10th Thursday in Ordinary Time
St. Anthony of Padua
2Co 3:15-4:1, 3-6;Mt 5:20-26
Today we are celebrating the feast of St. Anthony of Padua. St. Anthony is a well-known Saint, right? Patron saint of lost things. But maybe we could take a little quiz to see just how well we know him.
- St. Anthony was born and raised in: a) Lisbon, Portugal; b) Madrid, Spain; c) Padua, Italy. He actually grew up in Lisbon. He is referred to as St. Anthony of Padua because he spent a lot of his later years there.
- True or false: Anthony was born in 1195 and entered the Franciscans when he was 15 or 16. False. When he was 15 or 16 he entered the Augustinians. He switched to the Franciscans when he was about 25.
- True or false: Anthony was a contemporary of St. Francis and was good friends with him. True.
- Anthony died at the ripe old age of: a) 35; b) 48; c) 69. He was only 35 when he died. In our day and age he would be considered still a youngster.
- How long after his death did it take for Anthony to be canonized? a) Within a year; b) 49 years; c) 217 years. He was canonized within a year! I think he might hold a record in this regard. It helped that the Pope at the time, Gregory IX, had a very high opinion of Anthony and consulted him often on Franciscan questions. After the death of Francis, some in the Order wanted to relax the rules on extreme poverty.
- True or false: There are only 36 Doctors of the Church, and St. Anthony is one of them. True.
During his lifetime, Anthony was best known for his preaching. His early years as a Franciscan, though, were devoted to prayer and solitude, serving the other friars and doing household tasks. One day, however, an ordination was held at Forli where he was living. Both Franciscans and Dominicans were present, and through some misunderstanding, no one had been asked to give the customary address at the ceremony. Since the Franciscans were the hosts, the Dominicans expected them to provide a preacher. Since the Dominicans were the Order of Preachers, the Franciscans, who were not a learned Order, had assumed that their visitors would do so. Anthony was asked to speak at short notice. He protested that his work was washing dishes and sweeping floors, and that he was fit for nothing better, but his superior overrode his objections. Facing the bishop and the expert Dominicans unprepared, he began simply, haltingly, and in familiar language. Then he became animated and preached a sermon that was so inspired, so eloquent, and so learned that it astonished them all.
The Franciscans realized he had a special gift and sent him out preaching. Anthony had a beautiful and compelling voice and the ability to make theological issues real and vital to ordinary people. Crowds gathered to hear him. Men left their shops and other places of work, women rose early or sat in church all night to keep a place where they might hear him speak. Soon the churches were not big enough, and he moved into the squares and marketplaces. The crowds heard him in “the most religious silence.” It was said that he could bring sinners to their knees and soften the hearts of hardened criminals. St. Francis sent him to the south of France to preach against the Albigensians. Anthony became known as “the hammer of heretics.
It was while he was in France that the following story occurred at Bourges. A certain heretic, in spite of Anthony’s efforts to convince him, obstinately refused to believe in the Real Presence. The saint said to him, “If the horse you usually ride were to adore the true Body of Christ under the species of Bread and Wine would you then believe?” The heretic answered in the affirmative, but stipulated that he must make his own conditions. These were as follows: “For two days,” he said, “I shall give the horse no food. On the third day, I shall lead the animal from the stable to the public square. There, on one side, will be placed some fresh hay; on the other you will stand holding in your hands the Sacrament which you say is the Body of Christ. And if the horse, ignoring the hay, will prostrate itself before the Sacrament, I, also, with lips and heart, will confess to the truth of this Sacrament.”
Anthony accepted the challenge, and everything was arranged as the man had asked. After two days of starvation, the horse was brought to the public square, where, already, a great crowd waited. On one side was placed a quantity of fresh hay, and on the other stood Anthony, holding in his hands a ciborium, containing the Blessed Sacrament. Left to itself, the horse advanced, and taking no notice of the hay, it knelt down in an attitude of the deepest veneration before the ciborium that contained the Body of Christ.
St. Anthony, in our contemporary age of waning faith, pray for us, that we may fall in love again with the truths that you preached so eloquently and fervently.