Text of the homily: St. Anthony If we remove the colorful lens of pious tradition and look directly at St. Anthony, we can rediscover a person, a saint, who is current and meaningful for us today. I am thinking in particular of the Year of Faith the Holy Father has declared for the Church, and the Synod for the New Evangelization that will take place in Rome this October, because Anthony was truly a man of faith and a great evangelist. The Gospel we heard today (Mark 16:15-‐20) can help us in our rediscovery— a very apt passage to orient us to the life of our Saint. 1. The Gospel, in fact, speaks of sending the Apostles on mission after the resurrection. Jesus appears to them and sends them: “Go!”(Mk 16:15). I think there is much of Anthony in this word, much of the newness he finds when he encounters the life of the Friars Minor. You know that in the past questions have been raised about the “Franciscan-‐ ness” of St. Anthony’s “Sermons” because St. Francis, his writings and his Rule are never named in them. In fact, it seems that the Sermons were written in Coimbra, and then edited and published at a later time. But the important thing is that in Anthony there truly is the innovation of Franciscanism that is contained in this “Go!”, the momentum that impelled Francis and his brothers to go out among the people, bringing the Gospel to the street. Anthony goes from being a Canon Regular of St. Augustine, enclosed in his monastery and dedicated to study, to being an itinerant friar, who lives in the street, who knows the city squares, who attends the churches where people gather, who goes in search of people—with an incredible passion that led him to the most remarkable physical activity, to truly “go” without ceasing, the urgency of this announcement always in his heart. A concrete, physical going, but also a symbolic going, bringing the figure of Jesus to the people through preaching that went back to say something: a new way to speak about God. 2. Then there is a second word, which is “proclaim!”. Anthony is a man of the word, a preacher: a charismatic preacher, capable of attracting crowds, a preacher who can draw upon his great enlightenment (that he had achieved in his formative years as a canon) and turn it into bread for all, especially for the little ones, for the poor. And this is truly interesting, because in Anthony we find this synthesis, the ability to give to the others what he knows, his knowledge; to make others participants in his own experience of faith. And this is possible for the simple reason that Anthony is a saint, in the sense that the effectiveness of his preaching depends on the holiness of his life, on his belief in what he preaches, on his being a man of great prayer.
This is what makes him capable of friendship, of closeness and harmony with all the underprivileged, able to speak the same language as his listeners. 3. To preach…. the Gospel. Pope Pius XII proclaimed Anthony the “Evangelical Doctor”. Evangelical, not so much because his sermons are rich in quotations from the Gospel (as well as the Old Testament), but also and above all because his preaching was aimed at a return to the Gospel, that is, to the figure of Jesus, to the good news of salvation and life. This is for Christians and for heretics, for everyone. Simply teaching everyone to make Jesus and the Gospel a constant reference point for their lives. In an era when the Cathar heresy posited the dualism of good/evil, the rejection of all that was merely human and carnal as a truth of life, Anthony (like Francis) taught the rediscovery of the truth of the Incarnation, of the life of Christ; and therefore of life as a place of salvation. This strikes me as particularly significant, because, as you know, Anthony initially came to the Friars Minor not to preach the Gospel to all, but to go among the Muslims and to seek martyrdom. I think this is a big step in the life of Anthony: from the search for the highest personal holiness (which is in fact, martyrdom), to the humble daily labor of preaching to all, to this setting out to proclaim salvation and life to all. A discovery that the Gospel is life and is for life. And, therefore, to seeing that the Gospel is the power of life, the living Word who saves, who converts, who makes peace and reconciliation, who heals. 4. And finally, there is another expression in the Gospel that speaks very clearly of St. Anthony, where Jesus says: “These signs will accompany those who believe.” The entire life of Anthony, and not only during his life but even after his death, is rich with miracles, even rather extravagant ones. Jesus says that above all these signs “accompany” those who believe. Anthony does not look for signs, does not look for originality, the extraordinary. He only proclaims the Gospel. But this proclamation becomes visible in his wonderful works, a sign of victory over evil, a sign of the living power of the Gospel. And, again, the signs of which Jesus speaks are not ends in themselves, are not simply striking, sensational deeds. They are signs that speak of a fight against evil, against sin, of the discovery that evil does not have the last word, that death is defeated. It is important that Jesus made this announcement after his Resurrection, because all the miracles and signs are nothing but a reflection of that great miracle that is Jesus’ victory over death, which is Easter. And this would not be possible were it not through the gift of life to the end, the experience of one who gives himself for love. Now, each one of these aspects is highly significant for each of us.
These things that Anthony and Francis did in their time must be done now, in our time; that is: rediscovering the impetus to go out, announcing the Gospel to modern man, doing all this with holiness of life, believing in the power of the Word that has been entrusted to us. And to do so by imparting life, believing in the victory of love over death. The intercession of St. Anthony is given to us today in order to rekindle in us this desire. And as Anthony allowed himself to be guided by the Providence of the Lord to walk the right paths, so may he intercede for us to have this same openness in listening to the plan in which God leads us in our service to the Church and to mankind.