One of the treasures of Catholicism is praying to St. Anthony to find lost things. Persons of other faiths might not understand this practice or even find it objectionable theologically. However, we Catholics rejoice that St. Anthony cares.
Theologically, this may present problems. Nothing of the life of St. Anthony is in the Bible and it is hard to imagine him breaking off his chants in heaven to find someone’s car keys. Some might argue that the practice is merely a psychological crutch. The prayer postpones anxiety and anger until the search for something lost is concluded. And we always find what was lost in the last place we look – because we stop looking when we find it!
I would not deny the theological ambiguities of the practice or even that spiritual things have material consequences. However, my explanation for St. Anthony’s care and the role of all saints in Catholicism goes along another path. I think we rejoice in this popular expression of our traditional faith because it makes the saints ordinary people like ourselves. Saints – while they were still alive on earth – experienced the same ups and downs as we do: lost items, physical pains like sore throats, diminished eyesight, toothaches, etc. We look for inspiration to a person who did not let such things detract them from the bigger picture of loving God and serving others. Saints Blaise (throat), Lucy (eyesight) Apollonia (toothaches) all bring consolation by example. There is even a patron saint of barbecuing: St. Lawrence (d. 258 ?), a deacon, when being burned alive for the faith, suggested his persecutors turn him over because he was “done on that side.” While this popular lore flirts with caricature, it is an example of the appeal of Catholicism to ordinary people. While elitists and snobs will sneer at the immediacy of grace, such customs also actualize what we call “the communion of saints.” In love are we thus bound – living and dead – by a common faith.
So the next time a Catholic interrupts a search by saying, “Pray to St. Anthony!” remember how it enriches faith to believe God’s heroes and heroines care about ordinary people like us.