Saint Anthony: Priest, Doctor of the Church…Finder of Lost Stuff

Carolyn PirtleCarolyn Pirtle, M.M., M.S.M.
Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Today the Church celebrates the feast of Anthony of Padua, Priest and Doctor of the Church (1195-1231). St. Anthony of PaduaSt. Anthony has achieved somewhat of a surreal status in the communion of saints; he’s someone that people pray to automatically and almost superstitiously whenever the car keys or the wallet or even the remote control go inexplicably missing. How many of us are familiar with the little prayer: “Tony, Tony, look around—something’s lost that must be found”? It stands to reason, given this patronage, that St. Anthony is as popular as he is. If the rest of the world’s population is anything like I am, then people as a general rule lose things. A lot. (In fact, as I was writing that sentence, my mother called saying that she has lost a pair of glasses. I told her to pray to St. Anthony.) What’s saddening and even a little distressing is that St. Anthony is often perceived as a magician, a sorcerer, conjuring up our lost articles from thin air when it seems that all hope of finding them on our own is, well, lost.

It’s easy to fall into a reductionist view of the communion of saints: thinking of these men and women outstanding in holiness merely in terms of what they can do for us, as though we are calling out “Expecto Patronum” in quasi-Harry Potter fashion, and all we need do is wait for the patron saint to “show up” and do his or her job, whether that job is protecting us from harm (St. Michael the Archangel), enabling us to perform a recital well (St. Cecilia), or even helping us on an exam (St. Joseph Cupertino, I’m looking at you). Don’t get me wrong—I pray to my favorite saints daily, asking for their intercession in general as well as in specific situations. But at a certain point, I have to remind myself that the communion of saints is not collection of people who are at my disposal as various prescriptions for all of life’s maladies and problems. When we view the saints exclusively in this way, they become commodities and we become consumers, taking the saints off of the proverbial shelf whenever we have need of their specific patronage. And in so doing, we miss the entire point of the communion of saints.

St Anthony of Padua-Bernardo ZenaleThe communion of saints shows us vibrant, unique examples of individual lives transformed as they are conformed to the example of Christ. In the saints, our brothers and sisters in Christ, we have an array of witnesses—a veritable constellation of persons whose lives of holiness provide models for us to emulate, and whose companionship and intercession strengthen us throughout our own earthly pilgrimage. To view St. Anthony as Director of the Universal Lost & Found is to miss the story of God’s grace active in his everyday life and, perhaps more importantly, the story of his faithful response to that grace. For it is through knowing the story of his life, of his sanctity, that we are able to find commonalities with our own stories; by observing the pattern of grace present in the life of St. Anthony, we become more capacitated to observe unique patterns of that same grace emerging in our own lives.

By the time he died at the age of 35, St. Anthony was most famous not for helping people find lost articles, but for his preaching. His thoroughly profound knowledge of Scripture and his eloquence drew crowds of thousands who listened with rapt attention as he shared with them the Good News of the Gospel. Anthony of Padua preachingBy opening the mysteries of the Scriptures, St. Anthony became a seeker and finder of lost souls; by demonstrating the love and grace of God in his life of faith, he inspired conversion in the hearts of those who came to hear him preach.

As a child I was fascinated by the lives of the saints, voraciously reading accounts of miracle-workers, martyrs, missionaries, and the like. The stories made me want to be a saint simply so that I could imitate their spectacular feats—who wouldn’t want to levitate? Or bilocate? Or experience ecstatic visions? Looking back, though, I realize that my childhood understanding of the saints was very much relegated to the surface, and while I understood that they lived holy lives, I thought that their abilities to perform miracles were what made them holy. As an adult, I realize that sanctity is found in daily fidelity to Christ, and sometimes, that fidelity has to be pledged anew even on an hourly basis. Communion of Saints1The saints are saints because their lives were grafted like branches onto the vine of Christ; their hearts beat in unison with His Sacred Heart; their desires and their prayers and their sufferings were all united with His. And because of this, the grace of God at work in their hearts became manifest through their very lives in signs and miracles so that others might believe. I will definitely continue to pray to St. Anthony whenever something goes missing, but more importantly, I hope to continue to discover the wisdom of his preaching. Dubbed the “Evangelical Doctor” by Pope Pius XII, St. Anthony continues to speak to all of us even today in the sermons that have long outlived him, providing a way for us to grow in our own relationship with Christ, helping us find the way along our journey of faith when we ourselves become lost, inspiring a greater fidelity to the Gospel in the decisions we make in the everyday moments of our lives. And it is this, perhaps, that is his greatest legacy, his most spectacular miracle.

(By the way, my mom found her glasses. Thanks, St. Anthony.)

Karl Rahner on the Sacred Heart

Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame

“The center of our hearts has to be God; the heart of the world has to be the heart of our hearts.   He must send us his heart so that our hearts may be at rest.   It has to be his heart.   But it must not be the heart that embraces each and every thing in unfathomable unity.   He must make us the center of our being a heart that is really the heart of the infinite God, and that nonetheless is a heart that is not everything, a heart that does not signify only one, a heart that is not only the ground of one.   For the mortal fear over his ambiguous infinity and for the need of our hearts to depart from us, he has to let his heart become finite.   He must let it become the unequivocality that is our life.   He must let it enter into our narrow confines, so that it can be the center of our life without destroying the narrow house of our finitude, in which alone we can live and breathe.

And he has done it.   And the name of his heart is:   Jesus Christ!   It is a finite heart, and yet it is the heart of God.   When it loves us and thus becomes the center of our hearts, every need, every distress, every misery of our hearts is taken from us.   For his heart is God’s heart, and yet it does not have the terrifying ambiguity of his infinity.   Up from this heart and out of this heart human words have arisen, intimate words, words of the heart, words of God that have only one meaning, a meaning that gladdens and blesses” (The Great Church Year, 243).

The Obligating Act of Communion

TimOMalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Editor, Oblation:  Catechesis, Liturgy, and the New Evangelization

Editor, Church Life:  A Journal for the New Evangelization

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For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.  Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord.  Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves.  For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.  But if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged.  But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.  So then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for one another.  If you are hungry, eat at home, so that when you come together, it will not be for your condemnation. About the other things I will give instructions when I come (NRSV, 1 Cor. 11:26-34).

Recently, I was teaching a group of students, and we were reflecting upon the theological and spiritual wisdom communicated through the Church’s liturgical practice.   In this context, we began to discuss the preparation necessary for communion.   The receiving of communion is not simply one moment in a liturgical rite akin to all the others.  Rather, as we noted, it is a climax of the Eucharistic liturgy in which we do not simply incorporate the living God into our bodies–rather, the living God incorporates us into the self-giving love of the Father and the Son through the unity of the Holy Spirit.   If we engage in Holy Communion with the proper dispositions, out of faith, hope, and love, then we become what we receive:   the living body of Christ poured out for the world.  StPaul

In the context of this discussion, it struck me that I rarely approached the reception of the Eucharist aware of this reality.  For the most part, my thoughts are always more mundane.   Why are people moving so slowly in the line for communion?   Now that Mass is almost over, what am I going to do with the rest of the day?   Is the choir really trying to sing this hymn?  I wonder how many people I know here?   Before long, I’ve approached the Eucharistic minister, receiving communion with nary a thought about what has just taken place, and finish off this act of Eucharistic neglectfulness by performing a perfunctory kneel in my pew.

Thus, as you might imagine, my process of self-examination is minimal in Eucharistic communion.   In fact, like many, I’ve grown to see the act of communing as simply another movement in the liturgy:   singing a psalm, offering intercessory prayer, kneeling during the Eucharistic prayer, and then eating the Body and Blood of the Lord.  St. Paul’s language regarding judgment in eating and drinking the Eucharist seems so extreme:   can an act of eating, even our eating of the Bread of Life be a moment of judgment?  Is it not a time for healing, for grace?

JesusisLordNotice the language in the passage quoted above from 1 Corinthians:  in Eucharistic communion, we profess the Lord’s death.   The term Lord, Kyrios, is pivotal to understanding the passage.   Quoting Udo Schnelle:

The title kurios appears with particular frequently in the eucharistic tradition (cf. 1 Cor. 11:20-23, 2ff, 32; 16:22).   The church assembles in the powerful presence of the Lord, who salvific but also punitive powers are effective in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (cf. 1 Cor. 11:30).   Alongside the liturgical dimension of the Kyrios title, Paul also includes an ethical component.   The Kyrios is the ultimate authority, the reference point for deciding all the issues of daily life…The Lord’s power embraces every aspect of life; there is no dimension of life not under his authority” (Apostle Paul:  His Life and Theology, 440-41).

We profess the death of the Lord, a death that is healing of our desires, and through our profession we are obligated to live as if Christ is our Lord.   Not simply the Lord who comes to us in a moment of Eucharistic communion; but the Lord who requires us to make of our lives, our bodies, our entire identities an offering of self-giving love.

The Lordship that we profess in Eucharistic communion is our act of judgment.   It is an obligating action, necessitating a whole change of life, a new way of being, of existing as one who eats and drinks in the totality of love.  And each time we receive the Eucharist, as we give ourselves over to Eucharistic eating and drinking, our obligation increases.   If indeed we are to become one body, one spirit in Christ, then we must give ourselves entirely over in solidarity with the neighbor.   We must dare to hope that every one of our thoughts, every one of our desires might become an offering of Eucharistic love to the Father.  Our whole existence should be filled with compassion, a deep awareness that our identification with the Lord’s death and resurrection necessitates a radically new way of being human.   We are not made for power, for individual self-control, but for gift, for community, for one another.

Thus, we eat and drink unto our condemnation in the Eucharist not because God is a promotor of scrupulosity.   God does not desire for us to become servants, who believe that our worthiness is dependent on some perfection that we can achieve.   Instead, like in C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce, we condemn ourselves precisely because we do not see the actual gift bestowed to us.  We cannot perceive the obligating beauty of the Lord, who comes to us.  The beauty of the neighbor who is Christ’s very presence, inviting us to love.   We condemn ourselves because rather than become the Body of Christ poured out for the world, we remain trapped in our private desires and grumblings.  And soon, we simply become numbed to our obligation, numbed to the divine gift of self that we receive each time we approach the living God in bread once bread and wine once wine.    Communion

It seems wise then that parishes when celebrating the Eucharistic liturgy emphasize the need for discernment, for quiet reflection in the act of communion.   Not because the community is unimportant.  Simply, because every act of communion is akin to a profession of vows, a commitment to the total self-gift that is the shape of the Christian life.  In the quiet, in the silent adoration of Eucharistic love, I must ask myself if I’m adequately prepared to undertake such a gift of self.  For in receiving Christ’s Body and Blood, I am not simply undertaking an act of private devotion.   Instead, I am making an obligation that my existence is not my own but a gift to bestowed to all those in need.


Feast of Corpus Christi and the Pilgrimage of History

“Only in walking with the Lord can we endure the peregrinations of our history.   Thus Corpus Christi expounds the meaning of our whole life, of the whole history of the world: marching toward the promised land, a march that can keep on in the right direction only if we are walking with him who came among us as bread and Word.   Today we know better than earlier ages that indeed the whole life of this world and the history of mankind is a movement, an incessant transformation and moving onward.  The word CorpusChristiProcessionprogress has acquired an almost magical ring.   Yet we know, at the same time, that progress can be a meaningful term only if we know where we want to go.   Mere movement in itself is not progress.   It can just as well represent a rapid descent into the abyss.   So if there is to be progress, we must ask how to measure it and what we are aiming at, certainly not merely an increase in material production.   Corpus Christi expounds the meaning of history.   It offers the measure, for our wandering through this world, of Jesus Christ, who became man, the eucharistic Lord who shows us the way” (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger [Benedict XVI], God is Near Us, 112).