11th Sunday of Ordinary Time and Feast of St. Anthony of Padua ~ 13 June 2021 ~ Bible Readings for Mass:
I: Ezekiel 17:22-24; Responsorial: Psalm 92; II: II Corinthians 5:6-10; Gospel: Mark 4:26-34
This Sunday is the 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time. And, as it falls on the 13th of June, it is also the Feast of St. Anthony of Padua. I do not consider it coincidental that the Bible readings for Mass are very beautifully explained and illustrated by the life of St. Anthony.
The readings from Scripture this Sunday focus upon the oft-used parables or metaphors of seeds and trees for the Kingdom of God and the life of faith. Reading of the sacred Word powerfully asserts the desire of God for us to be growing in all the fullness of His Kingdom whatever side of the threshold of eternity we find ourselves. The intent of the Holy Spirit to sow, nurture and bring to harvest this abundant life of faith is, again portrayed profoundly by St. Anthony.
St. Anthony was born in Lisbon Portugal in 1195. He came from a family of considerable means and standing among Portuguese nobility. His given name was actually Ferdinand and it would remain so until he became a Franciscan friar when he took the name Anthony. His life as a religious began early as a member and student of the regular canons of St. Augustine. While studying in Lisbon his hunger for Christ and the matters of His Kingdom brought him to ask to study at a smaller, more remote monastery less surrounded by worldly distractions. The request was granted and while there some Franciscan monks came and stayed. They brought with them relics of recently martyred Franciscans who had gone to Morocco to share the Gospel. This incident sowed holy seeds in the young man who soon entered the early Franciscan order with the intent of following the steps of these martyrs. It would be a lesson of both the sowing of holy seed and the graces of God nurturing Anthony beyond his immature longings.
The plans of young Anthony to go to Morocco were faithfully being pursued. Anthony landed on the coast of Africa but soon became very ill. It was decided he must return to Italy. Again the plans and providence of our Lord intervened to nurture and nudge the young saint on a better path. His ship was blown off course and after landing in Sicily he slowly began to recover. Word came of what would be the last full gathering of all Franciscans in Assisi for a general chapter to address the growing pains and strife the friars were sharing. Anthony went to Assisi and it is believed there he met St. Francis. The nurture and designs of the garden of God were growing, in spite and because of the storms and disappointments of life.
Anthony was sent from Assisi to a small, quiet hermitage to study and regain his health at San Paolo near Forli. This would appear to be the place of God’s planting for Anthony. Yet again the providence and designs of our Master Gardener intervened. It happened that to Forli came a group of Dominican and Franciscan candidates for the priesthood arrived. A failure of their planning had the liturgy about to begin without a prepared preacher. Anthony was prevailed upon to preach. To the awed amazement of all gathered his eloquence and knowledge of God’s Word resulted in a profound blessing by the Holy Spirit. The course of St. Anthony would again change.
Moving to Padua Anthony soon was renowned for his preaching and teaching. He confronted the sins, divisions and false teachings of his day, yet with an humility and love that moved countless souls to grow in the gardens of God’s graces. Stories also were shared how, like his mentor and leader in the faith, St. Francis, he had a deep awareness and affinity of God’s work among all creatures and creation. Miracles of grace and healing resulted in St. Anthony being canonized within a year of his death, at a young age of 36, on 13 June, 1236 near Padua. His relics are cherished in that city to this day.
It would be many years after his passing to eternity that the connection of Anthony with the lilies would come about. In 1680 someone placed in the hand of a statue of St. Anthony in a small church of Austria, a lily. The fragrant flowers stayed fresh for over a year. A year later, during the French Revolution, the Franciscans were forced to leave the island of Corsica. The residents were without the Sacraments and especially the Real Presence of Christ with Mass. On June 13th a shrine was made to St Anthony with many lilies. The cut lilies, for months maintained their life and scent. And lilies are often shown in the image of Anthony holding the baby Jesus. This is based upon a time when the young priest was staying in a home of some friends. The owner of the house went to Anthony’s room and unintentionally saw the saint holding the baby Christ while looking at him with fervent love.
The life and the faithful lover of Christ, and His Word, would result in St. Anthony of Padua becoming the first Franciscan Doctor of the Church. But it also resulted in the seeds of the Gospel, the garden of God’s Kingdom growing in blessing to this day. While a man of great intellect and talent he humbly sought to serve and follow His Lord in the path of eternal life. St. Anthony cherished the true tree of life, the Cross of his Savior. His journey brought heart breaking disappointments, poor health and much hard work in the harvest fields of God. His courage in encountering spiritual warfare was well known. But always it would be His love for Christ and His Word and for all creatures that would be the freshness and scent of God’s lilies that never die.