My aunt, now in her mid-eighties, is recovering from a fall. A gust of wind blew her off a porch and numerous bones were broken. Some time after this, she began asking her nieces and nephews what items in her house might we like after she was gone, or seriously down-sized, whichever might come first.
I had no real interest in participating in this exercise, not just because I couldn’t bear the thought of it (which I can’t) but because I myself have begun the process of down-sizing. At least in theory I have so begun.
In any case, I want very little in the way of new material things unless they are related to skiing, or black shirts, neither of which one can ever have too many.
But my wife says, I have always loved that statue of the saint up in the apricot bedroom. And I think, that thing weighs 50 pounds, how are we going to get it to Alaska? That’s a discussion for later.
The statue itself, by the way, features a tonsured and robed saint holding the Christ child. I have never understood the logic of this, Christ predating said saint by a mere millennium, plus or minus a hundred years or so. But, as I was told of many of my many theological questions as a Catholic schoolboy, “It is a divine mystery.”
So I tell my aunt, yes, we are interested in the statue. “Oh,” she says, St “Anthony.” We had always assumed it was St Francis of Assisi, but no, St Anthony, of Padua. I should add here that we already have a family heirloom of this nature: a statue of the Infant of Prague, known by my son when he was young as The Infant of Prod. Close enough.
“That came to us from Pat Delaney,” my aunt recalls. “Mr. Delaney owned the diner a few doors north of the bakery [that my grandmother owned and above which they lived] and he was, like us, one of the few Catholics in town. When Mr. Delaney decided to shutter the doors and move in with his sister in Chicago, he brought mother a package, wrapped in butcher paper.” My grandmother said, “Well, I’ve seen you’ve brought me St Anthony.” She didn’t know why she said it, as she couldn’t have known what it was in the butcher paper nor that Mr. Delaney had ever owned such a thing, but neither she, nor Pat Delaney could have been more shocked: she by what he had brought and he by what she had said.
St Anthony is the patron saint of lost objects, lost people, lost causes and “even lost spiritual goods.” I would like a clarification on this last item, but I see none forthcoming. He is also the patron of no fewer than 29 other causes, among them, amputees, swineherds, and Tigua Indians, just to give you a sense of his range.
The original lost object associated with St Anthony was a book. A book, pre-Gutenburg, was valuable enough, but this book was annotated by Anthony and the comments were invaluable to him. He prayed for its return and preached about it, and indeed, the thief, for it had been stolen, returned it. A lost book, with annotations, is a lost cause to which I can relate. If divine intervention was necessary, I understand completely. Yes, whatever it takes.
After Anthony’s death his tongue was preserved in a reliquary (but, of course!) where his body was buried, a tribute to his oratory talents. When his body was exhumed thirty years after his death it was found to have turned to dust. The tongue, however, the tongue was said to be glistening with moisture (saint spit?).
So, someday, in the future, distant I hope, we will reunite St. Anthony with the Infant of Prod. Meanwhile I know of more than a few lost causes and I am praying to him for a little intercession.