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Saint Anthony: The finder of lost values?

I feel close to Saint Anthony of Padua, a Franciscan saint. The explanation for this feeling of closeness, – if an explanation needs to be given – is that my parents were devotees to this 13th-century Portuguese saint.

They often told me personal stories that would attest to his miraculous powers. The first story is one I personally witnessed. My father had this habit of trying to fix what he thought needed some fixing. It could be the electrical wires or the faucets.

One day, he was fixing our family bike which he used not for physical exercise but for doing errands. As expected, he tried to put some grease oil into the different parts of the bike. The oil may have loosened the tightness of how his wedding ring was placed on his left fourth finger. To his utter shock, the wedding ring was no longer where it was supposed to be.

He tried to look for it but his efforts were in vain. This was embarrassing not necessarily because of its economic value but because of its symbolic significance. Needless to say, a wedding ring symbolizes the lifetime bond between husband and wife. Losing that ring could be taken to mean that he was careless with it. At a certain point, he stopped searching.

The only thing that could be done was to pray. And who is the saint whose intercession we ask when we lose things we consider valuable? Well, Saint Anthony! Days passed and the rains kept pouring. It was reasonable to imagine that the rains would have driven the ring to the ditch. But lo and behold, the ring was found weeks later.

I saw my father lighting a candle, alone on the family altar and praying fervently. Since it was not time for family prayer, I asked him what brought him to the altar. He recounted the whole story, clearly feeling awed by what he perceived as a miracle.

Let me now go to two significant stories from my mother when she was still single. She was a young school teacher who took the tartanilla to work. One time, she arrived at school realizing that the class record was left in the tartanilla. It appeared that there was no way to retrieve it since – for the few people who do not know – tartanillas do not have plate numbers.

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How was she to give grades? She prayed to Saint Anthony and the next thing that happened was that the cochero went inside the school, and looked for her to return the class record.

One time, while strolling with her friends, she realized that her watch was no longer in her wrist. She prayed to Saint Anthony while she retraced her steps. It was there on the ground and she considered it miraculous that nobody picked it up.

Since I teach theology as an academic discipline, I may have doubts about whether these objects were really found through the intercession of any particular saint. Did these involve any divine intervention? I may in fact try to be funny and say that I wish Saint Anthony, instead of finding what is lost, would teach me not to be careless with things that I value. But who am I to dispute deep personal feelings of awe and wonder at how God works?

In fact, I do have my own experience. I went to the cemetery on All Saints Day on my bike. When I returned home, I realized that my eyeglasses were no longer with me. I did not notice the loss of my eyeglasses immediately since I use them only when I am reading. Thus, when I wanted to start reading, I realized that my spectacles were no longer with me. The next day, I tried to go back to the places I went to. There in the cemetery, despite the tens of thousands of people gathering to remember their deceased loved ones, nobody stepped on my eyeglasses. Again, thanks to the intercession of Saint Anthony.

Careless person that I am, I often misplace my keys, wallet, pens, etc. But a short prayer to Saint Anthony will have frequently helped me remember where I place them.

But we cannot just focus on lost objects. Should we not pray to Saint Anthony when we feel we have lost the values that make us committed followers of Jesus? Should we not pray to Saint Anthony when personal convenience has clouded our moral judgments thus losing our sense of what is right and wrong?

Should we not pray to him when we feel we have lost the courage to fight for what is true and just? Should we not pray to him when we accept reality as it is and have lost our idealism? Should we not pray to him when we focus more on the externals of liturgy but have lost the desired congruence between our prayers and our actions?

Should we not pray to Saint Anthony when we have accepted donations from rich donors and have lost the capacity to be prophetic before them. We pray to Saint Anthony for us to retrieve that lost religious fervor.

Losing an object is bad. Losing our values is worse. Not praying to retrieve those values is worse.

Fr. Ramon D. Echica is the Dean of Studies of the San Carlos Major Seminary. He obtained his doctorate in Sacred Theology from the Catholic University of Leuven (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven) in 1998.

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