Memorial of Saint Anthony of Padua, priest and doctor of the Church
(I Kings 18:20-39; Matthew 5:17-19)
“Dear St. Anthony, look around,” Catholics have long prayed for lost objects. Theologically, the prayer requests the saint's intercession with God so that in His Providence they may locate whatever has been misplaced. Most often, it seems, the objects are indeed found. Such a beneficent force is at work in the first reading today.
Elijah is contemptuous of the indigenous god Baal precisely because the god has no real existence. The prophet’s aim is to reconnect the people with their true God. Because their enchantment with falsity runs deep, the antidote must be strong. Elijah first allows Baal’s own prophets to come out in force and exhort their god to act. When Baal fails to produce the desired fire, Elijah has both his sacrifice and the wood to burn it doused with water before he singlehandedly calls on Israel’s Lord to send a thunderbolt. The prayer is answered, and the people return, at least for a while, to worship the true God.
We may feel silly praying for an incidental object that we cannot find. But is it not sillier to curse the object because we do not know what we have done with it? Such prayers turn us to God whom we need more than air or water. And, yes, it is hardly a coincidence that after such prayers we almost always find what we are looking for.