I’ve always felt a little bad for St. Anthony of Padua. So many saints have seemingly more glamorous gigs than his. St. Joseph is the patron saint of fathers, St. Florian is the patron saint of firefighters, St. Joseph of Cupertino is the patron saint of astronauts, and St. Barbara gets to be the patron saint of fireworks, for Pete’s sake.
But St. Anthony? He’s the guy we turn to when we lose our car keys. Or can’t find the television remote. Or maybe when we’re looking for our reading glasses. As patron saint of lost items, he hears from absent-minded Catholics all the time about the innumerable mundane and silly things we lose track of throughout our days. Poor guy.
St. Anthony, whose feast day we celebrate June 13, was a Franciscan in early 13th century Italy (St. Francis was his superior!). He earned his reputation as a heavenly finder based on a well-known story from his life. St. Anthony took to fervent prayer asking for the return of a valuable book of psalms he thought he’d lost that had in fact been stolen by a novice. The novice then saw a frightening apparition of St. Anthony and hurried to return the book.
I thought of this story years ago when, while staying at my parents’ house, my family and I were putting together a crib that had been in storage for a few years. We had all the parts for the crib but could not find the hardware. Our small baby needed the crib, and yet we were unable to assemble it.
If you have ever lost something valuable, perhaps you know the kind of frustration we felt in looking for it. Nothing is worse than losing a wallet or an important notebook, or that one tool you need to complete a job and then exhausting yourself looking for it, to no avail.
That evening at my parents’ house, we all collapsed on the couch after spending hours going through bedroom closets and looking in dresser drawers, searching for the crib hardware and finding nothing.
That’s when I thought of St. Anthony and his long-ago search for the valuable book. I closed my eyes for a moment and asked him for his help in finding the hardware. I told him I knew it was silly, and of course the baby would be fine if we made other sleeping arrangements, but since I knew he understood the frustration of lost things, I was sure he could find it in his heart to help us locate that hardware.
When I opened my eyes, I felt a sudden urge to go to the basement, a room in my parents’ house I had not been in for many years. I walked down the stairs, into the basement, and directly toward a small table in a far corner. I moved a few items out of the way and then my eyes landed on something. I knew right away to pick it up. Inside the crumpled, brown paper bag was the crib hardware.
Our prayers to St. Anthony don’t always gain such an immediate and dramatic response, but that experience showed me that I shouldn’t really feel bad for St. Anthony after all. It’s a privilege to be a source of support to others in the everyday trials and challenges we all face, even if they are somewhat mundane. Little things mean a lot.
No one knows this better than a mother, one who is attentive to even the smallest of details in the lives of her children—just as Mother Seton was. In addition to caring for her own children, St. Elizabeth Ann played a motherly role in caring for her husband’s siblings when they were orphaned, and in nursing her husband when he was ill, and in guiding her sisters in the religious community she founded.
She also saw the impoverished children she educated in the schools she founded as unique individuals she could mother in personal ways. She once wrote to a friend, Eliza Sadler: “[Y]ou know I am as a Mother encompassed by many children of different dispositions — not all equally amiable or congenial, but bound to love, instruct and provide for the happiness of all—to give the example of cheerfulness, peace, resignation—and consider individuals as proceeding from the same Origin and tending to the same end than in the different shades of merit or demerit.”
We see still more of Mother Seton’s careful attention to the lives of others in her voluminous correspondence with friends and family members over the years, sharing personal struggles and offering words of encouragement, support, and faith. She cared deeply about her brothers and sisters in Christ and went to great lengths to care for their needs in personal ways.
Maya Angelou once famously said that people might forget what you said or what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel. There may not be much glamor in attending to the small details and numerous worries and cares of others’ everyday needs, but there is a lot of meaning and value in it. It’s the stuff that builds relationships, and relationships are what give meaning and purpose to our lives.
We can know this truth through St. Anthony’s careful attention to our lost car keys and crib hardware. We can know it in Mother Seton’s selfless, motherly example of pouring herself out in service to the needs of every person God placed in her path, and we can know it in our own lives, too. We need only take inspiration from the lives of the saints, lean on God’s grace, and then apply ourselves to good work: the often quiet, mundane, and hidden good work that God sets before us each day.
DANIELLE BEAN is a writer and popular speaker on Catholic family life, parenting, marriage, and the spirituality of motherhood. She is the former publisher and editor-in-chief of Catholic Digest, and the author of several books for women including Momnipotent, You’re Worth It! and her newest book, You Are Enough. She is also creator and host of the Girlfriends podcast. Learn more at DanielleBean.com.
Image: Saint Anthony of Padua with the Child by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo
This reflection was previously published. To view all of our Seton Reflections, click here.