How Sts. Anthony and Francis Loved Creation
Anthony and Francis deeply Loved Creation and Preached to Animals
St. Francis Preaches to the Birds
One day, St. Francis of Assisi walked into a wooded place where a large gathering of birds had assembled. St. Francis strolled among them. He began speaking to them as though they understood what he was saying.
As he walked about, St. Francis invited them to listen to the word of God. “O birds, my dear brothers, and sisters,” he said, “you should always praise your Creator. For God has given you feathers and wings for flying. He provides you with pure air—and cares for you so that you have no need to worry at all.”
As he spoke, the birds showed their excitement by stretching their necks, extending their wings, opening their beaks, and watching St. Francis attentively. St. Francis moved among the birds, brushing against them with his habit. Yet not one of them moved until the man of God gave them his blessing—and permission to leave. Then they all flew happily away!
His companions had been waiting on the road, and they saw everything. When he walked back to rejoin them, St. Francis, the simple man he was, began to accuse himself of negligence because he had never thought to preach to the birds before.
A famous fresco by Giotto, a 13th-century painter, portrays a similar scene.
In it, St. Francis and another friar are standing by a tree where many birds have gathered on the ground and are looking intently at St. Francis.
The Saint has his hand raised in gentle blessing as he bends toward the birds in a spirit of reverence and wonder.
Giotto’s whole fresco exudes a sense of the goodness of God and of the sacredness of all God’s creatures.
As we strive to respect God’s earth, let us love the natural world as they did.
St. Anthony Preaches to the Fishes
One day, St. Anthony was in the Italian city of Rimini, where a good number of heretics lived.
St. Anthony preached to them, hoping to win them over to Christ. But they did not care to listen to his words. So, Anthony decided to go to the river near the sea. He stood on the bank between the river and the sea. Since the heretics had refused to pay attention to him, Anthony invited the fishes to come near and listen to the word of God.
Suddenly, a significant number of large and small fishes came before him, and, as they held their heads out of the water, they listened to his sermon. This they did peacefully and meekly. Then St. Anthony spoke in this way:
“My brother and sister fishes, you must thank your Creator with much gratitude because he has given you such a noble element for your dwelling place, as well as many kinds of food to eat. He has given you fins also, so you can roam the waters as you like!”
Some of the fishes began to open their mouths and nod their heads as a way of praising God. On seeing this, St. Anthony rejoiced and cried out:
“How blessed is the Creator! For the fishes give God more honor and praise than the heretics do.
The fishes may lack the gift of reason, but these creatures of the sea pay more attention to the words of Anthony than do these faithless heretics.”
Another story about Saint Antony of Padua
Saint Antony, meeting one day in Toulouse (France) to fight the errors of the enemies of the Holy Church, found himself in a struggle against one of the most tenacious Albigenses (a heretic sect according to the Church at that time).
The lengthy discussion ended up revolving around the theme of the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Finally, after great difficulties, the defender of the error was reduced to silence.
Finally, defeated but not converted, he resorted to an extreme argument, challenging the Saint:
— Let’s stop words, and let’s get to the facts. Suppose by some miracle, you can prove before all the people that the body of Christ is, in fact, present in the consecrated Host. In that case, I abjure heresy and submit myself to the yoke of the Faith.
“I accept the challenge,” replied St. Anthony at once, full of confidence in the omnipotence and mercy of the Divine Master.
— So, here’s what I propose: I have a mule in my house; after leaving it closed for three days without any food, I will bring it to this square.
First, then, I will offer her an abundant quantity of oats to eat in the presence of all. And you shall present here what you say is the body of Jesus Christ.
Suppose the hungry animal abandons food to run to this God who, according to your doctrine, must be worshiped by all creatures. In that case, I will believe with all my heart in the teaching of the Catholic Church.
On the appointed day, people came from all over, filling the square where the big test would occur. Catholics and heretics all were in an expectation that was easy to imagine. Nearby, in a chapel, Friar Antônio celebrated Holy Mass with an angelic fervor.
Then the Albigensian arrives, pulling his mule, while a partner brings the animal’s favorite food. Finally, a multitude of heretics escorts him, portentous of his victory.
At that moment, he leaves the Santo Antônio chapel, holding the ciborium with the Blessed Sacrament in his hands.
There is a profound silence. Then, addressing the mule, he cries out in a loud voice:
— In the name and by the power of your Creator, who, despite my unworthiness, I hold here really present in my hands, I command you, poor animal: come without delay to bow down with humility before Him.
Heretics must recognize that every creature renders submission to Jesus Christ, God the Creator, whom the Catholic priest has the honor of bringing down upon the altar!
At the same time, the Albigensian puts the pile of oats under the mouth of the hungry mule, urging her to eat.
Oh, wonder! Without paying any attention to the food offered to it, listening only to the voice of Friar Antônio, the animal bends down when it hears the name of Jesus Christ and then prostrates on its knees in front of the Sacrament of Life as if to adore it.
Because of this, Catholics burst into expressions of enthusiasm, while Albigensian is overwhelmed with stupor and confusion.
However, the mule owner keeps the word of honor given to St. Anthony, abjures heresy, and becomes a faithful son of the Church.
(P. Eugene Couet, Miracles Historiques du Saint Sacrément, 3rd ed., pp. 170-172)
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