The Franciscan Friars have been organising pilgrimages designed specifically for young adults since 2019. In fact, Friar John Paul Tan led a group of young adults, aged 18 to 35 years, on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land last December.
An objective of these pilgrimages is to help young adults make sense of what they have learned and heard – in their catechism classes and during the pilgrimage – and lead them to an encounter with the person of Jesus Christ.
As Yossi, our archaeologist tour guide in the Holy Land, is fond of saying, the distance between the human mind and the heart is about a foot but it can be the longest journey. By that he means that the historical, religious and cultural significance of the places we visit could remain at the head level without reaching the heart to make a difference at the faith level.
One of the places on the pilgrimage is the Benedictine Monastery of St Mary and the Church of the Resurrection which was built by the Crusaders. Located in the Arab village of Abu Gosh, this church commemorates the event in Luke 24:13-35 when Jesus appeared to two disciples on their way to Emmaus. They had become disillusioned after the crucifixion of Jesus.
Jesus taught the disciples as they walked, about Moses and the prophets and about himself being the fulfilment of the scriptures. But it was not until the “breaking of bread” that the disciples encountered Jesus in person and recognised him. “Were not our hearts burning …,” they said. It was the moment when the mind met the heart!
“During the pilgrimages, our pilgrims are invited to make their own Emmaus journey; to allow the knowledge that they have gained to move their hearts,” said Friar John Paul Tan.
“Our young pilgrims have their lives ahead of them. Many obstacles and hurdles, disappointments and disillusions will block the journey from the head to the heart. It is our hope that these pilgrimages will give young adults the impetus to discover Jesus more in the scriptures, and reignite their faith in the person of Jesus who continues to be present at the Breaking of the Word and at the Breaking of Bread.”
An important part of our preparation for Christmas is the use of special antiphons from 17 to 23 December. They are called “O Antiphons” because each Latin text begins with a long beautiful chant expressing the longing of the Church for the coming of the Lord. Many are familiar with the texts because they provide the verses to the familiar Advent song: O Come, O Come Emmanuel.
Let us reflect on a few of these O Antiphons.
O Wisdom of our God most high, guiding creation with power and love: COME and teach us to walk in the paths of knowledge!
The early Church saw Christ as the Wisdom of God and recognised Christ’s presence in the creating activity of God. The Church prays that we may learn to live by the very same Wisdom of God. We have gone our own way long enough, and our “wisdom” has produced nothing but disaster. Call us back, prays the Church, to the path which leads to glory.
O radiant Dawn, splendour of eternal light, sun of justice: COME and shine on those lost in the darkness of death!
People looked to the East where the sun came up and saw the hope of a new Dawn as a vision of the power of God. Everyone has known what it is to live in the hopelessness of darkness and shadows. Now a new light dispels the darkness. The Church prays that this light, which the darkness cannot overcome, will enlighten all people and cast away the darkness which creeps in even now.
O King of all nations, source of your Church’s unity and faith: COME and save humanity, your own creation!
Isaiah the prophet offered a vision of all people streaming to God’s holy mountain, and all people united in common bond in the true God. Now, prays the Church, let the unity which was once accomplished be not just a goal, but a way of life.
O Emmanuel, God’s presence among us, our King, our Judge: COME and save us, Lord our God!
A young maiden would be with child and bear a son and he would be called Emmanuel (God-with- us). Our ancestors saw the fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah. They were certain that Christ is among us! The Church prays that we can be assured of what Christ has accomplished and recognise that he is still saving and creating us to this very day.
What do we hope and dream for? Do we hope and dream in the Lord? What difference will Christmas make this year?
It may seem contradictory that receiving the gift of the stigmata would be called love. After all, receiving the stigmata would mean enduring the painful wounds that Christ Himself experienced when He suffered His passion and death. How then can it be called love and a gift?
From the moment Adam and Eve fell, God has been calling us back to Him. In Jesus Christ, the Father’s loving face was revealed to us, enabling us to be adopted as God’s beloved children.
When Christ went through His passion and death, He held nothing back from us. Christ yearned to be united with us in all ways, so He emptied Himself to be born a man and even more, to die on the Cross.
So, we believe sin, evil and death no longer have power over us. God has overcome them for us. Therefore, the mystery of the Cross and the wounds of Christ are the “Gift of Love” for our humanity and salvation.
As we undergo our trials in life, we ought to reunite with Christ. We do not need to fear the crosses in our lives because Christ carries them with us. This closeness to Jesus is His gift of love and it assures us of victory.
In Francis, God found someone who loved Him for Himself. In Francis, God found someone who knew what it meant to love truly. In Francis, we have an example of what it means to be a Christian. Therefore, it has pleased God to bestow upon Francis the “Wounds of His love”.
May we follow the example of Francis and may our hearts burn with love for Christ and His people.
The word itinerant comes from the Latin word ‘iter’ which means “way” or “journey”. Such is the life of a friar. The ‘iter’ of a friar involves continuous conversion as he experiences daily a personal encounter with the Lord in everyone and in everything, and this transforms his whole life gradually.
In 1205, while wandering along the cliff of Mount Subasio, Francis stopped at the dilapidated Chapel of San Damiano where he knelt and prayed. The Lord was with him for from the cross, Jesus spoke to Francis, “Francis, repair my church, which as you see is falling into ruins.”
Francis’ life was changed by this encounter with the Lord. He thought that Jesus wanted him to repair the chapel and he hurried to collect bricks and stones. People thought Francis had gone crazy but their words did not dampen his joy and enthusiasm.
Then, in a church on the feast of Saint Matthias, he had a new revelation on hearing the reading from the Gospel of Matthew: “And going, preach, saying ‘The Kingdom of Heaven’ is at hand. Freely have you received, freely give. Take neither gold nor silver nor brass in your purses … nor two tunics nor shoes nor a staff … Behold I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves …”. The words cut into his soul like a knife and, taking the words literally, he began the life of an itinerant. This was the beginning of the spirituality of itinerancy.
It dawned on Francis that “repair my church” referred to the people of God whose faith had deteriorated, and Christ had asked him to reinvigorate their faith.
Embracing his mission wholeheartedly, he cast off his shoes, staff and leathern girdle, keeping only his rough woollen tunic, which he tied about him with a rope. This became the habit he gave his friars the following year. The next morning, he went to Assisi and, with moving warmth and sincerity, began to speak to everyone he met about the shortness of life, the need for repentance, and the love of God. His salutation to those he passed on the road was “Our Lord give you peace!”
Following Christ in the way of Francis, the ‘iter’ of the Friars Minor means that the friars strive to preach the Gospel of the Lord with their lives and with words (if necessary), and they too carry peace in their hearts and offer it to everyone they meet.
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