Growing up Catholic in Northeast Philly, one thing you'll never lose is St. Anthony
Growing up, I was notorious for losing things. I lost gloves, library books, and every sock I've ever owned. Luckily I didn't have to find lost things alone. I had the help of St. Anthony, the patron saint of lost things.
Born in a Catholic family in Northeast Philadelphia, I learned the prayer to St. Anthony like I learned the Pledge of Allegiance. It was ingrained from an early age, and through constant practice the idea that St. Anthony was interceding for me was cemented in my young mind.
Being prone to losing things doesn't always make for a peaceful home life. I can remember my dramatic panicked self, frantically yelling "Moooommm I can't find my folder!" or whatever was lost at the time — jewelry, an important document, the ID tag that was a required part of my Catholic high school uniform.
It was in those infuriating moments that our faith really showed. Some families ask, "Where did you last leave it?" My family prayed to St. Anthony. Without fault, one of us would mumble, "St. Anthony, St. Anthony, please come around. My keys are lost and cannot be found."
Love keeps no record of wrongs, but a mother knows when her daughter is on the verge of misplacing something, which I often was. My mom's familiar parting words to me, three little words, were never "I love you" but always "Don't lose that."
But her loving, well-meaning warnings weren't always enough. St. Anthony was probably sick of hearing from me.
A childhood faith nearly lost
Then came the time I nearly lost St. Anthony himself.
When I started working as a community editor in The Huffington Post's religion section, I mentioned doing a story on St. Anthony, and my editor told me that the Catholic Church was no longer recognizing him as a saint.
My whole spirit dropped when I heard the news.
I thought back to my gullible childhood. I avoided cracks because I didn't want to break my mother's back. I made earnest wishes on dandelions when they went to seed — I affectionately called them "wishies."
But my prayers to St. Anthony ran deeper than mere superstitions. They tapped into the spiritual soul I was born with and still have today: the belief that God and His heavenly counterparts work to find for us what is lost. Though I now understand St. Anthony is actually known for finding lost souls, I spent my youth using him as a GPS for my carelessness.
It's no secret that I'm a sinner. There were many times in my life were I prayed in jest and (unsurprisingly) St. Anthony left it unanswered. I lost a brand new pair of glasses at a New Years Eve party. In college, I lost two cell phones. Fair enough, St. Anthony. I deserved it.
Still, it didn't feel right. St. Anthony has been with my people since before the days I reenacted Holy Communion with the neighborhood kids up the street from St. Martin of Tours. Sour-cream-and-onion chips were our stand-in for the body of Christ, but there can be no stand-in for St. Anthony.
I reached out to Father James Martin, a Jesuit priest and culture editor of America magazine to get the facts straight. Was St. Anthony not a real saint? Martin assured me that my tired-and-true was still rocking his sainthood status. According to Catholic.org, St. Anthony was officially canonized as St. in 1232 and was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XII in 1946.
Turns out my editor was thinking of Christopher, the patron saint of travelers, whose canonization was revoked in 1969 during a Roman Catholic calendar reform.
Still with me
I now attend a great faith community at a non-denominational church in New York City. I'm sure few people I know at my church believe in saints or say the prayer to St. Anthony. It doesn't matter, though. The prayer is a rich cultural reminder of where I'm from, perhaps a purposeful testament to everything I've lost and found along the way.
Plus after college, I just stopped losing things as often as I used too. When I do lose something — even when other people lose things — I find myself saying the prayer by default.
Recently I was out with a guy who lost his credit card. As we walked back to the restaurant to locate it, I prayed to St. Anthony, explaining what it means over the course of couple of blocks. My kind date was amused, but we ended up having the sort of strained conversation about religion that would never have happened in Northeast Philly, where St. Anthony is trusted and doesn't need to show ID.
My date got his card back. Saint Anthony answered the prayer. He's there.