Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Bd Antony Baldinucci: The sick son who became a legend

I was thinking about my son, Gary Anthony, a lot this week, first with all he and his Navy-mates had to deal with being stationed in San Diego in the midst of the wildfires, but also how difficult it must be dealing with being one of the few Navy soldiers who is DISAPPOINTED they finally beat Notre Dame. Perhaps reading the life of today's Blessed, Antony Baldinucci, will help give him strength.

Antony was born in Florence in 1665, to Filippo (a writer and painter) and Caterina Scolari. The couple already had four sons, but after praying to St Antony of Padua and being cured of a grave illness, Filippo promised not only would his next son (if they had another) be named after this great saint, but he would make sure #5 would follow in his footsteps as a priest. Although this type of parental "persuasion" often has the opposite effect, young Antony, after learning that a young St Aloysius Gonzaga had lived in his family's house a century before, took it to be a sign of destiny and was accepted into the Society of Jesus at the age of sixteen.

Antony, like many young (would-be) saints, longed to be a missionary, but his precarious health not only kept him from going to India, a series of seizures and excruciating headaches delayed his priestly ordination until Baldinucci turned thirty. But Antony quickly made up for lost time, turning his attention to the poor and uneducated in Italy with remarkable results.

By today's standards, Antony's methods seemed like madness, but the scores of conversions Baldinucci garnered from among the dissolute and destitute suggest otherwise. When Antony came to a town, he would pick willing penitents out of the crowd and have them march in procession down main streets wearing crowns of thorns and beating themselves with the discipline, as Antony, despite his ill health, wore heavy chains and carried a huge cross at the head of the line. Once he got the crowd's attention, the violent parade would cease, but his words proved so powerful that his missions often ended with the public burning of cards, dice, obscene pictures, and the like. Soon Antony's presence (despite his shabby appearance) became requested in Italy's richer dioceses too and he preached 448 missions in Romagna and Abruzzi alone while continuing his other priestly responsibilities. Like Blessed Teresa, Antony kept an extensive correspondence through letters and rarely slept, going three hours at night on a bed of planks when he did. And during the severe famine that hit Italy in 1716, Anthony worked literally around the clock, but after a year, this heroic relief effort finally proved to be too much for his already weakened heart, as Antony ended his earthly mission on Nov. 7, 1717.

Ironically, in today's Chicago Tribune Sports section, Rick Morrissey's article "In long run, 'Just Do It' ..." talks about how, in the wake of a death such as former Notre Dame runner Ryan Shay, many critics are quick to conclude that athletes like Ryan (who had an enlarged heart) should be encouraged to live a sedentary life instead of following their dreams through sport. Fortunately Morrissey disagrees, concluding "If mankind stopped doing everything that involved pain or danger ... where would we be? Probably very cold, having not had the guts to harness fire."

Blessed Antony's life may have not been the longest or healthiest, but it was certainly one of the brightest. Like Shay, he died using his gift, inspiring others to also give their all. With a little more rest and a lot more relaxation, Ryan and Antony might have had a longer stay here on earth. But neither would have brought nearly as many souls with them to cross the finish line into that eternal victory we call heaven.

Blessed Anthony and runner Ryan, pray for us!

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