Sardines & Lillies – St. Anthony Customs

Boas festas de Santo Antonio! None of us speak Portuguese, so If that’s not exactly correct you can blame Google translator.  On this blessed feast of our city’s patron saint we learned a few new things.  First off, we heard in the homily today that because he was such an eloquent preacher and drew such large crowds (some 30,000 people gathered to hear his last sermon), people used to sleep overnight in the churches so they would be sure of getting a spot.  Don’t you wish we had that problem today?

In Lisbon they celebrate a sardine festival around his feast day, commemorating the famous miracle where he preached to the fishes and they listened.  There is also a custom in some places of blessing lilies on his feast day, a symbol of his purity, as you often see in paintings or statues of him.  There’s even a blessing for lilies which you can find here.  There are so many customs and traditions we could list that surround St Anthony we could fill a book.  He is one the Church’s most beloved saints, a great preacher and miracle-worker.

There’s a great online source here where you can read many of his sermons.  This is nice because sometimes we know more about the miracles a saint performed than about the words they spoke, and reading his homilies where he unlocks scripture reminds one of the Church Fathers.

Here is an excerpt from a homily he preached on Pentecost.  He compares the poison tongues of Adam, Eve and the serpent to the cleansing tongues of fire on Pentecost.  And of course he had no idea when he was preaching that nearly 800 years after his death his own tongue would be preserved incorrupt, a testament to the holiness of this Franciscan preacher who proclaimed the Truth of Christ to all he encountered.

(A sermon on the three tongues: of the serpent, of Eve and of Adam; and on the four natures of fire, and their meaning: From the four winds there came.)
3. And there appeared to them parted tongues as it were of fire, and it sat upon everyone of them; because it was by tongues (namely those of the serpent, Eve and Adam) that death entered into the world [cf. Wisd 2.24]. The tongue of the serpent was poison to Eve, the tongue of Eve poisoned Adam, and Adam’s tongue tried to turn the blame back on God. The tongue is a cold organ, surrounded by moisture; thus:  It is an unquiet evil, full of deadly poison [Jas 3.8], than which there is nothing colder. Therefore the Holy Spirit appeared in tongues of fire, to apply tongues to tongues, fire to deadly poison.

Note that fire has four natures: it burns, it cleanses, it warms, it gives light. Similarly the Holy Spirit burns away sins, cleanses hearts, shakes off sloth and enlightens ignorance.Fire is by nature incorporeal and invisible, but when it takes on a bodily form it appears in various colours, according to the materials in which it is burning. In the same way, the Holy Spirit cannot be seen except through the creatures in which he operates.
Note that the scattering of tongues came about at the tower of Babel. As pride scattered,so humility gathered together again. In pride is division, in humility concord. See how theLord’s promise was fulfilled:

I will not leave you orphans; but I will send the Spirit, the Paraclete
[cf. Jn 14.18,26]

who speaks for everyone as their Advocate. Coming on behalf of the Word, he came with tongues. The tongue represents knowledge expressed in words, and the two elements cannot be separated. So the Word of the Father (that is, the Son) and the Holy Spirit are inseparable, being indeed of one Nature.
Come, spirit, from the four winds and blow upon these slain and let them live again. [Ezek 37.9]

And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak with divers tongues, according as the Holy Spirit gave them to speak. Behold the sign of fullness. The full vessel overflows, and fire cannot be hidden. They spoke with every tongue; or else,though they spoke with their own (Hebrew) tongue, they were understood by all as if they spoke the proper tongue of each. The Holy Spirit, sharing with each as he will [cf.1Cor 12.11], breathes his grace where, how, how much, when and on whom he will. May he deign to breathe it on us, he who this day breathed his grace on the Apostles in tongues of fire. To him be always praise and glory, through everlasting ages. Amen

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