Il Santo, "the Saint" loved by the multitudes. The Evangelical Doctor, the miracle-worker, the Canon and the Friar, from Lisbon to Padua, the humble man of God entirely dedicated to Christ and His Church, a beacon of holiness for all ages.
VERBA EXHORTATIONIS S. ANTONII A PADUA
The Saint of Padua has no need of introduction. Christianity as a whole not only knows him, but also invokes his name with fervor to obtain the most unexpected graces, as we hear in the famous responsory: Si quaeris miracula.
But there is one detail of this illustrious son of the Seraph of Assisi which remains in the shadows. We are speaking of the unique spiritual direction of a soul – living in the last century- who shared with the Saint a special love for the Child Jesus. An extraordinary grace was granted to little Luisa Cepollini (1880-1917) who at seven years of age, was entrusted to the care of St. Anthony of Padua, whom she spontaneously called “her Father, Teacher and her Great Friend.”
In a manuscript entitled “St. Anthony”, the Servant of God recounts the meticulous vigilance of the Saint over her soul, carried out by a teaching of the highest perfection. Until her death, he remained her great and faithful Friend. Let us, therefore draw from this precious “manuscript” some of the teachings given by St. Anthony to his privileged disciple.
BLESSED ARE THE PURE OF HEART
“On the evening of 7th March 1887- writes Luisa- I saw him for the first time. This meeting was the start of that relationship which would never end. Its immediate effect was the growth within me of the desire to know Jesus.” On the 17th of March she had a second visit from St. Anthony. “What are you thinking of that makes you weep thus?” asked the Saint. “Oh!...how I would love to know Jesus… You know Him so well, tell me something!” “Jesus… He alone is able to speak efficaciously to your soul, since He is the Word…but the good Master has said: Blessed are the pure of heart, because they will see God!” “And what is necessary in order to become pure?” “There are several degrees of purity… The degree that you must strive to procure consists in avoiding every voluntary fault.” Immediately the little girl, enlightened by a special grace, saw all her defects, which she did not even realize she had. She immediately became discouraged. But St. Anthony said to her: “Aim, my little daughter, at loving Jesus: it is the shortest way which leads to Him. It is the way which Jesus shows us by which we may come to know Him.”… “But is to love Jesus a virtue?...Oh, then I will have no difficulty…”. “Be careful, my little daughter – the Saint admonished- since you do not yet know well what it means to love God… Human love seeks to please itself in that which it loves; divine love desires that God is pleased with us, at our expense, and therefore lives a life of sacrifice. To love God means to forget oneself in order to think of Him, to overcome oneself so that He will triumph, to abandon oneself in order to be possessed by Him. Only by putting this into practice can it be understood and one’s whole life is not sufficient to put it into effect; eternity itself will not be long enough to do so fully, since we are to love a God Who is infinite, whilst our limited love, however much it may increase, can never reach the infinite.” These were the foundations of the spiritual edifice which Luisa received.
AN UPRIGHT CONSCIENCE
In 1900, Luisa entered the Institute of the Adorers of the Sacred Heart in Turin, where she took the name of Sr. Mary Josephine of Jesus. Her strong and free character did not immediately appreciate the advantages of common life, which sometimes wearied her. Neither did she understand the value of hiddenness at once, at times making a display of her mortifications, especially at table. The Saint was prompt to intervene, saying: “Form an upright conscience for yourself.” And he enumerated the principles for her to follow: 1: Virtue which is put on show is dubious, because often it is nothing but pride in disguise or something which leads to pride. Apply yourself diligently to hidden mortification without losing even one occasion, since this is the best way. Fly from singularity as from the plague, and hide your mortifications beneath the mantle of the common life. 2. Realize that you are poor and deprived of everything: who gives you your daily bread if not Our Lord from Whom you ask it? This is bread is alms from His hand: and when He, in His goodness, pleases to give you a surplus, will you have the boldness to refuse it? The delicacy of humility demands that you accept willingly what is offered to you… Leave the mortifications of the table to the holy solitaries and to those, who, being their own masters, can choose what they wish to take and what they wish to leave; but at the common table, take your meal like a poor person. God Himself presides over that table; therefore accept all from His blessed hand. If there is something which you do not like, consider that it is even too good for a little creature who merits nothing. When there is some food to your liking, give thanks to God and give praise to the heavenly host for the bounty of His gifts. Your praise will glorify Him more than your deprivations. 3. Faith teaches you to transform the least of your actions into merit. Offer every mouthful, every crumb as an act of love. ‘When you eat or drink, do all for the glory of God.’ When you drink. Offer your drink to Him Who died of thirst upon the Cross; if you eat, offer your food to Him Who experienced hunger in the desert; He will be pleased with your offering. 4. Here is another little secret; a useful piece of advice; the best mortification, the most efficacious, the least doubtful, is to mortify your pride. At times there is more merit in appearing greedy than to show ourselves to be mortified. Know how to profit from this counsel…
THE COMMUNION OF THE SAINTS
Also common prayer was a battlefield for the Servant of God. At first she preferred to pray alone, because it seemed to be more profitable for her soul and also a way of avoiding the distractions and mistakes which could come from her sisters. But also in this case St. Anthony unveiled the deception with firmness. Grace awaits there where God calls us; if we are not present at this appointments though, we lose the grace which was due to us. “Remember – he said to her- that the least prayer made in common has more efficacy and value than a particular prayer said under the pretext that this is better. Has Jesus not promised to be present where two or more are gathered in His name?” Once when Sr. Josephine did not sing with the choir, since it seemed to her to be out of tune, her heavenly master did not wait until the end of the prayer to intervene. “Where are you?...Why this silence?... Common prayer, always! The Lord takes pleasure in it; in His mercy He has placed in the articles of our faith The Communion of Saints. Our Lord wearies not in saying: He wants us to be one in Him as He is One in the Father.” (John 17:11).
SMALL GREAT THINGS
With extreme zeal in his direction, St. Anthony cultivated faithfulness in the little things. “He permits me to omit nothing,” exclaimed Luisa. Thus it was for the bows of the Gloria Patri during the Divine Office: one day, when, with aching limbs, she made these with negligence, he made her do them one hundred times with arms stretched out in the form of a cross! “How can you – he said to her- be in the presence of the Most Blessed Sacrament and take away the honour which is due to the August Blessed Trinity , which is their due? Ah, how irreverence will be expiated in the next world! Before seeking to do extraordinary things, do those which are ordinary with perfection, so that you will not be condemned by your own desires.” Some time later, leaving the chapel in which the Most Blessed Sacrament was exposed, Luisa made a simple genuflection instead of the prostration. Upon reaching the door of the chapel, she was stopped by the holy Teacher: “Ah! If you only knew how long you will have to spend in Purgatory to expiate this type of negligence which compromises the honour of God!” Then he told her to re-enter the chapel and prostrate herself ten times in a spirit of reparation. Everything here is summarized in these words of the most patient Teacher: “There is nothing small when treating of the will of God.” Your religious rule- he added-, being the expression of this divine will, is sacred in its least details, and you must not transgress any of these, but fulfill them with respect, love and perfection. The sanctity of a religious does not consist in extraordinary things, but in the perfection of those which are ordinary.”
DESIRE TO SUFFER
Regarding the value of suffering, which the Servant of God longed for with all her might, the Saint reproached her. “Jesus was not crucified by Himself – he told her- but permitted it to be done to Him. He did not drive one thorn into His head, nor one nail into His members, but was pleased to accept everything willingly… You do otherwise. Once you have offered and abandoned yourself, your office is not to search for sufferings of your own choice, but to receive from the hand of God what he chooses for you, and to bless Him for them. You no longer have the right to choose in this or in any other thing; strive to be convinced of this. This is the state of death which is often regarded as foolishness, because it cannot be comprehended except by the soul to whom God gives the grace and who is called by Him. But oh how fruitful this complete abandonment to God is! This voluntary death to all created things, so as to see in every action nothing but the direct action of God. It is not fatalism, but rather the faith of a child who abandons herself to the sweet and paternal providence of her parents, and, for the soul, it is a state of ineffable peace.” Unfortunately we do not have the details of this miraculous spiritual direction in its ultimate phase. It is certain, however, that Luisa, who became a religious of the Institute of Adorers of the Sacred Heart and died in 1917, reached a very high degree of perfection. And this certainly redounds to the glory of St. Anthony, who was her incomparable spiritual guide.
FROM THE SERMONS OF ST ANTHONY OF PADUA
- “The gate of Heaven is low and those who wish to enter must bend down: this was taught to us by Jesus Himself, Who when dying, bowed His head.”
- “Human life is similar to a bridge and a bridge is made for crossing and not for remaining upon.”
- “Confession is the gate of Heaven. O truly the gate of Heaven and the gate of Paradise, since through it the penitent is invited to kiss the feet, hands and face of God: the feet of His mercy, the hands of His grace and the face of His pardon. O house of God, O gate of Heaven, O confession! Blessed is he who dwells in you! Blessed is he who humbles himself in you! Humble yourselves therefore dearest brethren, and enter through this mystical gate.”
- “The preaching of heretics is impure in comparison with the most pure teachings of the Church… They resemble a beast named Iamia, which has the face of a human and the body of an animal. They, in fact, in order to deceive more easily, show themselves with an amiable appearance saying courteous words, but beneath they are hiding their bad intentions.”
- “Let us beseech Jesus Christ, dearest brethren, Who with His humility defeated diabolical pride, that He may grant us the grace to overcome pride and haughtiness of heart with humility, and to show in our attitude a sincere humility, in order thus to reach His glory: by the grace of He Who is the Blessed One for all eternity. Amen!”
[Reposted, in honor of The Saint.] [From: De vita contemplativa, Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate, Italy. Translation: Contributor Francesca Romana]