Preaching and Teaching
The Mission of Preaching
Things rarely work out the way we have planned them, for God’s ways are not our ways.
In only a short time, Anthony had travelled from Coimbra in Portugal to the shores of Morocco, then to Sicily, then to Assisi, and finally to a small hermitage in Montepaolo. There, at last, Anthony found the peace which he had sought for so long. He immersed himself in his priestly service to the community as well as in the household tasks of cooking and cleaning.
But the Lord had other plans for him.
Anthony preaching in public
One day he was asked to attend the celebration of an ordination to the priesthood in the city of Forb. The preacher failed to arrive, and Graziano, Anthony’s provincial, ordered him to preach whatever might come to mind. All were astounded when Anthony preached with both great learning and fervor. His peaceful period of retreat in the hermitage had come to an end, for henceforth he would be called upon to preach near and far.
Anthony travelled throughout Northern Italy and Southern France, preaching especially in the areas that had been plagued by heresy. He combated abuses in the Church which had caused many to lose their faith.
He also combated heretical positions (e.g. rejection of creation as evil, rejection of Church authority and the sacraments) which confused the faithful. His most powerful weapon against these enemies was his Gospel life style, for by living what he preached he was able to confound heretics and edify Catholics.
The Light Shining in the Darkness
Once Anthony had travelled to the city of Rimini because it was a hotbed of heresy. The city leaders had ordered everyone to ignore him, so no one turned up for his homilies. Wherever Anthony went, he was greeted by silence.
Anthony walked along praying and reflecting upon what had happened. As he walked outside of the town, he came to the mouth of the Marecchia River where it flows into the Adriatic. There he began to address the crowds, not of people but of fish.
He called out, “Fish of the river and sea, listen to the Word of God because the heretics do not wish to hear it.” Suddenly there were thousands of fish, all pushing their heads through the surface of the water straining to hear Anthony’s words.
The people of Rimini, seeing this miracle, gathered to listen to Anthony. What began with simple interest in an extraordinary event turned into a passionate conviction that Anthony was speaking to their very hearts. They were so moved by Anthony’s words, by his call to conversion, that they abandoned their hardened positions and returned to the Church.
Becoming All Things to All People
Anthony preaching in public
One of the reasons why Anthony worked so hard to convert heretics was because he genuinely felt sorry for them. He saw that they were depriving themselves of the most precious gift of the Eucharist, and he believed that no one could long survive without this spiritual nourishment.
One day, a heretic told Anthony that he would believe that Christ was truly present in the Eucharist only if his mule bowed down to it.
They established that the test should take place in three days. The heretic starved his mule for the next three days.
When the appointed time had arrived, Anthony stood off to one side with the consecrated host in his hands, while the heretic stood to the other holding some fodder for the mule to eat. The mule ignored the fact that it was starving and it went over before the Eucharist and knelt down to adore the Blessed Sacrament.
There are many other miracles associated with Anthony’s ministry, but they should not distract our attention from the fact that most of Anthony’s ministry was performed in simple everyday ways. It was his fervent life style, his prayer, his gentleness, his humble use of his great learning that brought people to conversion.
Anthony at his desk writing
Anthony also ministered to those who were ministering to others, for he taught theology to the friars in Bologna, Montpellier, Toulouse and Padua. This work and his writings earned him the title of Evangelical Doctor of the Church.
Minister of Reconciliation
Anthony was likewise concerned about those who would not hear the consoling words of forgiveness heard in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He would normally go directly from his preaching to spending long hours in the confessional. Often he could not find a chance to take a rest or even get a bite to eat until long after the sun had set.
Anthony had the wonderful gift in his preaching of being able to challenge people to conversion without making them feel resentful.
Anthony reattaches the young man’s foot
One time a young man confessed to kicking his mother. Anthony, horrified at the lack of respect that the young man had shown his mother, told him that anyone who would kick his father or mother should have his foot cut off.
Interpreting Anthony’s words literally, the young man went home and cut off his foot with an ax. Called by the man’s hysterical mother, Anthony came to the young man’s house. Imploring God’s help, Anthony miraculously reattached the man’s foot.