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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

St. Anthony, a Poor Man

T. Lombardo, The miracle of the miser's heart, 1525Passing from the cloistered environment of the rich Portuguese monasteries to the "vast cloister of the world," Anthony completely embraced the poverty of the Minorites. He experienced the trusting abandon in the hands of Providence when he departed for Africa with only his cassock, without money, in total human uncertainty and total certainty of assistance from the heavenly Father.

(Just a few years later, while Francis was still alive, Pope Honorius III authorised the missionary Minorites in Morocco to use money, to wear the local clothes, to discontinue tonsure and to grow beards!). With poverty as his only wealth, Anthony travelled up Italy as far as Assisi and then retreated in Montepaolo.

Anthony, in his Sermons, becomes the chorister of poverty, "Oh poverty, your delights offer a taste of eternal sweetness to those who love you."

Like Francis, Anthony found cause to love poverty in the fact that Jesus Christ first had been poor. He writes, "In Christ were poverty, obedience and humility... The blessed Virgin, giving birth to the Son of God, wrapped him in the cloth of golden poverty. How fine is the gold of poverty! He who does not possess it, even if he has all the wealth of the world, has nothing... On the earth of poverty, humility and lowliness grows the love of the divine Majesty...."
Like Francis, Anthony wants to live poverty with joy, "There is joy in poverty... True poverty is always happy... Happy and voluntary poverty gives strength...." 

To the love of poverty and the poor, which his Franciscan family transmitted to him, Anthony adds his own fiery defence of the poor (who he calls "the poor of Christ" and "the brothers of poor Christ") against the tyrannical, usurers and rich exploiters. The author of the Life Before Anthony writes, "He saw to the return of anything taken away through usury or with violence. It got to the point that, the price of mortgaged houses and lands was presented to him and, based on his advice, that which had been taken was restored by reimbursing the value or asking for remission." Brother John de la Rochelle, a Minor Monk who died in 1245, attests, "Never in our day had we heard such a sweet consoler of the poor and such a bitter accuser of the powerful."

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