Why is St. Anthony’s Help Sought in Finding Lost Things?
Have you ever prayed to St. Anthony to help you find a lost item? This is a practice I learned from my mother when I was a little girl. Whenever something was missing, she encouraged me to seek his intercession. Over the years, St. Anthony has helped me find many, many things.
He hears from me on a nearly daily basis, not only to help me find things I’ve misplaced, but the toys, books, and mittens that my children have lost somewhere in the house and must be found and found quickly. He always helps me. If the item is there to be found, I usually find it pretty quickly, sometimes in some very unexpected places.
How did this tradition start? First, let us learn some basics about the life of St. Anthony. He was born in 1195 in Lisbon and given the name of Fernando. At the age of 15 he entered the religious order of St. Augustine. He would then spend nine years studying Augustinian theology.
The life of the young priest took a radical turn when the bodies of the first five Franciscan martyrs were returned from Morocco and carried in solemn procession to his monastery. He was so moved by the experience, Fernando decided that he wanted to be a Franciscan, go to Morocco and become a martyr himself. As a Franciscan, he took the name Anthony.
Despite his desire, he never made it to Morocco. He became sick and needed to return home. His ship ran into storms and high winds and was blown to the east coast of Sicily, where he was cared for by the friars in Messina.
Anthony might have lived a quiet life as an unknown friar if he hadn’t gone to an ordination of Dominicans and Franciscans in 1222. While he was there, Anthony was asked to give a “simple” sermon. When Anthony began to speak, his holiness and knowledge impressed everyone. St. Francis heard of Anthony’s previously hidden gifts, and assigned Anthony to preach in northern Italy. Eventually, he was asked to also teach other friars.
In Padua, Anthony preached his last and most famous Lenten sermons. As many as 30,000 people would crowd to hear him. He would sometimes hear confessions all day. He was exhausted and knew that he would die soon. He died in 1231 at age 36. The following year, his friend, Pope Gregory IX, moved by the many miracles that occurred at Anthony’s tomb, declared him a saint.
How did St. Anthony, most known for his skill at preaching, become associated with finding lost things? When he was teaching friars, Anthony had a book of psalms that was very important to him. This was before the advent of the printing press, so the book itself was extremely valuable, but more importantly, it also had his notes for teaching which were irreplaceable.
A disgruntled novice decided to leave the community and took Anthony’s psalter with him! Upon realizing it was missing, Anthony prayed it would be found or returned to him. The novice saw a vision which compelled him to return the psalter to Anthony and return to the Order which accepted him back. The stolen book is said to be preserved in the Franciscan friary in Bologna. Shortly after his death people began asking St. Anthony’s help to find or recover lost and stolen articles.
The following is a traditional prayer to St. Anthony:
Dear St. Anthony,
You are the patron of the poor and the helper of all who seek lost articles. Help me to find the object I have lost so that I will be able to make better use of the time I will gain for God’s greater honor and glory. Grant your gracious aid to all people who seek what they have lost – especially those who seek to regain God’s grace.
Copyright 2011 Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur