Homily Feast of Saint Anthony at the Franciscan Church of the Assumption, Syracuse, NY
I had the privilege of being in Padua a few weeks ago. One of the highlights of my time there was a mass welcoming young adults who had made a 12 mile walk overnight to the Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua. You can imagine there were lots of tired and sleepy face but the liturgy was quite upbeat with organ, guitars and drums playing together.
At the end of mass as we began to leave, the procession took a different route. Rather than go out by the main doors of the basilica we turned right and the concelebrants were guided towards the back of the tomb of Saint Anthony where, as we walked, we reached out to touch the tomb, and let our hands linger there the whole length of Anthony’s body. As I turned around I could see that we were being followed by all of the young people who had made the overnight pilgrimage. It was a very sight moving sight.
There’s something about that physical touch to the tomb of the saint that makes a profound impact on all the pilgrims who come to Padua. It’s not very much different than what has happened here at our Novena where so many have lined up simply to touch the relic of the saint.
Touching with our hands means so much to us. Touching with our hands confirms what we think we see with our eyes, it makes it seem more real, more intimate, more close to us. This is after all Saint Anthony’s legacy. Anthony was known for bringing the Gospel to life. He did this by his personal and physical touch to people’s lives. His concern for the poor, the powerless and the sick revealed to us a God who is real, intimate and close to us. Even the saints fame for finding lost things tells us that he and God care about the things that are concrete that we can touch with our hands
Physical closeness, touching with hands, being real are not new to our faith. Jesus in the Gospels is always close to people, touching them, using his spit and mud to heal people. Jesus is real, intimate and close to those whom he meets.
In the Gospel we read we heard about how the Apostles went out to preach the Gospel and how this preaching was accompanied by signs. Through the laying on of hands the Apostles healed people and brought them concrete, physical evidence of God’s love for them. What the Apostles did then, Christ continues to do through us.
At this liturgy today we are honoured to have a living Apostle among us in the person of our bishop. By the laying on of hands he consecrates those who are ordained as priests. Through his priestly hands he touches, comforts, heals and makes God’s love real, intimate and close to us. Bishop Cunningham is not alone in doing this. Each one of us baptized in Christ Jesus has been given the mission of preaching the Gospel in both word and deed. Through our baptism we have been sent forth to use our hands to heal, comfort and strengthen our brothers and sisters. The daughter who bends low to clip her elderly father’s toe nails, The father who gets up in the middle of the night to change his daughter’s diaper, The grandmother who bakes for her family, The volunteer who cleans the floor at the food pantry. All of these are examples of how we use our own hands to help people experience a God who is real, intimate and close.
We can do this because Christ first touches us in baptism and gives us the fullness of life, we in turn bring that healing touch to others in our service to our neighbours and then when we return to the Eucharist we are once again touched by Christ. Think of how a sacred and beautiful a moment it it when we come up to communion, extend our hands and make a throne for God. And then Christ’s very self is placed into OUR hands. How humbling, how amazing that God makes himself so real, so intimate so close to us. And then the circle continues and God sends us forth to use those very hands where he layed to serve others.
Today when we are sent forth from this mass… we will be sent with a piece of bread. This is St. Anthony’s Bread. This ordinary bread will be blessed as a sign of our commitment to serve the poor. This bread will be given to you…but it’s not for you. Well, not just for you. We ask you to take this bread, only per person, and that you take it and share it with someone else who is not here today. Take and share it with someone who is alone, someone who might be sick, someone who might be struggling.
Go and share it with someone who needs to hear St. Anthony’s message of a God whose love for us so real, so close, so intimate.