Q. I’ve always heard that when you lose something that you should pray to St. Anthony to help find it. Why would we pray to saints for things like that, and why is St. Anthony considered the patron saint of lost things?
A. First, in considering this question, we recall that through our Baptism, we become members of the Body of Christ, and therefore, we are part of the Communion of Saints. The Communion of Saints consists of three states: the pilgrim Church on earth, the souls in purgatory, and the saints in heaven.
As part of the pilgrim church on earth, the Lord blesses us through His Word and the Sacraments. He also blesses us with the Church as the People of God. We assist each other in staying in communion with God by living out our individual call to holiness, by living out the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, and through our prayers for each other. The souls in purgatory have passed from this world in the state of grace, but require further purification of their souls.
The saints in heaven offer the Church the witness of their lives. Their lives demonstrate that holiness is indeed possible, and all, with the grace of God, can be sanctified.
Moreover, the saints also offer us their intercession. They are in God’s presence and, thus, due to their closeness to him, their prayers are powerful. Here on earth, if we have a loved one who is dying, a friend who needs a job, or a child suffering from anxiety, we wouldn’t hesitate to ask a person of prayer to pray for them. Why, then, would we hesitate to pray to the saints, who are in heaven, face-to-face with God, and very much alive?
This is the proper context to view our prayers to St. Anthony or any other saint. St. Anthony of Padua was born in 1195 in Lisbon, Portugal and given the name of Fernando at Baptism. He was from a noble family. He was originally a member of the Augustinian religious order, but later became a Franciscan.
St. Anthony is typically portrayed holding the child Jesus, a lily, a book, or all three. The lily is a sign of chastity; the book gives us an insight into why St. Anthony is a patron saint of lost and stolen articles.
The legend is that St. Anthony had a book of psalms that was very important to him. The book was very valuable, as this was before the invention of the printing press. It was also of very special value to St. Anthony because this psalter had notes and comments he had made to teach students in the Franciscan Order.
A novice in the Franciscan order, frustrated with living out the religious life, abruptly left the community, and stole St. Anthony’s priceless psalter as he departed. Upon learning of the theft of his psalter, St. Anthony prayed for its return. After this prayer, the AWOL novice returned the book to St. Anthony and the Franciscan order welcomed him back.
St. Anthony’s feast day is June 13.
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