Nightbirde. An amazing woman who blew the world away during her America’s Got Talent audition with her singing and her indomitable spirit to LIVE. She had cancer and had been given a 2% chance to live, and golly, did she make full use of that 2%. My reflection on this:
To find this spirited life, we first need to be found.
Allow me to offer a different perspective on the “Lost and Found” capability of St Anthony of Padua. When we lose things, many of us think of St Anthony, and some of us invoke him when we need to find a parking space (which in my experience turns up within five seconds). He is also known for St Anthony’s Bread, which is about sharing the abundant goodness of God that we have in our possession.
However some of us struggle to let go. We hold on to this thing, this event, this person, this memory of hurt or even a fantasy. The thing is the more we want control, the more we lose control of our true selves.
Nightbirde (Jane Marczewski) wanted to control the direction her cancer was taking her, but with each relapse, she felt that she was losing control, and finally her powerful encounter of God happened – on the bathroom floor.
Talk about hitting rock bottom, literally and figuratively. She was on the bathroom floor because she had been vomiting into the toilet bowl and had no strength to move. When she gave over control to God, she found herself safe in God’s embrace, safe to tell God whatever was in her heart. And somehow, light and peace and infectious joy became hers, and she gave away these newfound “possessions” freely, as we witnessed on America’s Got Talent.
This is my desire for all of us, and especially for the friars – that we are able to let go of the desire to be in control, and allow God to take the steering wheel. This is faith, this is truth, and when we do not acknowledge this wisdom, we become discombobulated. This is why we need fraternity. That is the precious insight of St Francis of Assisi, and as a former Minister General said,
“A fraternity well-lived is the Gospel evangelised.”
The Franciscan Order is focussing on being a contemplative fraternity-in-mission, and during our Custody meetings in July and October, the friars here will be discerning where the Lord is leading us individually and as a fraternity.
For me personally, during these three years as Custos, I have been inspired to deepen the bonds of friendship within the brotherhood through mutual care and trust. We can only be a fraternity, a brotherhood, if we are called to be so by a common Father, which is why our prayer life, the “contemplative” element, is essential to being a Franciscan fraternity.
And as the Father sent the Son into the world, so is the Son sending us. Hence mission is fundamental to our being Franciscans. We friars need to review how we are engaging people, especially those who feel they don’t belong or don’t feel they can be loved. St Francis left the comfort and security of the city to seek out souls beyond the city walls. Where is the Lord calling us to venture into now?
One big question we can ask ourselves is: What if I discover that I am somewhat lost in my interior journey to find my true self? Perhaps if we can be brave enough to acknowledge this, we can sing with Nightbirde that “we are all a little lost … and it’s alright”, and desire to find our way back to the Father, through the powerful intercession of St Anthony, the one who makes sure that what is lost … is found.
Many of us pray to St Anthony when we lose things, and we may even call him “Doctor of the Church” and not know why. Well, Anthony had a licence to teach (licentia docendi in Latin) because Francis realised that his friars needed to study theology in order to be effective preachers of the Word, and maintain orthodoxy of faith against numerous heresies. He wrote Anthony a letter stating that “it pleases” him that Anthony should teach theology, but that he should never “extinguish the spirit of prayer and devotion” (EpAnt).
Anthony complied with Francis’ request, and thus became the first teacher of theology in the Franciscan Order. And teach and preach he did, in a way that led people not to himself, but to Christ. That is humility in action. Anthony’s theology is grounded on the “poverty and humility of our Lord Jesus Christ”. This mirrors the thoughts of Francis, who loved to speak of “poverty” together with “humility” in reference to our Lord, especially in his Incarnation and Passion. If Jesus emptied himself to assume the form of a man, and gave himself up to death on a cross (Phil 2:6), then we, as followers of Christ, are called to walk this journey of self-emptying and kenosis in order to love and serve our brothers and sisters in creation.
In fact, Anthony considered humility so important that he called it the source, root and font of all other virtues.
We acknowledge ourselves as we are before God, and God sees us as we are and loves us. That is the beauty of Franciscan spirituality, the beauty of simply being. We are called to appreciate and love the beauty and dignity of our own selves, and of other beings, and thus live this love in fraternity – sharing, serving, sacrificing.
Anthony also invites us to “the sweetness of contemplation”, to die to the world and live solely for God. It is this desire for God that urges us to a conversion of life in penance, to live out our holiness of life in service of all, especially the poor.
St Anthony was a man truly after the heart of St Francis, both in words and works; our Doctor of the Church, the one who helps us to find our way back to God.
“St Anthony, please help me, I cannot find my keys!”
How often have we found ourselves reaching out to St Anthony for something like this? You may even have a story about how your misplaced items were miraculously found. Many of us have also entrusted St Anthony with our difficulties and struggles. He is a powerful intercessor through whom God’s blessings can be felt and experienced in the fullness of generosity. St Anthony continually offers each of us a sure sign of consolation, hope and deep trust in the Lord’s providence.
Who is St Anthony of Padua?
It may surprise some of you to learn that he was neither from Padua, Italy nor named Anthony when he was born. This beloved saint of ours was born to a wealthy family in Lisbon, Portugal in 1195, and baptised Ferdinand Bulhom. At the age of 15, Ferdinand entered the order of St Augustine and lived in the monastery of the Augustinian Abbey of St Vincent in Lisbon. There his spiritual life matured and deepened. Legend tells us that he desired a deeper life with God, and seeking solitude away from the hustle and bustle of Lisbon, asked to transfer to the Augustinian motherhouse in Coimbra, Portugal. In 1220, Ferdinand heard of five Franciscan protomartyrs who had died for their faith in Morocco. Deeply inspired by their passionate commitment to the Gospel, Ferdinand decided to adopt the Franciscan way of life and took the name Anthony. Anthony’s deep sense of humility and poverty drew him into a life of seclusion and contemplation after the manner of Francis. He led a quiet life of penance and prayer at the hermitage of Montepaolo.
How did St Anthony come to be known as the patron of lost things?
Legend has it that while he was living in the friary at Montpellier in France, he miraculously recovered an item of great importance that had gone missing. This was a book of Psalms that he had copied by hand, and it contained his notes and commentaries that he used in his lectures. Anthony was deeply distressed when he realised that the book had been taken away by a novice who had left the friary, and that he did not know where the novice had gone. Without his teaching material, Anthony was at a loss. Trusting in the Lord’s providence, he prayed that the novice would have a change of heart. Shortly thereafter, the novice returned with the book and begged for forgiveness. He also asked to re-join the Order. The stolen book of Psalms is said to be preserved in a friary in Bologna, Italy.
Popular devotions to our beloved saint sprang up shortly after his passing, and many people turned to him for intercession. German Friar Julian of Speyer composed the famous sequence “Si Quaeris Miracula” sometime between 1232 to 1240 in honour of St Anthony the wonder-worker. Many of us will recognise this antiphon taken from the Si Quaeris prayer in our devotion:
“The sea obeys and fetters break, and lifeless limbs you do restore. While treasures lost are found again, when young and old aid implore.”
The Franciscan Friars and Tuesday Devotion to St Anthony
The Church recognises St Anthony for the many blessings and miracles that God worked through him, and in Singapore, the Franciscan Friars continue the tradition of dedicating every Tuesday to the devotion of this miracle worker. Indeed, our mission relies on the intercession of St Anthony. The first friary, established in Singapore in 1957, was named St Anthony’s Friary, and in 1991, the Custody of St Anthony of Padua (Malaysia- Singapore-Brunei) was officially erected, dependent on the Australian Province of the Holy Spirit.
For many years, the Tuesday devotion to St Anthony was held in the Church of St Mary of the Angels ,Singapore. Many have joined us in prayer and experienced the solace of his tender care. We also have fond memories of sharing hearty bowls of porridge and blessed bread in fellowship. We took the devotion online in 2020 when COVID restrictions meant we could no longer have the devotion in church. Since then, week after week, the student friars join the faithful virtually to pray and offer up their intercession to St Anthony.
In 2021, we launched a virtual shrine to St Anthony, enabling people to offer up their petitions and letters of thanksgiving online. These are offered by the friars in the Greccio community in their daily prayer.
As we prepare to celebrate the Feast of St Anthony on 13 June, let us continue to open our hearts to the love of Christ in trusting abandonment.
Article written by the Friars-in-Initial Formation
Our five deacons have immersed themselves in their new mission. Cosmas Francis is serving in Keningau Diocese (St Theresa Church, Tambunan), Crispus Mosinoh in Penang Diocese (Risen Christ Church, Air Itam), Gerald Saimel in Sandakan Diocese (St Dominic Church, Lahad Datu), Sixtus Pitah in Malacca-Johore Diocese (St Joseph Church, Plentong), and Robin Toha in Singapore Archdiocese (St Joseph Church, Bukit Timah).
The ministry of the deacon has three dimensions – liturgy, word and service.
During the liturgy, the deacon assists the bishop and priests. At the Mass, he proclaims the Gospel, and may be invited to preach the homily. He reads the petitions of the General Intercessions, receives the gifts, prepares the altar, assists with incensing, gives instructions regarding posture and movement, distributes Holy Communion, and dismisses the Assembly.
Outside of the Mass, the deacon assists the priest when he administers the Sacrament of Baptism, brings Viaticum to the dying, presides over prayer services, officiates at wakes, funerals, and burial services, and acts as a witness for marriages and engagements. The deacon is also able to bless religious articles.
However, deacons do not hear confession or preside at Mass.
As ministers of service, there are many options for deacons to perform charitable works. They do outreach to the poor, visit the sick at home, in nursing homes, or in hospitals, care for inmates in prisons and jails. They teach sacramental preparation and religious education classes, and have various administrative duties.
Our deacons are conducting Catechism classes, visiting the poor and the marginalised, making pastoral visits to Basic Ecclesial Communities, and organising recollections for various groups and ministries. They are also helping out at the diocesan level. Friar Gerald provides counselling services, and has been meeting clients for marriage and individual counselling in Sandakan Diocese. Friar Sixtus has been working with the Media Production Office of the Malacca- Johore Diocese. His first assignment is to produce posters and a video for the 50th anniversary celebration of the diocese. Up in the north of Malaya, Friar Crispus is providing spiritual direction to some of the seminarians of the College General (Inter-diocesan Seminary) in Penang Diocese.
All five deacons will be ordained priests soon – Friar Robin Toha on 21 June at the Church of St Mary of the Angels, and Friars Cosmas Francis, Crispus Mosinoh, Gerald Saimel and Sixtus Pitah on 2 July at Sacred Heart Cathedral, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.
On 9 April 2022, family and friends gathered with the friars at the Church of St Mary of the Angels to witness the First Profession of vows by our brothers Sylvester Singh, Julian Chua and Timothy Fong.
The Provincial Minister Phillip Miscamble came to Singapore to receive their vows. In his homily, he encouraged the three newly professed friars to continue to deepen their desire to serve the people of God as Friars Minor, and discover the joys of following in the footsteps of St Francis of Assisi.
The ceremony was live-streamed so that family and friars, especially those in Malaysia who were unable to attend in person because of Covid travel restrictions, could witness this happy occasion.
Friars Nelson Evarinus and Marvin Voo renewed their simple vows in the same ceremony. Following the liturgy, the Greccio community hosted family members to a celebratory lunch at the friary.