A couple of years ago I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Padua, where Anthony of Padua and Lisbon is buried. It may not be obvious from this blog, but Anthony is one of my favourite saints. I had been to his birthplace is Lisbon before, and now I had the opportunity to visit his shrine and tomb in Padua. This was wonderful!
Now, what does all that have to do with contemplation? Anthony is not usually thought of in association with contemplation. We normally think of Anthony as someone to pray to to help us find lost items or to help us find our way. In reality, Anthony of Padua is the “Hammer of Heretics” and is a Doctor of the Church! He has a wide lists of talents.
One thing I like about Anthony is his personal history. He seems to have had trouble with the idea of vocation. He seems to have wanted to do it himself. His vocation story is long and a bit complicated. At first he joined a cloistered community is Lisbon, because it seemed to suit him more than a life in the world. After living there for a couple of years, he was dissatisfied; he did not spread the Gospel as he thought he would. Then some early Franciscans came passing by one day. He thought he would like to join them. So he asked permission to do so. Once that permission was granted, he decided that as a Franciscan, he should leave his native Portugal and travel to North Africa to convert the Muslims there. Well, he set out on a boat to do so. It didn’t work. The boat was tossed and turned in the sea and he had to settle for Europe instead. Then he passed through Italy and accepted his fate. He spent his late few years somewhat settled in Padua (near Venice).
I always liked this story about Anthony. It was the story of someone who wanted to settled his vocation and God’s providence – but, of course, he failed. God’s plans were bigger. And though it was difficult to give up on his own plans such as converting Muslims in North Africa, Anthony could accept that.
Like I say, I’ve always liked this story. My like for the story increased after I bought a book of Anthony’s sermons (Seek First His Kingdom) when I was at Anthony’s Basilica in Padua. In the very first sermon, there is this gem:
Don’t make yourself into anyone other than the one he intended, and you will always have God in your mind.
In other words: Be who God made you to be, and you will always be contemplative, you will always think (consciously or less consciously) on God, you will always be praying. It sounds so modern, but it was written in the 13th century. Be who God made you to be. For Anthony, these words were real. He lived them. He learned them, in practice, by the failure of his own plans. When his own plans failed and the darkness loomed, he gave in. He let God have all the plans. He let himself be blown as the ship in the sea, with the Holy Spirit as the wind. He relied less on using faith, hope, and love by his own decisions and more on the inspiration of the Spirit and the push he gives us through his seven Gifts. Anthony learned to be passive when God was active, and he found himself more active and useful for others as a result.
Wow – and all that is implicit in one line in a sermon.
God does not have parts but is present totally everywhere, and consequently, since he is wholly in whatever belongs to him, he does not want only a part of you…
Do you want to have everything? Give all of yourself and he will give you all of himself, and thus, not having anything of yourself, you will totally possess God and yourself in him.
And so Saint Anthony tells us why, if we “don’t make ourselves into someone other than the one God intended,” we will find God everywhere: because God is totally present everywhere, and if we are open to that in the providence of the person he makes us become, then we will find him along the road.