13 June 2011

13 June - Saint Anthony of Padua; Sweet Bread

Today is the feast of Saint Anthony of Lisbon and Padua, Franciscan and Doctor of the Church, and one of the most beloved of saints.

He was born in 1195, the son of a noble family of Lisbon, and baptized 'Ferdinand'.  Very early, he discerned a vocation and joined the Canons Regular of Saint Augustine, who sent him to their famed Monastery of Holy Cross for further schooling in theology.  When not quite 26, he transferred to the Franciscans and took the name 'Anthony'.

His desire was to be sent to preach to the Muslims (where martyrdom was a safe bet); instead, he was called to Italy, where he gained fame as a powerful preacher. The Catholic Encyclopedia says of him:

"It was as an orator, however, rather than as professor, that Anthony reaped his richest harvest. He possessed in an eminent degree all the good qualities that characterize an eloquent preacher: a loud and clear voice, a winning countenance, wonderful memory, and profound learning, to which were added from on high the spirit of prophecy and an extraordinary gift of miracles. With the zeal of an apostle he undertook to reform the morality of his time by combating in an especial manner the vices of luxury, avarice, and tyranny. The fruit of his sermons was, therefore, as admirable as his eloquence itself."

Numerous miracles were attributed to him in his lifetime, for which he was called "Wonder-worker".  He died in 1231 at the age of 36, was canonized a year later, and was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1946. 

Mostly today, he is known as the finder of lost things:

Dear Saint Anthony, please come round,
Something's lost and can't be found

(or a bit more raffish)
Tony, Tony, please come round,
Something's lost that can't be found!

[And if he has helped you find whatever is lost, please remember to thank God.  See St. Anthony's bread, below]

A tradition in Italy and the Balearic Islands was to bless the family's horses, donkeys, and mules today, along with their harness and trappings, in the belief that this would keep the devil out of the animals for at least a year.  The priest would stand in or near a doorway, with a table set up next to him holding the Holy Water and a dish for the offerings.  Each animal was ridden to the spot and reined in to receive the blessing and the sprinkling of Holy Water.  The rider then placed a coin in the offering bowl, and made way for the next recipient.

In the spirit of this tradition, perhaps we should have our cars blessed today.  Maybe a good dose of Holy Water and a blessing will keep the road rage out of the vehicle for at least a year!

Lilies were blessed today, and handed out to the people of the parish (much like the palm fronds of Palm Sunday)

For a girl to find out the name of her future husband on St. Anthony's Day, she must fill her mouth with water and hold it there until she hears a boy's name mentioned.  She can pretty well expect to marry someone of that same name. [And I think that superstition was thought up by someone who felt that the girl's voice (and his own ears) needed a rest]

St. Anthony's Bread is the offering given in return for a favors asked and blessings received of God through St. Anthony's intercession.  The tradition comes from two stories in which the petitioners to St. Anthony promised to provide bread to the poor in return for his help.  If Saint Anthony has helped you, consider returning the favor with a donation to your local food pantry, or to any charity which helps the poor, especially those charities run by Anthony's brothers, the Franciscans.

The Portuguese here make a lovely slice of Heaven called 'SWEET BREAD' [not to be confused with sweetbreads, which have never been (and will never be) found in the Widow's kitchen], and since Anthony was born in Lisbon and is a patron saint of Portugal, it seems appropriate for the day. 

In a large, warm, bowl, dissolve 2 packages of yeast in 1/4 cup of warm water. 

Heat 3/4 cup of milk and 3/4 cup of butter in a saucepan over low heat until warm.  Lightly beat 3 eggs.

In the bowl with the yeast, combine 3/4 cup of sugar, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 1 cup of flour.  Add the warm milk/butter mixture.  Mix well, then beat for 2 minutes.  Beat in eggs and another 1-1/2 cups of flour.  Beat for about 2 minutes, then stir in a further 2-1/2 cups of flour (more or less) to make a very soft dough.

Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth, kneading in another 1/2 cup of flour.  Shape dough into a ball and place in a greased bowl, turning the greased side up.  Cover the bowl with a towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1-2 hours.

Punch down dough.  Knead, shape into loaves, and place into greased loaf pans.  Cover and let rise in a warm place, about 1 hour.

Beat 1 egg lightly and brush over the tops of the loaves.  Sprinkle with a little sugar.

Bake at 325° F for 35 minutes or until golden brown.