My parents prompted me to request St. Anthony’s intercession whenever I lost something as a child. However, it was not until I was in my teens or twenties that I first heard the sing-song version of this prayer, “Tony, Tony come around. Something’s lost and can’t be found!”
I don’t say this as a means to disparage anyone who uses that prayer to ask for St. Anthony’s intercession, but the first time I heard it I cringed. By that point in my life, St. Anthony was more than the finder of lost objects, working his magic in my moment of need. He was a friend of mine, and thankfully one of those friends who was quite good at helping you find lost things.
The Friendship of the Saints
There were many points in my childhood in which I felt painfully lonely. For reasons that I won’t get into here, it was many years before I had my first real friend outside of my family. I wouldn’t have been able to articulate it at the time, but in retrospect, I can clearly see how lonely I was.
In my experience, it wasn’t me who sought out the saints and befriended them. Nor was my friendship with them an imaginary one. Rather, perhaps as many of you have experienced in your own faith journey, different saints befriended me over the years. St. Michael the Archangel, as my patron, was beside me in a far more powerful way than I understood at the time. St. Therese of Lisieux didn’t come into my life until high school, when I finally ventured a read of her autobiography and realized she – as a fellow child with acute scrupulosity and anxiety but also great longing for God – could understand me in the way only a best friend could. She embraced me with her powerful intercession and continues to be a friend.
But St. Anthony of Padua, was always there, weaving his way through the prayers of my early to late childhood, my teen years, my young adulthood, and my time as a new wife and mother. For many years, he was just someone that I turned to when I had lost something. As I got older, I was surprised at how often his intercessory prayers on my behalf were answered. My formula was simple, “Dear St. Anthony, please say a prayer that I can find _________. And please thank God for always hearing and answering my prayers, in His own time.” I began to recognize, in the rapidity of response, that these answered prayers were not the work of magical intercession. They were the work of love – the love of a saint who rushed to the aid of me, his “little sister” in the Church, with the same speed with which my older daughters rush to the aid of their littlest sister. The answered prayers were not a magic trick. They were reminders that I was seen, heard, and loved.
For someone with very painful parts of childhood, his love was needed and welcomed.
And, as I grew older, my prayers began to change. I didn’t just ask St. Anthony to help me find lost objects. I began to ask him to pray that I could “find” whatever it was that God was asking of me, that I could “find” a way to cling to hope, or find healing in a relationship, or find a way to give God my “yes” in the face of challenges and suffering.
The Mysticism of St. Anthony
My oldest and youngest children are almost seven years apart. My youngest daughter adores my oldest daughter, and vice versa. But there is much about the complexity of the inner life of my pre-teen eldest that my four-year-old youngest can’t yet wrap her mind around. So it is with each of us and our “big siblings” in the faith – the Saints.
I have only recently begun to understand another side to St. Anthony – his mystical longing for Christ. We are all familiar with the image of St. Anthony holding the Christ Child. The story goes that one night, in the midst of prayer, Anthony was given a mystical experience, and was seen holding the Christ child in a state of joy. Of course, Anthony’s life was more than that one moment – his life of theological study, or preaching, of missionary work – it all flowed from the font of his profound love of God.
Perhaps this is the real intention we must ask St. Anthony to pray for. In our time, so many have lost sight of God. So many have hearts that do not ache with longing to embrace Christ, to give away everything in order to follow him.
The tragedy is not in lost coins, buttons, car keys, toys, books, or phones. The crisis is in lost faith, or perhaps, even worse – to have lost faith and to not even know that it is lost to begin with. I am not just talking about “those people” in the secular world. I am talking about myself. I am talking about any and all of us, too often sucked into the cares and pleasures of life in our modern world, forgetting who our hearts are actually longing for.
Better than any lost object found is to find the faith and longing that we didn’t even know we had lost. Dear St. Anthony, please pray that we may find this deep longing for God. And please, thank him for always reaching out to us, even when we don’t know to reach for him.