Intimate affair

O, Star of wonder, star of night
Star of royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect light.

Lyrics from the Christmas Carol
“We Three Kings of Orient Are…”

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(image of the Adoration of the Magi by Giotto / Cappella Scrovegni / Padova. Pad ova, Italy / 1305)

“Not everyone sees the star”

Observes Christoph Blumhardt in his Advent reflection The Wisemen’s Star.

If everyone had seen the star,
would not all of ancient Palestine been turned upside down from such
an extraordinary sighting of a brilliant light illuminating the eastern sky?

Has not history shown us that the sighting, and subsequent gathering,
was not intended as a major crowd massing phenomenon…

but rather a more intimate affair…

Gathered were a host of angels, a handful of shepherds, three wisemen,
along with a sundry menagerie.

Not exactly the breaking news, front page headline sort of event…

But rather a quiet tender affair…
Intimate,
private,
personal…
and closely gathered.

The birth of a child…

Yet not just any child…

Blumhardt surmises that “it is necessary to have an upright, sincere heart.
Whoever is not filled with longing but is only inspired by egoism,
only interested in his own salvation, with no feeling for sighing creation—
he will not see a star even when it is there; he does not see the glory of the Lord.

So we must ask ourselves….
as we enter this new season of waiting….

Will we see the star?

Are we filled with desire and longing?

Is our heart sincere?

For if that is indeed so, that our hearts are indeed ready…both longing and looking…
we must remember not to be late,
for we have been invited to an amazingly intimate affair.

After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.
Matthew 2:9-10

the bracelet, the Saint, the mystery

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The human mind and heart are a mystery; but God will loose an arrow at them, and suddenly they will be wounded. Psalm 64:7

Growing up I had a vague idea about the Saints. Those ancient mystical individuals who lived and died heroes proclaiming the Gospel. Stories exotic and fanciful, taking place in lands far away from the world I knew. We weren’t Catholic, however as Episcopalians, the concept of saints was not a foreign notion. My family attended the Cathedral of St. Philip, the chapel was named St. Michael and I had a St. Christopher medal. So saints abound, all around my little world. There just wasn’t much of a personal relationship.

One of my favorite hymns we sang in children’s church was I sing a song of the Saints of God. It totally captured my imagination as it reveled in the lives of Queens and shepherds and of people being slain by fierce wild beasts. I imagined a dragon on some far away land doing battle with a brave knight. Perhaps the reference was to St. George.

The hymn went on to proclaim the virtues of “average” folks as well, those you’d meet at school or at a store… the hymn proclaimed that saints not only lived in ages past but are still here today, rich and poor– just everyday folks doing what they do in their daily lives but also working and doing the will of Jesus…”and God help me to be one too” I’d sing with great enthusiasm! So saints were not necessarily individuals who lived in ages past in ancient books, they were actually timeless.

I say all of this as I’ve learned that, although many of these individuals lived long ago and have stories associated, many with, magical legends, their stories, and that of their faith, are as fresh and relevant today as they have been down through the ages.

There is one Saint, however, who I’ve had an interesting relationship with over the past several years. San Antonio di Padova, better known to English speakers as Saint Anthony of Padua. The funny thing is that Saint Anthony is not from Padua, Italy but actually Lisbon, Portugal. It is as the finder of lost things that many of us know of Saint Anthony and of his role in our modern day world. The person we call upon if something, say like, keys or a book goes missing.

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My first introduction to this “miracle worker” who finds all sorts of lost things was at school. Our bookkeeper would often invoke Saint Anthony when something went missing in her office. She’d start chanting this little “prayer”

St. Anthony, St. Anthony
Please come down
Something is lost
And can’t be found

I found the chant a little silly not to mention sacrilegious. I knew most folks at work were not familiar with saints, let alone the Catholic Church, and that this little chant was more voodoo than heartfelt prayer. But she believed in it and who was I to rain on her parade. If she felt it helped, so be it. It wouldn’t be long before I too found a need to invoke the assistance of St Anthony.

Years ago, shortly after my mother’s death, my Dad and I found ourselves practically turning around burying my grandmother. After the sad dust of our lives had settled, it was the time for sorting out the small details of losing two loved ones almost back to back, Dad decided that I should have her my grandmother’s jewelry. She had a beautiful diamond tennis bracelet.

The bracelet was very special and something I would only wear on very special occasions, otherwise it would need to stay locked up and safe.
As the years passed by, I became less particular when deciding what was to be a “special” occasion. I had adopted the mind set that if you had something special it should be enjoyed all the time, not relegated to the occasional ” dress up” affair. Life was short, I needed, we all needed, to enjoy the todays as the tomorrows may not ever come.

So one night when we were invited out to eat with another couple, I put on Nany’s bracelet. I had taken to wearing the bracelet even to work; the thought of a casual evening out seemed equally appropriate. How was I to know that once I got back home, I’d go on autopilot and “forget” taking off the bracelet and putting it in my pocket. I always checked my pockets before either hanging up my pants or tossing them in the wash. Didn’t I?

About a week went by before I thought about the bracelet. The bracelet! Where was the bracelet!? Oh my God!!! I suddenly felt sick. I didn’t know which was worse, losing the bracelet, letting Nany down or telling my husband, who had been telling me ever since Dad gave it to me, that he didn’t like me wearing it –it was just too expensive for me to wear.

As I began telling my husband, I immediately started crying. Maybe that saved me from certain death by an angry “I told you so.” I called the restaurant, the dry cleaners, I scoured the house, the car—I went through every single pair of pants in our closet—both my husbands and mine. I even had him in a panic thinking that maybe I had handed it to him at some point that night and that perhaps he had misplaced it—shared guilt in a crisis is not a bad thing, providing a bit of comfort.

I thought of Saint Anthony. No, I wasn’t thinking of that silly little nursery rhyme plea, but rather an honest to goodness prayer of intercession. I feverishly began researching St. Anthony and prayers asking for his assistance. I found a legitimate prayer of intervention.

Now I know enough about our Christian faith, despite our denominations or affiliations, that there is indeed a mystery involved in our use of prayer. I also believe that there is indeed power in prayer. I also believe in miracles but this, however, was not the place in which I was to ask for such—a miracle is to save a life, heal the sick…not intended for the recovery of a piece of materialism. Sadly it wasn’t just the fact that I had lost an expensive piece of jewelry. Nor that I had let down my grandmother, my husband, or myself…but now I was going to have to tell me dad what I had done.

When I was in the seventh grade my Grandmother had given me her college ring. It was from 1918. It was a very small gold ring from a small middle Georgia woman’s college. The ring was so small, as my grandmother was a very petite woman, which at age 12, my finger was the only finger around that it would fit.

That summer the entire family took off on a road trip to Louisiana in order to attend my cousin’s wedding. I can remember it as if it was yesterday rather than 41 years ago. We stopped for gas in the middle of nowhere Mississippi. I went to the bathroom. I slipped the ring off my finger so I could wash my hands, and failed to put it back on. Why I thought I should take it off to wash my hands is beyond my soul, but take it off I did.

My dad made me tell my grandmother, once we all made it to Lake Charles, that I had left her ring in a bathroom of a gas station back in Mississippi. I can remember the same sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. My grandmother, who was gracious and not nearly as concerned over its loss as my dad, told me not to worry about it. She certainly didn’t intend on wearing it again. Even though I was somewhat off the hook, I still felt terrible. To this day I still can get bothered thinking about my carelessness. And here I was, all these many years later, in the same sick feeling boat. Damn my luck, or blast my careless stupidity.

And now here I was, in another sticky wicket again, seeking the assistance of a Franciscan monk who had died over 700 years prior. I wasn’t expecting to be “heard” as this was not, in the big scheme of life, registering on the scale of most important life issues. Not worthy of a noteworthy saint, let alone something I should bring before God. He had much more important issues to attend to and desperate prayers to hear from those who were truly in need.

However I still felt compelled that I should pray the prayer, adding my own “I know this is a materialistic object and that losing it was not the end of the world but boy, it sure felt like the end of the world.” I conceded that perhaps I had not taken the care I should have when entrusted with something of value. I also told St Anthony that I was use to praying directly to God and that by no means was I trying to circumvent that approach but just that I had heard that he, St Anthony, was helpful in these sorts of troubles.

I then relinquished it all. I had said my prayer. The bracelet was gone, I had searched, I had screwed up, and it was now over.

A couple of weeks passed by since saying my prayer—it was now the Friday before Spring Break—the long awaited “holiday” had finally arrived. As a teacher there was a spring in my step this morning. The weather was warm, the day sunny and we were about to have a week off. I grabbed a pair of khakis that I thought I’d to put on to wear. The kids and I would be doing a little spring-cleaning in the classroom so casual was the call of attire for the day. As I put on the khakis, I pushed my hands down into the pockets straightening them out. I felt something in the right pocket. I pulled out of the pocket what I had felt and just stared. The bracelet.

The pants had come and gone to the dry cleaners. How in the world had I not found it when I was checking all of the pants, turning in and out every pocket in our closest? The cleaners also double-checked all pockets. I had talked with them about the bracelet; they knew I was desperately searching. How in the world?!

I ran into the kitchen screaming. My husband was dumbfounded.

Fast forward about 5 years. My aunt and I were plotting one of our adventures– Italian of course. Flying into Milan then taking the train the remainder of the way to Padua (Padova in Italian), Florence (Firenze), Assisi, Cortona and eventually Rome (Roma). I don’t know why I chose Padua. Maybe it was the Giotto frescos in the Cappella Scrovegni. Maybe I thought going to Venice would break the trip’s budget, as it is an expensive destination. Padua is not always on the tourist’s radar. It is a part of the Veneto region but it is Venice that takes the top-billing draw for this region.

It just so happened that during the time, in which our plans took us to Padua, the feast day of St Anthony was to take place, June 13th. A feast day for a hometown boy in the massive basilica of his same name is a big deal. The Feast day of Saint Anthony is a strongly recommended pilgrimage for Catholics. I had never been a part of a true pilgrimage, one with a true destination on a true day of a Feast day.

Arriving in Padua on the 12th of June there was indeed electricity in the air. People were already gathering at the Basilica as vendors were setting up all around the perimeter of the church. I’d love to tell you all about Padua. It is a lovely city –part Renaissance, part Moorish as it was under Moors rule at one point in its history. Padua boasts the oldest University in Europe. Galileo is still a recognized Chair of Mathematics here. I had the best Asparagus risotto at the famously ancient Café Pedrocchi but time will not permit me to give proper credit to Saint Anthony if I explore Padua.

Time unfortunately also will not permit me to go into a great depth about this humble Franciscan monk—who, by the way, started out as an Augustine monk. I will provide a few links for those of you wishing to know more. His life story is full of adventure, attempted trips to Morocco, desired martyrdom, illness, shipwrecks, and more—there were the trials and the joys. He was well known for his very knowledgeable preaching. He possessed eloquence and a fire about his preaching. He is a Doctor of the Church and it was St Francis who first assigned him as the instructor of theology for the Franciscan brothers.

St. Anthony was only 36 at his death, in1231, and was proclaimed a saint by Pope
Gregory IX, who referred to Anthony as “the ark of the Testament”, less than a year after his death, due in part because of a litany of miracles taking place at the humble friar’s tomb. His is the second fastest proclamation of a saint in history.

Today St. Anthony is venerated as a Saint for sailors and fishermen, barren woman and pregnant women, travelers and the poor, as well as those who seem have lost something. I like to think that perhaps the lost item may be more intrinsic rather than always something materialistic.

I marveled at the throngs of the faithful who had traveled to the Basilica for his feast day. At his tomb, hundreds lined up just for an opportunity of touching the huge cool marble edifice. There were a myriad of photographs and letters taped to the tomb and wall surrounding the tomb of people from all over the world who sought this humble saint’s assistance—many miracles are attributed to Anthony. The sheer number of people seeking Anthony’s aid overwhelmed me—I felt both a sense of sadness as well as comfort.

I can claim that I had a miracle—a truly undeserved miracle. It’s not something I proclaim by loudspeaker, as it was not deserved. I left an anonymous donation at his tomb, when we were in Padua, asking that the money be used in the ministry for the local poor, which a huge part of the works of the Franciscans at the Basilica.

Skeptics, non-believers, as well as many believers, would tell me that finding the bracelet was purely coincidental. Maybe so. But I know that I scoured every nook and cranny. There was no answer as to why the bracelet was in the pocket of a pair of pants that had been checked, taken to the cleaners, rechecked, dry-cleaned, eventually making their way back to the closet.

I have lived long enough to know that I cannot explain everything logically that takes place in our lives. Some things remain a mystery. Some things cannot be easily explained away. It is our nature to want to answer all questions and it is our arrogance in thinking that we can have all of those answers to all those questions. I, for one, am glad that it is not ours to know all.

St Anthony was dead for almost 40 years when a new Basilica was built in his honor—the church we see today. His body was to be moved to this new place of honor. It was St Bonaventure who presided over the removal of the body. Upon opening the tomb, St Anthony’s body had turned to dust, all but his tongue. His tongue was said to still be intact, fleshy and pink. St Bonaventure proclaimed “O Blessed Tongue that always praised the Lord, and made others bless Him, now it is evident what great merit thou hast before God.”

I know that not everything we pray for seems to be answered nor in the way in which we often desire. People will still get sick, people will still die, bad things will still happen to good people. Why is it to some things and why not to others? As I stated in the “about me” section of this blog, I marvel in the fact that I am the created and not the Creator—it is not for me to know all of the whys and the why nots.

http://st-anthony-medal.com/index.htm

http://www.stanthony.org/index.php/st-anthony-of-padua/

http://www.saintanthonyofpadua.net/portale/home.asp

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