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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

St. Anthony, the Contemplative Man

F. Zurbaran, St. Anthony and the child Jesus, 17th cent. Anthony was in love with Jesus Christ and, like Francis, above all, was enchanted by the mystery of Christmas and the Passion. In the Babe of Bethlehem, Anthony contemplated the Wisdom that becomes a stutterer, the Power that becomes weakness, the Majesty that becomes condescension, the Immense that becomes a child and the King of Angels who lowers himself to a manger.

Christmas, writes the Saint, emphasises "the humility and the poverty of the Lord" (which constitute the characteristic traits of being a "Minor Monk").

The iconography that shows Anthony with Baby Jesus in his arms, underlines the Saint's special devotion to the nativity of the Lord.

Further, contemplation of the cross reveals to him all the love of the Father and the Son and it rips a mournful cry out of him, "While I contemplate in faith my God, my bridegroom, my Jesus take the cross, pierced by nails, watered with bile and vinegar, and crowned with spines, every virtue, every glory, every honour, and every ephemeral excess fades and I consider them to be nothing." This feeling about the cross is truly "Franciscan." The Franciscan Sources underline the spiritual consonance between the soul of Francis and that of Anthony when they tell that the seraphic Father appeared miraculously to the monks at the Chapter of Arles and blessed them while Anthony was speaking to them of the Lord's cross.

For Anthony, prayer is an outburst of love for the Loved One and, speaking of this, he reveals something of his experience with God, "Oh, how great are the ardour of devotion, stupor and exultance in the heart of the believer! He who prays is transformed through divine grace to a completely new state, inaccessible to human forces."

Anthony is also "Franciscan" in his devotion to Mary. When speaking of her, his words become chant and poetry. It is written that Francis "surrounded the Mother of Jesus with an unspeakable love, because she gave us our brother, the Lord of Majesty" and that "he sang particular praises in her honour, he raised up prayers, and offered such and so many affections that the human tongue can not express them."" Two of those beautiful prayers have been passed down to us, "Hail, Lady, sainted Queen..." and "Holy Virgin Mary, there are none similar to you...."

It has been counted that Anthony addresses Mary with about 400 titles in his writings. Some of them are very touching: Poor Mary, Mendicant Virgin, Most Humble Virgin, Pious Mother, Our Queen, Our Lady, Our Mediator...

Anthony is the cantor of Mary's virginity (physical and spiritual), of her divine maternity (basis of every other Marian privilege), of her assumption to heaven in body and soul, of her faith for which, at the moment of general dismay at the death of the Lord, "only in her did the Church remain safe," and of her mediating action between God and man.

Saint Anthony, together with Saint Francis, Saint Bonaventura and the blessed John Duns Scoto, was the initiator of that Marian "gold vein," as Saint Maximilian Kolbe called it, which traverses the history of the Minorite Order.

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