At school, he liked every subject which he studied. But most to all, he enjoyed the periods of recreation and the long hikes which he was permitted to take, Once, after one of these hikes which had been taken on a hot day, he left his companions so that he could rest in the solitude and coolness of a Church. Closing the door softly so not to disturb the serenity reigining in God’s house, he tip-toed down the centre aisle to the altar, Genuflecting, he fell on his knees in wrapt adoration beneath the flickering sanctuary lamp.
He had been in this position for some time. The evening shadows already had begun to assemble in the corners of the edifice. It was as though these shadows were hudling together, drawing away in frightful anticipation of some awesome event about to take place. Gradually, the church was becoming darker than usual considering the hour of day it was. And there seemed to be a sudden dampening chill hanging in the heavy atmosphere. He drew his summer shirt about him tightly and, once more, he attempted to pray. But it was with countless distractions. He recognized this as an unusual situation. He recognized this as an unusual situation. He knew that something was wrong. Accordingly, he gazed fearfully over his stately pews which stretched on behind the other, in military precision, right to the rear of the Church.
Above, clouded beams of light struggled wearily through the windows of the roof only to be drawn in by the eager blackness which hung high over the centre of the nave. Directly above him, the sanctuary lamp began to sputter and to leap wildly, changing the shadows of the altar candles into weired, dancing figures on the wall behind them.
Then, suddenly, it happened. Somewhere from the gloom that hid the altar, there crept a strange, deformed shape whose eyes burned straight into those of Anthony. For a long, endless moment, he stared back at the eery, dwarfish monstrosity. All of a sudden Anthony Realized who it was. The Prince Evil! Quickly, and still on his knees, he leaned over the stone alter step. There with his trembling finger, he traced the Sign of the Cross. Immediately in the midst of a cloud of dark smoke, the aweful spectre vanished. However, the sign which Anthony had made remained engraved on that solid stone. It was as though he had traced it in a soft cement which had quickly hardened. Deep in the boy’s heart, there lingered the lessons which God had taught him. The one lessons which God had taught him. The one which told him how very powerful that Sign was. For it is the one by which all men are saved.
Some time passed. By now, the diabolical appearance had become a memory. He was fifteen years of age, that period in a boy’s life when dreams scale the heights of imagination. In dreamland he saw the phantom villains being defeated by one, smashing blow. And the dashing stallion whisking him away to the end of the rainbow, there to find the proverbial pot of gold.
Once in a while, we meet young men who glimpse beyond the end of that imaginary road. Those who realize that rainbows have a way of fading at dusk and, then, passing into the nothingness of the night. These are the young men who see beyond the stars and gaze straight into the face of God. Having beheld it, the abandon all else so as to unite themselves with Him.
This is the kind of union which requires sacrifice. There is no denying this truth. It was not a simple matter to bid farewell to parents whom he loved so dearly. Anthony was such a young man. Although he loved his parents very much, he loved god more. And he knew, too, that loving them through God would be more intense and perfect way of manifesting his great affection to them.
Accordingly, he implored his father’s permission to join the Canons Regular of St.Augustine. Because his parents were elated to receive such a privilege preparations for Anthony’s departure were soon made. Then, on the appointed day, while Anthony was being driven off to the Monastery, his parents stood at the gate. His mother waved her handkerchief in a final farewell as the swaying carriage clattered over the stony road. Her son leaned out of the window of the carriage. He threw a last kiss to his Mom.
The monks at Coimbra found him to be a zealous student, greatly devoted to his philosophy and theology. He also practiced daily Scripture reading and recitation of our Lady’s Office. His Love for our Lord in the Holy Eucharist, however, exceeded all other preoccupations. God showed later on how pleased. He was with such a devoted servant.
Anthony had been placed in charge of the infirmary. Here, there was sick youngster who was being tempted greatly by the devil. He became a wearisome burden to himself and to other. He experienced alternate spasms of uncontrollable laughter and violent fits of anger. Nothing whatsoever could satisfy him.
Knowing fully well the wretched condition in which the young boy found himself. Anthony entered his room approached his bed and spread his coat over him. Then he knelt to pray. At that very moment, with God’s aid, the second time, and the patient fell into a peaceful sleep.
Some time later Anthony was assigned the humble task of sweeping the corridors. This prevented him from hearing Mass. Nevertheless, whenever he heard the bell which announced consecration, telling all who heard it that the priest was in the act of raising the Sacred Host. Anthony would lay aside his broom so that he could kneel down and adore his Maker. While in this position, the wall which separated him form the chapel suddenly disappeared. There, before his eyes, he beheld the priest saying the Mass, the Host upraised to heaven. Naturally, his adoration was heightened all more by this miraculous occurrence.
Franciscans on the Scene
While these things were taking place at the Augustinian monastery, events were occurring elsewhere-which were bound to have an influence upon the good Anthony.
It was only recently that Saint Francis of Assisi had founded his Order. It was his desire to spread the first to leave for the missions, preaching before the Sultan of Damietta. The Sultan admired the boldness of the preacher and, at the same time, he was impressed with his kindly appearance. But after listening to him for a while, he dimissed Francis. Sickness then forced the Saint to return home even though his task had not been accomplished. Four more times he endeavoured to accomplish his goal. But each time illness forced him to return home. Obviously, it was not God’s Will that he remain there.
However, there were other confreres of Francis who would take up this dream and attempt to make it a reality. A courageous group set out across the Alps and trudged through France and Spain. They stopped to rest at the monastery, in Libson where Anthony was stationed. One can hearts of these couriers of Christ, their great simplicity, their urgency to bring Christ to pagan world burning flame in the attempt, intensified the burning flame in the heart of Anthony. Many times after these preachers had left.
Anthony thought that perhaps this was also what he was destined by God to be a follower of the poor man of Assisi.When the Franciscans reached Musulman territory, they confounded the Turks with their boldness by preaching Christianity openly. They were immediately arrested for this and brought before the Emperor.
They were not awed by the presence of the court. Instead, their audacity became even greater. For they urged the Musulmans to become converted to the one, True Faith. This angered the judges all the one, True Faith. This angered the judges all the more. They ordered this “Infidels” to be beaten with rods. After this, their bleeding bodies were stripped and vinegar was poured into their wounds. The soldiers, of course, took great delight in officers. They were men who were well picked for their work. They were desirous of maltreating and torturing others. They had a of inflicting punishment, they abandoned the bleeding and naked friars. A fanatic mob seized their bodies, bound them hand and foot, and then dragged them over sharp stones with such brutality that their bodies were torn open and their entrails were visible. This inhuman treatment continued all night. Mardly able to stand, these men of God were once again taken before the Emperor. This cruel man who was responsible for all their sufferings now tried to win their friendship by reverting to flattery. Unable to succeed, he had their heads split from heavy axes.
A Franciscan Gain
This massacre occurred on January 16, 1220. As soon as the news reached Francis, who was blessing a monastery in Portugal, he exclaimed: Blessed art thou. O abode of the Most High, which gave five of our followers to heaven.
In few days the mutilated bodies were brought back to town. Anthony experienced a vision after celebrating Mass that mooring. He saw one of the Franciscan Brothers passing rapidly through the flames of Purgatory, while another Brother invited Anthony to join them. Was this a sign he wondered. After viewing the mangled bodies of the martyrs, he knew that it was God’s will. There was doubt in his mind now. He would become a Franciscan.
On his return to the monastery, Anthony went immediately to the office of his superior. He told him the entire story and asked his permissions to leave the Augustinian and with the Franciscans. The superior listened intently and paternally to every word the young man spoke. When Anthony had finished, he said to him: ‘Yes it is God’s will. Go, and my blessings go with you.’
At this point they both rose and embraced each other. The good superior knew that this Augustinian loss world be a Franciscan gain.
Outside the office Anthony spied one of the Brothers who evidently had been eavesdropping.
‘Yes, go’ mocked the Brother, ‘you will become a saint, you know’ little did the Brother realize that, at that moment, he was uttering a prophecy.
Anthony looked at him with both pity and astonishment. Then turning, he left the jeering Brother in the hallway, his countenance full of wonder.
There was much joy among the followers of St. Francis in receiving such an enthusiastic and holy priest into the Order. Burning with a zeal which equaled that St. Francis, Anthony begged to be allowed to evangelize Morocco. It was his hope that after bringing many into the true Fold, he would seal their conversion with his blood.
He was jubilant when he arrived on the African coast. But as soon as he reached Morocco, he stricken with malaria and confined to bed. He was a helpless invalid requiring constant attention. All efforts to cure failed in that climate. Hence he had to leave Africa. With difficulty. And in pain he was lifted on board a ship bound for Portugal. The ship, however, never reached its destination, for a storm arose forcing it along the Sicillian coast. The ship was compelled to dock at Messina.
At this time the first General Chapter of friars- was being held at Assisi. Since Anthony had sufficiently recovered from his illness, he was most anxious to accompany the friars who were making preparations, to go to Assisi. He was desirous of meeting the founder, his superior. True he already him to join the Franciscan Order. And although it had been a vision, it was reason enough for Anathony, to seek out the real Francis.
Anthony attended the General Chapter. While there, he listened attentively to all the while there, he listened attentively to all the proceeding. He weighed the suggestions made with a keen discrimination. But he did not say a word. He remained in the background, seeking the most humble place. The greatest pleasure he experienced was his meeting with the humble friar of Assisi. And when the two saints met there is no doubt that heaven smiled its approval.
After various decisions had been reached and the General Chapter had come to a close, Anthony returned to practice his apostolate near the town of Forli. He had not as yet made up his mind as to how he would go about conducting further missionary activities.
About thirteen miles away, situated high on the Appian slope, there was a hermitage called Montepaolo. It was here that some lay-Brothers lived in seclusion. The provincial of this group was searching for a confrere, a priest who would take care of the spiritual, a priest be a learned man. The only requirement was that he be able to celebrate Mass and to hear confessions. It was not to be expected, then, the provincial would hear that there was a priest nearby.
Upon meeting Anthony, he asked:
“Are you a priest ?”
“I am”, Anthony said.
“ We are in urgent need of a priest at Romagna. Can you take the assignment?”
“ I am ready to follow God’s will”, Anthony humbly replied.
It was a simple meeting. Yet, it was to open the away for other works which God had planned for Anthony. At Montepaolo, he was received affectionately by the hermits. They recognized not only sanctity in him but also knowledge and wisdom. Although he attempted to hide his talents, one could not help overhearing remarks which centered about Anthony’s great prudence and regularity of life. He became a father to the hermits.
Preacher Par Excellence
The ember days of lent were at hand. The provincial selected the clerics to be taken to the Bishop of Remini for ordination. At the same time, many Dominicians had arrived with them. At the same time, many Dominicians had arrived with their young clerics. These also were to be ordained. During the course of the ceremonies, it was discovered that the priest who had scheduled to give the sermom had become ill. None of the Domicians felt sufficiently prepared to take over on such short notice, especially in view of the importance of the occasion.
The provincial sought out Anthony and said to him:
“Father, you are the only one left. Please say a few suitable words”.
Anthoy sensed that the group was uneasy. The moment for the sermon had arrived. But where was the preacher?
“Whatever you wish, dear brother in Christ.”
Anthony made his way through the crowd. He went to the pulpit. Every eye in the congregation followed him. Who is he, they seemed to be questioning. Just a Franciscan friar, was the obvious answer. Well at, any rate, he is better than no preacher at all.Now Anthony, who presented a striking appearance despite the simplicity of his dress, and reached the pulpit platform. He looked over the heads of the ordinandi. Then He glanced over crowded rows of priests and religious.
“This is the lord hath made” he began. He thanked God for having called new labourers into the vineyard. He exhorted those who were to receive the sacrament to greater fervour. He reminded them of the obligations which had become theirs. They were to be one with Christ, he emphasized. For were they not other Christs? His sermon continued along his vein of thought.
There was not one person in the Church who did not listen spellbound to each word. Without a doubt they had heard these same ideas spoken many times before. But never had they been uttered in such an eloquent manner. Even the bishop was captivated with the volubility of this youthful priest.
“Where has this preacher been hiding?” hewanted to know from an assisting prelate whose attention was too riveted upon the man in the pulpit to hear His Excellency’s question.When he had finished, Anthony made the sign of the Cross and descended from the pulpit. He genufl-ected before the tabernacle. Then he returned to the sacrist.
A hushed stillness came over the Church Every person pondered over the many beautiful thoughts suggested to them by the young preacher. The bishop rose gravely and proceeded with the ceremonies. And some where amid the crowd, Francis whispered a prayer of thanksgiving to God for blessing his humble Order with a man as talented as Anthony. The light which had been hidden for twenty-seven years was now set in its place on the candelabra, shining in all its brilliance.
A month later Anthony was sent to Vercelli to complete his theological studies. Because he excelled in his studies, he was later sent to Bologna, Montpellier, Toloso, and finally to Padua. It is to be noted, though, that his main field of endeavour remained that of a preacher.
It was at Vercelli that this his sanctity was confirmed by another miracle. Anthony just finished preaching when he noticed some commotion in the rear of the Church. He could see pall-bearers preparing to carry a casket down the aisle. A young man was being, brought in for burial services. All heads were bowed in mournful respect as the procession moved down the aisle. The mother walked directly behind the casket bravely, yet vainly, attempting to stifle her sobs. From time to time, she wiped her eyes with hand kerchief.
There is no human being who has witnessed such a scene and whose heart has not gone out to the mother. Notice the compassion when Christ raised the widow’s son in Naim.Stopping the procession Anthony bade the pall-bearers to lower their heavy burden. Looking down at the face that was taut with the rigidity of death, amidst the ghastly silence which was broken only by the sobs of the mother Anthony’s voice rang out clearly:
“In the name of Christ, arise!”
Suddenly, the features of the dead man softened. The colour flowed back into his cheeks. He stirred and his eyes blinked at the light that was cutting through the darkness which had been his. Then grasping the sides of the coffin, he sat up. His mother threw herself into his arms.
Yes, God was good. He had pity upon the plight of a mother’s heart. He had worked a miracle through His blessed servant, Anthony.
Model of Faith
Whenever the occasion arose, Anthony was always prepared to perform a miracle. However, his main task was preaching. In all his sermons, he showed himself to be a model of all the virtues, and especially of faith the supernatural virtue which inclines us to believe all those truths which are revealed by God and proposed by His Church.
His was a lively faith. Did he not go to Morocco determined to shed his blood, if necessary, so as to spread the faith to others? On his return did he not preach the Gospel unhesitatingly. He hammered away at the heretics, at the adversaries of the True Faith. His words against them were strong and convincing.
In Rimini, for instance, he had to combat the teachings of the Patrini. When the heretics, who had been anxious for an argument, learned the identity of the orator with whom they would have to deal, they admitted their defeat in advance by plotting to kill Anthony.
Anthony was surprised one day, when he received a dinner invitation one day, when he received a dinner invitation from these same heretics. What was in their minds, he wondered. Perhaps, they were sincere and wanted to make peace. This might be an excellent opportunity to gain their confidence and free them from error.
The deceitful heretics received him with quite a display of honour. They listened to him with the greatest sympathy. But they set poisoned food before him. Anthony, by now, had become more than a little suspicious. Seemingly unconcerned he blessed the food and began to eat. They watched him eagerly, expecting to gasp and to stagger at any moment. Instead, Anthony with charming innocence, began to speak of the prophecy which Christ had made when he said that his true disciples would not even be harmed by poisons. Inwardly he smiled at the pitiful look of frustration that was upon their faces. As a matter of fact he felt sorry for them. They had tried so hard to do an effecrive job.
Still, the hardness of their hearts perdured and the campaign of vilification against Anthony continued. If they could not stop him directly, then they would find another way. They spread false rumours concerning him in the town in order to persuade the people not to listen to his words. Aided by the devil, their plan seemed to be working. Gradually the congregations which had come to her Anthony were diminishing.
But the word of God is not easily stopped Christ had guaranteed that the gates stopped Christ had guaranteed that the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church. God was on Anthony’s side. Anthony could not fail.
Sermon to the Fish
Since men did not care to listen to his sermons, Anthony decided to preach to a sermons, Anthony decided to preach to a more appreciative audience. One the shores of the Adriatic, standing on the bank where the Marecchia river empties into the sea, he began his famous sermon to the fish.
“Listen to the Word of God, you fish of the sea, for the unfaithful heretics will not hear it”.
No sooner were the words spoken when a budding commotion was seen in the waters. A multitude of fish of all sizes appeared close to the shore. All held their heads out of water and faced Anthony. Directly before hi were the small fish. Behind them were the large fish. And further back were the largest of all. Anthony continued his sermon with a smile on his face.
“O fish, my dear brethren, you are bound to thank your Creator, according to your ability, who gave you such a noble element as a dwelling place. You can go wherever you please. You fresh water and salt water and many refuges to avoid the storms. You have such a clear and transparent element in which to live God, your Creator, courteous and kind, commanded you, to increase and multiply and blessed you. Thus when the flood destroyed all other animals, God protected only you. To you the command was given to swallow Jonas and after three days to vomit him on the land safe and sound. You offered the coin to our Lord Jesus Christ when He was unable to pay the tax. You were His food many times. For all these reasons you are bound to praise God who has given you so many benefits-more benefits than to any other creature.”
The fish stayed and listened attentively. While this was going on small groups of amazed onlookers had gathered on the shore. Anthony blessed the fish and dismissed them saying; “Blessed be the Eternal God because the fish of the sea honour Him while the heretics do not.”
The fish then swam away in the same orderly manner in which they had come. Turning his attention to the heretics. Anthony began to preach to them but in words of a much different tome than those which he had used in speaking to the fish.
“Woe to you, ravenous who try to steal Chris’s sheep. To you were the words of the Divine Master addressed; Not who say Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but who does the Will of my Father in heaven.” That is the very Will which you deny. But this is the Will of God, that you become saints, as Saint Paul says.
A heretic’s True Color
“To what shall I compare a heretic” he continued. “He I like a ferocious animal of the forest, for example, the hyena. It is a small animal which uses its cry to imitate humans, but enters cemeteries to feed upon dead bodies. Its ferocity frightens other animals. You are, O heretics, those whom the Savior compares to hyenas because you imitate them and have acquired their characteristics. Just as the hyena is an unclean thing which makes a sham of humility but a heart is wild and cruel so you also, seek your proselytes with such sweet language, seducing the good with your pretence, sowing the deeds of sin and of death. Neither does the hyena live very far from the shepherd’s field frequent the churches. You learn the customs of the sacred oratories and seek to imitate them to massacre Christ’s sheep. You are seducing His flock with your words, your fake tears, your false humility. Sometimes you ensnare men in your nest and women you deceive through your external piety. You are the dead branches which bear no fruit, and without a doubt you shall be cast into the fire.’
Turning to these whom he knew had remained steadfast in the True Faith. Anthony urged.
“O Christians, you will know them by their fruits particularly in the time of adversity for it is impossible for the ask tree to produce grapes, and it is a hopeless task to gather sweet figs from briars and brushwood. The briar pricks and the brush wood tears as do the heretics. You can never be well mannered or truly holy in their company.’
“What did the prophet Jeemiah say about heretics? These were his words: O heretics, unqualified beasts, animals with human face but a monster’s body. “You entice the faithful by divers allurements, preaching your perfidious in doctorines. They in turn, praise you, thinking you to be men learned in the Scriptures, whereas you are nothing but ignoramuses.”
Angry murmurings came from some sections of the crowd, jeering voice called out:
“Never mind the talk. Let’s see you prove something. How about the so called Blessed Sacrament?”
Anthony faced the challenger. After advancing logical proofs from reason and Scripture, analogies and explanations, the heretic was still not satisfies.
“That’s no proof for me.” He sneered, let’s see some miracle and then I well believe.”
It was a familiar cry: then I will Believe! Through the centuries, it brought back the Mount of skulls where a mocking crowd gathered around the foot of the Cross, spat their wrath upon an exhausted Christ.
“Come down from the Cross,” they to said “If you are the Son of God, then we will believe.”
At the time Christ did not choose to work a miracle. Those men would not have believed even if He were to come back from the dead.
However, at another time the Master had acted differently. Had it not been for a miracle, performed for him alone, Thomas would not have believed.
Anthony looked again at the unbeliever before him. Beneath all of his exterior derision, Anthony wondered if there was a heart which was willing to believe. A heart that was tormented by doubt really asking some sign so that it would give him a basis for belief.