom of the time that considered Scripture as the principal, if not the exclusive, theological teaching.

St Anthony was born in Lisbon in 1195, and was baptised 'Ferdinand'. His parents were of nobility. His parents were faithful and sought to hand their faith onto their son. He was privileged to receive his early education at the cathedral school of Lisbon. At the age of 15, Ferdinand joined the Canons Regular of St Augustine in Lisbon. Two years later, he transferred to the monastery in Coimbra to avoid the distractions from frequent visits of relatives and friends. During this time, he studied diligently, and being gifted with an excellent memory, he attained an excellent knowledge of theology, sacred Scripture and the Church Fathers.

In 1220, the five bodies of the first Franciscan Martyrs, who were martyred in Morocco at the hands of the Moslems, were returned to Portugal. They were brought to the Church of Santa Croce in Coimbra (where Ferdinand was stationed) for burial. Moved by their witness of faith in suffering martyrdom, Ferdinand also desired to preach the gospel to the Moslems, and even give his own life for our Lord. To pursue this desire, he left the Augustinians, and joined the Order of Friars Minor, the Franciscans, and took the name 'Anthony'.

Anthony set sail to go to Morocco in the spring of 1221. Almost as soon as he arrived, he was stricken with a severe illness, which, after several weeks, necessitated his to return to Portugal. On his return journey, a violent storm drove the ship off course, and eventually it docked in Messina, Sicily. He remained there until he regained his health.