St. Anthony is perhaps the most generally venerated among the saints of our order. And he truly is a lovable saint, the first teacher of theology in the order, appointed to the position by St. Francis himself and congratulated by him on it. St. Anthony taught true wisdom by all the details of his life, and we can learn a great deal from him.
From tender childhood St. Anthony placed all his life at the undivided service of God. At fifteen he left his home in Lisbon and joined the Clerics of St. Augustine at Coimbra. With the utmost fervor he devoted himself to the study of the Divine science and to works of piety. But his aspiration to greater virtue and his yearning for martyrdom soon led him into the newly founded order of St. Francis. There at last he could satisfy his loving devotion to God. A consuming spirit of penance made him a victim of Divine love amid the deepest seclusion. But once he was placed on an eminence, he proclaimed the word of God with equally great zeal and stirring eloquence, displaying boundless love for the sufferings of Jesus and for the Blessed Sacrament, and performing prodigies of virtue.
"The kingdom of God is within you," says Jesus in the Gospel (Lk. 17, 21). The heart of St. Anthony was indeed a kingdom, and God was its sole ruler, God was the king of that realm. We need not marvel, therefore, that, as the legend tells us, St. Anthony was permitted to embrace the Divine Child.
Self-knowledge is the mother of humility. St. Anthony understood himself. He was well aware that he owed everything good about him to almighty God. He humbled himself most profoundly before God, giving God alone all the honor. He was in no way vain of his distinguished ancestry, or his amazing gift of eloquence, and his marvelous successes. His prayer was rather, "Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give the honor" (Ps. 113, 9). No assignment was too humble for him, for he had a lowly opinion of himself and succeeded for the longest time in concealing his remarkable gifts and his deep learning. The gem of humility shown most brightly in him when he performed the most menial kitchen service at Monte Paolo. It was just because he was so humble about it that God did such great and marvelous things through him.
Our Lord himself has said, "Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God" (Mt. 5, 8). And in Wisdom 1, 4 the Holy Ghost declares: "Wisdom does not enter into an unclean heart." St. Anthony strove with all his might for purity of soul and body. Even as a boy he made the vow of perpetual chastity to God. He rightly bears the lily in his hand, the symbol of purity. He was verily an angel in the flesh. The very sight of him filled everybody with love for this beautiful virtue. But, Anthony also fervently safeguarded the splendid precious treasure of virginal purity, which, as the apostle says, we bear about in vessels of clay (2 Cor. 4, 7). Continued restraint of the senses, untiring prayer, and tender love of Jesus and Mary helped him surmount all dangers to holy purity.
We must not forget that according to Holy Writ purity is a lily among thorns. The thorns signify the defenses we must build up in order to safeguard innocence of soul and body. The first defense is humility; it is the mantle which serves to protect the delicate fabric of holy purity. Other means of defense are engrossing occupation, prayer, custody of the eyes, mortification of the senses, the sense of shame, and devotion to the Blessed Virgin.
Prayer for the love of God. O St. Anthony, bright ornament of our order, let me this day at the flame of your loving fervor catch fire for my weak love of God and my scant humility and purity. Let me prove to be a faithful reflection of all your virtues. Obtain for me the grace of knowing myself truly, of making firm good resolutions, and of persevering in them.
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