St. Anthony, part three
This is St. Anthony, part three. Part one, Prayer to St. Anthony for Lost Articles, begins with a prayer to St. Anthony for lost articles and then recounts his early life. Part two, St. Anthony of Padua, Preacher and Teacher, tells of his extraordinary public ministry.
St. Anthony’s public ministry lasted only a short ten years. He was 26 when his fellow Franciscans learned that brother Anthony possessed an astounding knowledge of Scripture. They were also amazed to discover that he was an unusually eloquent and inspiring preacher. Immediately upon these discoveries, Anthony received a directive from the head of his Order, St. Francis of Assisi, to “teach sacred theology to the brothers.”
Anthony’s reputation as a dynamic preacher continued to grow. At some point during this time period, he was also ordained to the priesthood. With the support of St. Francis, Fr. Anthony embarked on an unrelenting evangelical crusade that took him all over Italy and southern France, preaching to believers and heretics alike.
At the age of 36, Fr. Anthony died. His death was attributed to dropsy, which in those days was a general term alluding to indeterminate ailments. However, modern forensic scientists who studied his skeleton in 1981 concluded that he died simply from extreme fatigue and exhaustion.
Many miraculous events were associated with St. Anthony during his lifetime. Among these are the following:
The Child Jesus
No other saint is so frequently depicted holding the Child or Infant Jesus as is St. Anthony – besides, of course, the Virgin Mary.
Perhaps you have wondered why St. Anthony holds this great honor. Here is the story:
At one time, St. Anthony had retired to a place of privacy for a period of rest and contemplation after a grueling schedule of non-stop preaching and service to the Church. The place was a room in a country manor (or possibly castle) owned by a devout follower. One night the owner was outside on the grounds of his estate and looked towards the room where he knew St. Anthony was staying. In that moment he saw a brilliant light, and in the light he saw the holy friar sitting with an open Bible and in the company of the Child Jesus. Some accounts relate that the Child Jesus was sitting on the Bible; other accounts say that He was on the saint’s lap with his little arms around St. Anthony’s neck.
The witness was overcome with awe at the apparition he was blessed to observe. In the morning, St. Anthony instructed his host not to reveal the vision until after his death, which happened not long thereafter in 1231. Almost immediately, an inquiry was begun by the Church into his life and miracles. With tears and great emotion, the one who saw this vision of St. Anthony and the Child Jesus revealed it at this time.
Peaching to the Fishes
A beautiful miracle that recalls St. Francis’ loving relationship with animals that mirrored that of St. Francis took place in the town of Rimini near Padua. St. Anthony had been trying to preach to the heretics in Rimini, but in spite of his passionate and heartfelt message, was met with stubborn resistance and even disdain.
After many fruitless days of enduring their emnity, St. Anthony was inspired by God to preach to the lowly creatures of the animal order. Removing himself from the crowds, he went over to the bank where the river met the sea. He began his address with these words: “Listen to the word of God, O ye fishes of the sea and of the river, seeing that the faithless heretics refuse to do so.”
Upon uttering these words, a multitude of fish of every size suddenly appeared and lifted their heads out of the water. They gave every appearance of looking attentively at St. Anthony and seemed to be listening reverently to his words. Even more amazing was the fact that more and more fish came, and as they did so, the fish arranged themselves in order of smallest to largest, making it possible for all to see and listen to the best advantage of all.
St. Anthony addressed the fish as “my brothers the fishes,” and delivered a tender sermon extolling the importance of fish in the Scripture and in God’s creation. As the fish bowed their heads in worshipful response, St. Anthony ended with a loud proclamation, crying, “Blessed be the eternal God; for the fishes of the sea honour him more than men without faith, and animals without reason listen to his word with greater attention than sinful heretics.”
Word of the miracle reached the people of the town, who all came to the riverbank to witness this wondrous event. Among those who came were many of the heretics who had just rejected St. Anthony and his message of the true Gospel. As they saw with their own eyes this miracle of the fishes, their hearts were instantly changed, and they fell at St. Anthony’s feet in submission and repentance. St. Anthony then blessed the fish to depart. He remained there for several days thereafter, preaching the true faith to the joyfully receptive people of Rimini.
The Kneeling Donkey
Another remarkable miracle connecting the animal world and St. Anthony’s efforts to battle heresy involve a certain heretic named Bononillo, and his donkey. Bononillo had repeatedly scoffed at the doctrines of the Chuch, especially regarding the Body and Blood of Christ.
St. Anthony made this proposal to the hardened heretic: if the donkey were to bow down before the Blessed Sacrament, Bononillo would agree to the truth of the Gospel and of the Sacraments. Bononillo agreed, but only under certain conditions. The donkey would not be fed for two days, and on the third day would be brought to the public square. On one side of the square would be a heap of fine fresh feed, and on the other side, St. Anthony could stand with the Body of Christ.
Obviously, there was no question in Bononillo’s mind what the hungry donkey would do. Probably most of the people observing this unusual contest, including those faithful to the Church, would have been sure that any starving animal would hurry to its customary food. St. Anthony, however, boldly but humbly agreed to these conditions, while laying down one of his own: if the donkey did not choose the Blessed Sacrament and kneel before it, then the blame would be placed on his own sins alone.
Bononillo took his donkey away, to return two days later. St. Anthony spent those two days praying fervently for the soul of the heretic.
The public square was crowded with people when the two days had passed and the heretic with his donkey, and St. Anthony with the Blessed Sacrament, arrived at the square. Everything was arranged as previously agreed upon.
The donkey was turned loose. Did he head towards his feed? No. Ignoring the feed, the donkey without hesitation headed instead towards St. Anthony. When he was close to this holy man of God who was holding the Body of Christ, the donkey knelt in an obvious attitude of reverence. Bononillo was astonished and humbled. He, too, fell on his knees and implored God’s forgiveness for his disbelief.
Thus, God came to St. Anthony’s aid and dramatically allowed a dumb beast to expose the folly of heresy.
Saint, and Doctor of the Church
In June of 1232, only one year after his death, this extraordinary example of Christian virtue was canonized by Pope Gregory IX. A magnificent basilica was built in Padua in his honor.
Throughout the centuries, countless miracles of every description have been attributed to St. Anthony’s intercession.
In 1946, St. Anthony, was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XII, proclaiming, “Exult, happy Portugal, rejoice, happy Padua; for you have given birth for earth and heaven to a shining star, a man who has illuminated and still dazzles with a radiant light the whole earth, not only by holiness of life and fame of miracles, but by the splendor of his celestial teaching.”