St. Anthony, Patron of Lost Items
St. Anthony of Padua (1195 - 1231) is certainly one of the more popular saints. Today, he is probably best known as the patron saint of lost items because of his ability to help us retrieve things we have lost or to help us locate that parking space we need. He is also known for making special deliveries as was told in a previous post.
However, in this life, he was a gifted preacher and helped catch many fish in the nets of the Kingdom of God through his faithful ministry. (He is a patron of fisherman, but that is probably because of another famous story when he preached to the fish when the people would not listen to him. That is a story for another day.)
How to be a Fisher of Men: Hearing Confessions
Of course, a sure way for a priest to be a fisher of men is through the confessional. Priests have the awesome opportunity to help men and women be freed of the terrible burdens of sin and to leave the confessional in a state of grace! The Lord is full of mercy and he waits for us to confess our sins, repent of turning our backs on Him, and then to grant us His absolution through the priests who hear us.
Fr. Anthony would refer to confession as the House of God because it was like the prodigal son returning to the father. And, he also called it the Gate to Paradise because through the sacrament of penance we become free of all mortal sin which we need to be in order to enter eternal life.
Through his preaching and advice given in confession, Fr. Anthony exhorted men and women to be humble and to enter into the joy of the Lord through this holy door. In addition, he was quick to note that confession was an opportunity to amend our ways.
Yes, he noted, it is important to confess our sins, but we must do so with the intention of not sinning again. Thus, he encouraged penitents to go to confession frequently in order that they might remember their sins, make a good confession, and receive the grace needed to help them stop sinning.
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Preach First and Then Hear Confessions
Fr. Anthony, of course, knew the power of this awesome sacrament, and he frequently heard the confessions of those to whom he had preached. His reasoning was that it was useless to preach and to not have a line at the confessional afterward. The goal of Fr. Anthony's preaching was to bring about a converted heart. And a converted heart, he believed, wants to make use of the means that God has given us to be reconciled with the Lord.
In fact, he would often spend many hours in the confessional, losing track of the time. It is reported that it was not uncommon for Fr. Anthony to spend all day in the confessional without a break only to realize that the sun had set and evening had begun.
The joy of helping to administer the mercy of God to repentant sinners sustained him through the many hours without even a break for fresh air. And, it should be noted, that for many years, Fr. Anthony was in somewhat poor health which made it a challenge for him in his traveling, preaching, and spending so much time hearing confessions.
Here are two stories about Fr. Anthony in the confessional.
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Literally Following His Advice
There is one well-known story that has even been immortalized in a bas-relief by the artist Donatello. The story goes like this.
A man from Padua confessed his sins to Fr. Anthony. While doing so, he shared with remorse that he had kicked his own mother so hard that she had fallen to the ground.
Although as a priest who had listened to countless confessions, Fr. Anthony had heard it all, he could still be moved by terrible deeds which struck his soul as being particularly egregious. Reportedly, the holy saint who we known had a great zeal for the Lord, said, "The foot which strikes mother or father should merit without doubt to be cut off."
The man wrapped up his confession, received absolution and his penance, and quickly went home. Not reflecting correctly on the words spoken by Fr. Anthony, the simple man took the words at face value and lopped off his foot.
Of course, word of what had happened and why spread like wildfire through Padua. Eventually, the account reached Fr. Anthony who was shocked at what he heard. The holy priest found out where the man lived and rushed to his home. Fr. Anthony asked if the man still had the foot to which he replied in the affirmative.
The foot was presented to Fr. Anthony who placed it near the leg from which it had been severed. Then, Fr. Anthony said a prayer and made the sign of the cross over the foot and the leg. Miraculously, the foot was reattached to the leg as if nothing had ever happened to it.
Like the lame man who had been healed by St. Peter, the man jumped for joy giving thanks to God for such a blessing brought about by the Lord through Fr. Anthony.
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Repentance Means to Change Your Ways
Finally, a second story that provides more of a picture of Fr. Anthony the confessor. After Fr. Anthony had died, the story was told to a biographer of Fr. Anthony's by an old man.
The old man reported that when he was a younger man, he was a highway bandit. Along with eleven other men, he would attack travelers and steal from them. The twelve of them lived in the woods hiding from the authorities. It was not an easy life and despite their callousness and crimes, they were looking for something else to life although none of them would have been able to say that, especially to one another.
Then, one day, the twelve highwaymen learned about the famous St. Anthony. The accounts they heard compared him to the prophet Elijah for his holiness, boldness, and the miracles he had performed. Out of curiosity, they all agreed to go see and hear Fr. Anthony to find out if what they had been told was indeed true.
The twelve who did most things together in order to keep each other "honest", put on disguises and went to hear Fr. Anthony preach. The Lord spoke to their hearts through the holy priest, and all of them were moved to repent of all of the evil which they had committed. As a unit, they all agreed that each one would make their confession to Fr. Anthony.
After Fr. Anthony had finished his preaching, he headed to the confessional. The twelve got in line. As they were filled with remorse and encouraged by one another, they remained in line until each one had confessed his sins.
Fr. Anthony, of course, gave each one a penance. He also exhorted each man to complete their penance and persevere lest he fall back into his sinful life. He proclaimed that those who persevered would be saved, but those who failed to do so would be punished.
As the old man recounted, the prediction of Fr. Anthony came true. Some of the men eventually lost their way again and entered again into a life of crime. Each one of these, as far as the old man knew, died a tragic death. The ones who remained faithful to their repentance, although they might have stumbled along the way, eventually died holy deaths. The old man declared that he was the last one of the group still living.
To him, Fr. Anthony had given a penance of twelve pilgrimages to Rome. At the time he told his story, the old man was preparing to make his twelfth pilgrimage. He hoped to make this last trip to Rome and then to see that the words of Fr. Anthony come true for him and that, he too, would be saved as he had strived to remain faithful to turning his life around and following the Lord.
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Want to go deeper?
Read a biography about the holy man from Portugal who has been proclaimed a Doctor of the Church.
Feast Day (Memorial): June 13
Patron of Elderly People
Patron of Fisherman
Patron of Harvests
Patron of Lost Items
Patron of Mail
Patron of Pregnant Women
Patron of Sailors
Patron of Seekers of Lost Items