Sap 7,7-14; from Ps 39; Eph 4,7.11-15; Mk 16.15-20
Dear brothers and sisters,
May the Lord give you peace!
- We are celebrating today, despite the pandemic, with joy and solemnity, the feast of Saint Anthony of Padua, the Holy and Beloved Patron of this Parish and of the Custody of the Holy Land since 1920.
- The protection of this Saint was invoked in really difficult times for the friars and for the Christians of the Holy Land. A terrible war had just ended, the so-called Great War which had killed about 20 million soldiers and civilians and the terrible pandemic of the Spanish flu that had killed more than the war itself – 50 million! – had just ended.
- After 100 years, we are still here saying thanks to Saint Anthony who continues to intercede for us with “the Most High, Almighty and Good Lord” and he continues to be an instrument of the Lord's protection over the Custody and over all the faithful and the people living here in the Holy Land.
At the beginning of March, I invited everyone to recite everyday a prayer to Saint Anthony, to ask for his help and intercession in the current situation of the pandemic. It is not superstitious nor a naive act, it is not even an anachronistic or timeless devotion, it is in fact, an act of faith in communion with the saints, it is an expression of an awareness that the Saints, as we are reminded in the First Preface on the 1st November, they are given to us “as friends and life models”. On our part, invoking the intercession of the saints is an act of faith; on the part of the Saints, they are listening to our invocation in an act of friendship and love.
- This year also marks another centenary, which concerns the life of Saint Anthony himself. This year marks the eighth centenary of the passage of Fernando Bulhões (this was the name of St. Anthony before he became a Friar Minor) from the Augustinians to the Franciscans. It was on that occasion that Fernando, changing his name, took the name Anthony, the name of the founding father of monasticism. He made this change of name being inspired by the martyrdom of the first five friars Berardo, Ottone, Pietro, Accursio and Adiuto, murdered in Morocco on 16thJanuary, 1220. The young friar Fernando had met them in 1219 in Coimbra while they were on their way to Morocco to announce the Gospel, in the same year in which St. Francis came here to the Holy Land to meet the Sultan Al Malik Al Kamil. He had seen them again a few months later, when their dead bodies had been brought back to Coimbra in Portugal.
- St. Anthony was struck by the radical nature of the faith, hope and love of these five naive and ingenuous friars in their way of evangelizing yet genuine and authentic in their intention. The moving witness of their martyrdom touched the young friar Fernando, who realized that he was not living his Christian life with enough passion but in a mediocre, comfortable way, without taking those risks that had instead led the first Franciscan martyrs to give their lives for love of Jesus Christ and His Gospel.
Many years later, and after having tried in vain to be a martyr for Christ, reflecting on the martyrdom of the Apostles Peter and Paul, will come to understand that only love leads the martyr of Christ to overcome the fear of death: “no one would ever want to die; [...]. After all, Jesus also said: «Let this cup pass from me» (Mt 26:39). Even so, however great the aversion to death is, it can overcome by the power of love” (Sermons, Martyrdom Peter and Paul, n. 6).
- After realizing that his unfulfilled desire for martyrdom could be fulfilled in the testimony of his life and preaching, he thus preaches commenting on the verse in which Jesus says of Himself “I am the truth” (Jn 14: 6): “Who preaches the truth professes Christ. Those who do not preach the truth deny Christ. «The truth generates hatred» (Terenzio), and therefore some, in order not to incur the hatred of certain people, cover their mouths with the cloak of silence”(Sermons, VIdP n 10).Through these words St. Anthony reminds us that the ordinary way in which we are witnessing that we belong to Jesus is not that of the blood martyrdom but that of living and speaking according to truth, in accordance with the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
- I conclude with the prayer that St. Anthony places at the end of his sermon dedicated to the martyrdom of Saints Peter and Paul. It is a prayer that we can make our own every time we realize that we are living our Christian life in a mediocre and tepid way: “O love of Christ, who makes all bitterness sweet! The martyrdom of the Apostles was frightening and very bitter, but the love of Christ made it pleasant and sweet, so much so that they looked for Him impatiently and welcomed Him with gladness, and so they were made worthy to enjoy forever, together with the One who is blessed throughout all ages. Amen”(Sermons, Martyrdom Peter and Paul, n. 10).