One of the most loved saints is Saint Anthony of Padua, an early Franciscan friar. He is especially loved here in Honduras. In the parish of Dulce Nombre there are nine churches dedicated to him.
For most people here Saint Anthony is looked upon as the great wonder-worker, especially the saint to go to when you’ve lost or misplaced something. (I’m praying to him more often to help me find my keys or glasses or license in the house.)
He had a great love of the poor, as Franciscans ought to have.
But the story that strikes me today took place in 1222, about a year after he had arrived in Italy.
After his boat to Portugal from Morocco got blown off course to Sicily, he went to the Chapter of Franciscans in Assisi in 1221. After the chapter, he was sent to a remote friary in Montepaolo. He didn’t tell the other friars of his theological training and, among his duties, he washed the community’s dishes.
One day the Franciscans and Dominicans were having an ordination in Forli. But no one was prepared to preach. The Franciscans thought the Dominicans, the Order of Preachers, would have designated someone. The Dominicans thought the Franciscan hosts had chosen someone.
Finally, after everyone backed out, the Franciscan guardian asked Anthony to say something simple, thinking he was an uneducated brother. His eloquence surprised them all and Anthony began to preach throughout Italy.
Anthony’s learning did not keep him from doing menial tasks. But, when asked, he agreed to share the wisdom God had given him.
But I marvel at the wisdom of the Franciscan guardian who asked Anthony to speak. He did not despise this supposedly uneducated friar but offered him the chance to share. And all were amazed.
We need more people who give people the opportunity to share the gifts God has given them.
Sometimes I think that one of the worsts sins against the poor is regarding them, with pity, as “those poor people,” failing to see the richness of the lives of the poor and their wisdom, which are so often ignored or despised by others.
And so today, on Anthony’s feast, I’ll be out in the countryside with Padre German for several Masses. I pray I may be open to the wisdom, the rich faith, and the presence of God among the poor campesinos and campesinos I meet.