.- In Wednesday's General Audience, Pope Benedict XVI spoke on the life and history of “one of the most popular saints of the Catholic Church,” St. Anthony of Padua, saying that his definition of prayer as “a relationship of love” is one of his most striking contributions to the Church.
The Holy Father outlined four aspects of St. Anthony's definition of prayer as a “relationship of love, which leads man into dialogue with the Lord.”
The first aspect, said the Pope, is “trustingly opening our hearts to God,” followed by “affectionately conversing with Him, presenting Him our needs, and giving Him praise and thanks.”
“In this teaching of St. Anthony we see one of the specific traits of Franciscan theology; ... that is, the central role of divine love which enters the sphere of the affections, of the will, of the heart, and which is the source of a spiritual knowledge that surpasses all other knowledge,” Pope Benedict said.
St. Anthony was born to a noble family in Lisbon in 1195, and later joined the Friars Minor in hopes of being a missionary in Morocco. However, he fell ill and had to return to Italy, where he dedicated himself to numerous fruitful apostolates. Anthony's saintliness was so evidenced in his short life of 36 years that he was canonized a year after his death by Pope Gregory IX.
“Anthony,” explained Benedict XVI, “made a significant contribution to the development of Franciscan spirituality with his outstanding gifts of intelligence, balance, apostolic zeal and, especially, mystic fervor. ... He was also one of the first, if not the first, master of theology among the Friars Minor.”
Speaking on the “wealth” of the writings of St. Anthony, the Holy Father recalled how in 1946 Pope Pius XII proclaimed the saint a Doctor of the Church, giving him the title of “Doctor Evangelicus” “because all the freshness and beauty of the Gospel emerges in his writings,” said the Pontiff.
At the same time, St. Anthony was also well acquainted with the defects of human nature, explained Pope Benedict. The saint knew “the tendency to fall into sin, and so he continually exhorted people to combat the inclination to avarice, pride and impurity. ... At the beginning of the thirteenth century, in a context of expanding cities and flourishing trade, a growing number of people were insensitive to the needs of the poor. For this reason, Anthony frequently invited the faithful to turn their thoughts to true wealth, that of the heart" and to seek the friendship of those most in need.”
Turning to modern society, Pope Benedict asked, “Is this not also an important lesson for us today, as the financial crisis and serious economic imbalances impoverish many people, and create situations of distress?"
The Holy Father also spoke on St. Anthony's Christo-centric worldview, which “invites us to contemplate the mysteries of the Lord's humanity,” particularly His birth and death.
“The vision of the crucified Lord,” said Pope Benedict, roused in St. Anthony “feelings of recognition towards God and of respect for the dignity of the human person.” It is this vision which ensures that “everyone, believers and non-believers, may find a meaning that enriches life,” he said.
This understanding of suffering shows “the importance of the crucifixion in our culture and our humanity, which are born of the Christian faith, … because God considers us so important as to be worthy of His suffering.”
The Holy Father concluded his Wednesday audience by invoking St. Anthony to pray for the whole Church including “those who dedicate their lives to preaching. Drawing inspiration from his example, may they unite sound and healthy doctrine, sincere and fervent piety, and incisive communication. In this Year for Priests, let us pray that priests and deacons eagerly carry out their ministry of announcing and contextualizing the Word of God for the faithful, especially in liturgical homilies.”