I reblogged an earlier post, about the surprises in painting an icon. I find myself ready for these as I work on the image of St. Anthony and the Child Jesus, expectant and searching as I work step by step towards that first surprise . . .
In order to come to know him better, I’ve done more research about the saint, who was renowned for his knowledge of Scripture and his ability to teach complex doctrines of the faith in simple, direct ways that the uneducated and very young could understand. This gift of eloquence came to the attention of St. Francis of Assisi, who put Anthony in charge of teaching young members of the order who wanted to become priests. Later he was sent to the court of Pope Gregory IX, where his preaching was called “the jewel of the Bible”.
An example of his preaching follows, from a collection of his works called “Sermons for Feastdays”. He would quote Scripture, then offer a short, vivid explanation and reflection on the verse. This particular piece concerns the sacrament of Confession:
“Here, then, are the beasts with which the desert of your confession should abound. Sins and their circumstances should appear naked and clear in confession, and thus the desert of confession will be horrible and fearful. To whom? To the unclean spirits!
We read in Genesis:
How terrible is this place! This is no other than the house of God and the gate of heaven. [Gen 28.17]
The place of confession, and indeed confession itself, is terrible to the unclean spirits.
As overflowing waters, so is my roaring. [Job 3.24]
When the lion roars, all other beasts stand still. Overflowing waters uproot whatever stands in their path. The roar of the lion is the confession of the penitent, of whom the Psalmist says:
I roared with the groaning of my heart, [Ps 37.9]
because from the groaning of the heart should go forth the roaring of confession. When the evil spirits hear it, they are terrified and do not dare to tempt. The overflowing waters are the tears of the contrite, which totally dissolve and uproot whatever the evil spirits are plotting against these
Confession is also called ‘the house of God’, on account of the reconciliation of the sinner. In confession, the sinner is reconciled to God, like a son to his father when he is received back into his father’s house.
You can read in Luke how when the elder brother drew near to the house, in
which the penitent son was feasting with his father, he heard music and song. Note the three things that were in the house: feasting, music and song. Just so there should be three things in the house of confession, where the sinner is received when he returns from the region of deceit:
the feasting of contrition, the music of confession and the song of amendment. Just as you accuse yourself of your sins, so also you should take care to amend yourself. Hear the sweet music. . . .
St. Anthony lived only 10 years after becoming a Franciscan. He was canonized less than a year after his death in 1231, at the age of 36. Only one other saint was canonized more quickly: St. Peter of Verona.