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St Anthony Heals the Sick (1195-1231)
“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father...” John 14:12
“He prays with a lot of love, and he takes other people into his prayer with him. He expects a fruit from his prayer that he can bring back to the people. He does not want to hold onto a single thing for himself. All the words that he brings to people, all his sermons, consolations, and encouragements, he draws from his prayer. He allows himself to be led completely by his prayer, allows everything to ripen in it that he has to carry out apostolically. His love for God is childlike, simple, without reservation; he does not want to hide anything, and whenever he realizes that he did not correspond in a certain point or did not hand everything over to the very end, then he is incredibly ardent in presenting everything to God and apologizing to God for having hesitated for so long and asking God to make him so that God can use him to bring to completion everything he has at his disposal...If he does something that does not absolutely please God, then he feels it immediately. He lives in perfect harmony with God.”
Book of All Saints by Adrienne von Speyr
This icon was a commission from St Anthony’s Hospital in Denver. I felt so blessed and honored to do something for a hospital,because I had worked as a hospice chaplain for those 7 years in Manhattan during the beginning of the world wide AIDS pandemic. I saw firsthand what nurses and doctors do, and it was during that time I began to read books by doctors, telling intimate stories about their work, including some disastrous mistakes, which they are never allowed to make. Can you imagine a vocation where you must achieve perfection day in day out ? It’s impossible. These books helped me so much to see my own vocation, and mothers and fathers too. The last one I read was up in Taos, about a Navajo woman surgeon who wrote a book called, “The Scalpel and the Silver Bear.” She was following in the footsteps of the first Native American doctor, Susan La Fleshe, (see the book) “A Warrior of the People” by Joe Starita. Right now is a time when everyone, world wide is seeing and honoring all professional medical workers and anyone on the front lines, including grocery store workers and Fed X drivers, on and on, we suddenly see what they risk. So as well as being a time of quarantine, it’s also a time of great, great, mystery and possibility. “It’s definitely more than a virus’: Author Arundhati Roy reads from ‘The Pandemic is a Portal’ in a short you tube video. At this distance from my Hospice years, I see how it completely changed me and the way I see the world. It would take a book to adequately examine the emotional scars it left on me, but also, the incredible privilege to be allowed into so many people’s lives. The beautiful, blessed vocation of being a “midwife to/for the second birth.”That enormous loving intimacy I experienced in my thirties, is why I chose Adrienne to speak about St Anthony. When I’m dry and can’t feel love inside me, or when we all feel the fear of the present pandemic, conflict of centuries of racism and wrenching divisions, all without any compassionate or even human leadership at the top, then, I, we, have to go into a prayer to have the small pilot light of love, left inside, become a flame of love again. I remember reading in 1982 the same practice in a life of Dorothy Day, by William Miller. Every morning she would go into a room to pray, and come out lit up like a 150 watt light. By bedtime she was down to about 25 watts... and so it goes for most of us. We find our love in God and then give it away.
Dear “San Antonio” the world’s favorite saint !
Teach us your childlike love of God, and willingness to give people everything we find in prayer, just like you dear Anthony; “not keeping a single thing for himself.” You’ve always been the saint we ask to find lost things. Help us find the love we’ve lost for one another, or never had. Don’t let the present divisions, lies, and hate enter our hearts. And when they do get in, let the Holy Spirit burn them away in prayer, so that we can move back again, into the circle of the Most Holy Trinity’s Love.
Fr Bill McNichols * June 2020