How to See St Anthony When He is a Sell Out

Relics of St Anthony of Padua in St George's Cathedral, Southwalk
Well, I made it by the skin of my teeth. I worked all day today (I know, its shocking but from time to time this sporadically happens in what can only be called  a shock to the system).

I worked in a cafe in Brighton and after work went up to London Victoria to see the relics of St Anthony of Padua, to whom I have a fond devotion. I'm getting very quick at making cappucinos and lattes by the way.

Anyway, so when I arrived at the Cathedral there was a queue at the door. People had obviously been venerating Anthony all day and by the time the Mass had got started devotees were outside the door. I walked up and asked whether the Saint was so popular they couldn't get in. They acknowledged that this was indeed the case.

I spoke to a lady outside who was Orthodox. She was passing by the square so I explained to her some of the details of the life of St Anthony. I told her if she ever lost anything to pray to him and that he was canonised within a year of his holy death and a few more details about his Franciscan adventure. She'd never heard much about him. It reminded me rather of a gig or concert where people had tried but failed to get in to a sell-out show.

Yes! St Anthony packed out Westminster Cathedral - though quite why Bishops in other Dioceses didn't beg the Basillica in Padua for his relics to come to their Dioceses is beyond me. That would have 'evened things out' a bit, would it not?! What is wrong with these Bishops? Worse than stoning the prophets is ignoring them completely! The same thing happened with St Therese of Lisieux didn't it?

Archbishop Vincent Nichols celebrated the Mass but I only got in into the Cathedral in time for the little speech by a Friar from Padua's Basillica right at the end and to see his relics go past me. I reached out my hand, but couldn't touch them.

So how did I get into the Cathedral, while others were locked outside?

Fluke or Miracle?

Well, seeing that the queue for St Anthony was so formidable, I turned around and saw the homeless outside the Cathedral in the square and thought of St Anthony of Padua. What's the point of seeing St Anthony of Padua if the people he loved go ignored? Would St Anthony really want to be venerated, but for his followers to forget the little ones he cared for, showed kindness to and treasured in his holy heart to be left alone unfed, unloved? We all stood there, waiting, with our backs to the poor, knowing our entrance into the Cathedral was not likely.

Give alms and St Anthony grants particular requests
So, with nothing much else to do I went and bought a bit of food for some homeless and gave a guy some loose change in my pocket for a coffee. St Anthony likes it when you do this kind of thing, you see. So do the recipients. I'm not saying this to blow a trumpet before or rather after a work of mercy - I'm saying this so that you may know that St Anthony shows a special predilection to those who show kindness to the poor and does special favours for them. It's the way to his heart.

As well as the fact that Miracles waited on his every word, this is one reason why he became so popular, you see. He is the patron of the poor, the starving, elderly and others, including ("A-hoy there!") sailors. So, I said a quick prayer to St Anthony and thought, 'Well, that is that, I guess its just not to be'.

Almost instantly, from out of nowhere, someone I had no idea was coming to London from St Mary Magdalen's in Brighton pulls up in a car down the street along the left side of the Cathedral and tells me she needs to pick up someone she knows through the side door who needs special assistance. Bang! Out of nowhere! So she takes me in through the side-door, bypassing the security man who mumbles something about something and just like that, I've managed to get into the Cathedral! Sneaky! To the rest of you who didn't get in, sorry, but it would have looked too suspicious if I'd called everyone else in through the side-door and, anyway, it all happened so quickly!

Thank you, St Anthony! He always finds a way! 

The homeless bedding down for another night in Cathedral Square
Oh, but what a picture it is, however, and a sorry picture at that, to see by 10pm, the Cathedral Square deserted, but for a near uniform line, an astonishing row of about 20 sleeping bags and duvets filled with the resting, presumably shivering bodies of the poor alongside McDonalds and the CTS shop outside the Cathedral in the square with none in sight attending to them.

How sorrowful it is. What an honour it is for a Cathedral to have so many poor on its doorstep but what an abject sight of 21st century Britain. How generous is the Lord our God that He should present to Christian worshippers so many opportunities to win merit and graces, to bring the good news of salvation to the poor, to manifest the love of Christ and for Christian souls to expiate their sins by the holy practice of giving alms. Yet what a sorrowful sight to behold. How fortunate the Cathedral is to have been blessed with Christ's poor ones. For good reason, they do not gather outside the Council offices. Yet what misery they must endure. No! God has sent His poor to His Church - to the Christians - and woe to us if we pay Him no heed in them!

May the prayers of St Anthony of Padua preserve them and keep them and enfold them in God's love by his most powerful intercession before the Throne of God.


Genty said…
Good game, Laurence. St. Anthony was obviously watching over you (and your actions as a brother in Christ). He's my favourite saint since childhood and I note that in the cathedral his candle dedications are always full up. Clearly, a great many share our devotion and it was ludicrous that the veneration was squeezed into a couple of hours.
I'm not surprised, as cathedral officials seemed to be, that the turn-out was huge, (as they were when the relics of the Little Flower were venerated).I have the sneaking suspicion that a goodly number of priests regard the veneration of relics as a throwback to mediaeval superstition.
It seems that Catholics in the pew frequently wrong-foot the clerics (as they did with the visit of Pope Benedict) and yet such obvious nuggets of faith are rarely mined. What opportunities are missed.
Celia said…
A few dioceses in the north of England did have the relics, although I had to travel to Liverpool from Sheffield to venerate them. I got there at the start, the church was packed (although it wasn't a particularly large church), not many people waiting outside after Mass, although as it was the middle of the day, probably more came later. What was good was that 'outsiders' were aware of it: I had quite a good conversation with a couple of railway workers at Lime St station, who'd twigged that something was going on because lots of people were travelling to the station near the church and were interested to hear about St A.

It's not just clergy (and especially bishops) who get wrong-footed: those vociferous liberal lay Catholics who seem dominant in most parishes don't get popular devotions, let alone enthusiasm for a visit by an 'unpopular' pope.
Anonymous said…
What a great Catholic post, dear Mr. Bones! Made me happy to read this.

And your sensitivity to the poor and homeless is quite remarkable.

May St. Anthony of Padua keep a loving eye on you always - as well as the rest of us!

Anonymous said…
Hi Laurence. Really great post - told my wife and my Mom - they were really moved by your story. Thanks for witnessing to a living faith. Kind regards,
David Morton
Amfortas said…
Heaven knows why the cathedral only had the relics from 3pm onwards. Surely they must have known there would be a large crowd.

I was in Padua on the day I heard that my father had died so I too feel a connection.
Rhoslyn said…
Hear hear! Doing 40 DFL in Cardiff has shown me how many homeless people we have on our streets and it is shocking. It is good to at least do a little, even if you cannot do a lot (and if we all did a little...). That's what Mother Teresa did, after all. You are good to remind us of that.

I have often found that St Anthony will give you what you desire if you offer him something in return so I was not surprised to see that he rewarded your thoughtfulness. I find that he is particularly fond of me praying an extra rosary (or 3 or 4!) too.

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