Reception of the Relics of Saint Anthony of Padua
Homily Notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin, Church of the Visitation, Fairview, 17th October 2013
“We gather here this evening to venerate a great Saint. We come full of trust in a Saint whose intercession has been invoked by men and women over centuries and in every corner of the world. This evening we turn to Saint Anthony of Padua with the intentions that are in the hearts of each of us and with the intentions of those who have asked us to pray for them. We do so with trust in the power of God which works through the intercession of this Saint.
Anthony was born to a wealthy family in Lisbon in Portugal and died in Padua in Italy, but his work took him to many parts of Europe. His initial spiritual formation was in Portugal where he was a member of the Canons Regular of Saint Vincent. It was as guest master of one of their monasteries there that the young priest encountered a small group of disciples of Saint Francis who were on their way to Morocco to preach the Gospel. It was on learning of the martyrdom of the group that Anthony began to think of becoming himself a follower of Saint Francis in the order which had only just been established.
Anthony’s health was never great. He wanted himself to go to Morocco but was unable for the journey. He could only be assigned light tasks in the order, but he used all his time to ray and to reflect on the scriptures. Some years later he was unexpectedly asked to preach at an ordination as no other preacher could be found and his words of learning and spirituality surprised and gripped all these present. His name became well known as a preacher.
Saint Francis established a bond of friendship with Anthony because he noted that here was the son of a wealthy family and a man of extraordinary theological ability, but who also understood and embraced fully the simplicity of the Franciscan life, leaving aside any of the self-importance which so often marked the learned. Anthony brought his learning to the major universities of Southern France and he journeyed around Europe astonishing all by his preaching and his simplicity of life.
In art Anthony is often pictured with a white lily reminding us that he was pure of heart in the full sense of the Gospel. Sometimes we distort the term “pure of heart”, limiting it entirely to the realm of chastity, but the pure heart must also embrace simplicity of life and closeness to the Gospel and rejection of a sense of security based on possessions and of prestige. It is interesting to remember that Anthony found his call to such simplicity of life through his encounter with those early Franciscan martyrs.
This evening we honour the relics of Saint Anthony. The small piece of his skin reminds us of Anthony the human person. Sanctity is not something which is extraneous to our bodily lives. Holiness is attained not by a mysterious fight away from reality, but is worked out toil of mind and body by each of us, under the guidance of the spirit, in our bodies, in the real life situations in which we find ourselves, with our burdens, and our temptations. Holiness touches every part of our human fabric.
The Gospel reading we have heard is a fascinating one. It reminds us of the mission that we have received as disciples of Jesus Christ to bring his name and his message to every corner of the world. Jesus himself indicates some of the signs that will accompany us in this mission. Certainly today we would be very surprised if these particular signs were to appear in our midst. I do not think that it is just lack of faith or courage which would warn me not to touch serpents or to drink poisons. Does that mean that such sign do not happen any more? Have those signs become irrelevant?
In this Gospel Jesus is telling us first of all that the work of evangelization depends not on our plans but on his grace, which will act in ways that surprise and which challenge the ways of the world. Evangelization is not something that we carry out just on our own deeds. Jesus will work through us in ways – not necessarily the ones mentioned in today’s Gospel – but in ways which give us a strength we would never have imagined. This happens if we have the purity of spirit and detachment from worldliness which allows God to work through us.
This says something to us about the way we are called to live and witness as Christians in our days. We all remember the moment of the announcement of the new Pope earlier this year. We were all surprised at the nomination of an Argentinean Cardinal who was unknown to most of us. But the real surprise came with the announcement of the name that Pope had chosen: Francis. This was not just about a name; it was about a programme.
The miraculous works through which the Lord reveals himself indicate that we cannot put our trust in the structures or in the criteria of popularity of the world. We live in a prevailing culture that is less supportive of Christian witness than in the past and where the traditional institutional frameworks for the transmission of the faith are less effective or relevant. In an Ireland, where demographically the vast majority of our citizens were Christians, there was at times a false identification between faith and culture of the day. Christianity and the Judeo-Christian tradition have truly helped to shape much of what is good in Irish society and has left an indelible mark of goodness. Sadly, when Church people deviated from the true message of Jesus lives were ruined.
In our time, however, we have to learn a new path and not simply to follow to the culture of the day. The Church may well be called to distance itself from aspects of that culture. This does not mean fleeing from reality into an unreal comfort zone. It may mean robustly rejecting some of contemporary culture’s tenets. It may mean robustly defending the Church’s rights. It always means working to influence that culture by witnessing to the power of Jesus’ message.
As contemporary Irish culture changes there is always the danger that even believers feel that somehow the Church has to compromise on the authenticity of its teaching, to adapt its teaching to that change and indeed change its teachings and its message.
Our second reading reminds us that the Church cannot be carried about by every kind of manipulation of the truth or of error. We have to profess the truth in love, but it must be the truth of Jesus Christ.
How then can the Church be present in society with the full authenticity of its message? What type of contribution to a more secular society is the Church called to make? As society becomes explicitly less religious, does that mean that the public value of our service as Christians and as a Church is adjudicated only by the principle that the one who pays determines the entire tune.
What is important in this process of debate and dialogue is that the Church in all its activities never fails to reflect that poverty of spirit and purity of heart and the personal integrity which were the marks of Francis and Anthony. They were prepared to abandon the personal wealth – which they could well have thought was their security – in order to witness to the power of Jesus by radical simplicity and detachment.
Pope Francis constantly reminds us that the Church will not witness fully to Jesus through structures or even though the reform of structures. He says that what is needed are not new structures but new attitudes. When our Church structures become entangled in the structures of society they can quickly loose their evangelical originality. Each of us is called to discern in our lives how we, in our corporeity, witness concretely – and not just through institutions – to the saving power of Jesus.
We continue to live out the vision of Church which was that of Francis and Anthony and which is today that of Pope Francis through reaching out especially to those who are lost in doubt and anxiety. We all invoke Saint Anthony when we loose what is often some small and inconsequential item of our lives. This evening we turn to the intercession Saint Anthony above all to guide us and to guide our Church whenever it seems to be loosing its true way. We join in the prayer of Pope Francis for renewal in the Church.” ENDS
Relics of St. Anthony – The Relics of Saint Anthony of Padua are in Ireland this month to mark the 750th Anniversary of their discovery by Saint Bonaventure.
The Relics, usually kept at the Basilica in Padua, are accompanied by the Editor of the Messenger of Saint Anthony, Father Mario Conte, together with Greyfriars from Britain and Ireland. This is the schedule for Dublin:
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 17th
Church of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Fairview Strand, Dublin 3
Tel: 01 837 6000
6.30pm – Mass with Archbishop Diarmuid Martin.
7.30pm to 11.00pm -Veneration
SATURDAY OCTOBER 19th
Church of the Immaculate Conception/ Adam & Eve’s 4 Merchants’ Quay, Dublin 8
Tel: 01 677 1128
12 Noon – Mass
1.30pm to 5.00pm – Veneration
5.30pm – Mass
5.30pm to 8.30pm – Veneration
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 23rd
St Mary of the Angels Church Street, Dublin 7.
Tel: 01 873 0599
6pm- Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament
8.30pm to 10.00pm – Veneration