Near the cathedral in Lisbon there was a handsome mansion, where a noble soldier lived who had fought very bravely for the liberty of his country. This was the father of the little Ferdinand, afterwards called Anthony of Padua.
From a baby this child’s good mother tried to plant in his heart a great love to God, and her constant prayer was that he might become a priest. As soon as he was old enough, little Ferdinand was sent to school to the priests at the cathedral, and he grew very fond of prayer, often getting up in the night to be present when they said the Divine Office. Every one noticed the thoughtful face and modest behaviour of this boy, and his parents soon felt sure that God had called him to His own service; so at the age of fifteen he went to the canons of Saint Vincent, where he received the habit of a religious. But while he was there, Ferdinand saw his friends so often that he began to desire to be more separated from them, lest they should take any of his thoughts or love from God, so he went to his superior and begged to be allowed to go to another convent.
At first the prior refused to let him go, but Ferdinand pleaded so hard that he obtained leave to make this change, and bid farewell to his native place. The monks at the Holy Cross were those who received him next; and as Ferdinand advanced in the love of God, and grew more holy and humble, it was plain that he had done well to come amongst them.
His love to his brothers was so great, that although his greatest joy was to be present at holy Mass, he would give it up quite willingly to help any of them in the commonest work of the house if his superior bid him go; and no matter where he was, or what he might be doing, when he heard the bell at the Elevation he would adore Jesus upon his knees just the same as if he had been before the altar.
Near to Ferdinand’s convent there was a community of Franciscans, who had a chapel dedicated to Saint Anthony the Abbot, and here the young religious loved to pray, and talk to the monks of the joys of heaven and the goodness of God. The great poverty of these Franciscan friars made a great impression upon him. He loved, too, the austere life they led, and a great desire came into his heart to live under their rule, and gain souls to God by preaching the faith as they did.
About this time there came the news that five Franciscans had been martyred in Morocco, and their remains were to be brought to Coimbra. Great preparations were made to show the joy which the people felt in having these holy relics in their city, and a procession; with the bishop and priests, went out to meet them.
The king and queen, with many of the court, walked by the side of the mule which carried these relics of the martyrs to the cathedral, where they were to be placed. But nothing could persuade the animal to go that way; in spite of all that was done to force it into the right road, it turned obstinately towards the convent of the Holy Cross, into the church itself, and there bent its knees before the high altar, staying so until its burden was taken from it.
Every one felt sure this could not have happened unless God had permitted it, so the relics remained with the monks of the Holy Cross, to their great joy. Ferdinand was constantly kneeling at the shrine, begging God to admit him into the order of Saint Francis, and to let him also shed his blood for Christ like those blessed martyrs had done, and once when he was praying so, the holy Francis appeared to him miraculously, bidding him become one of his friars.
After that Ferdinand sought his superior, telling him all that he wished, and this strange vision he had seen, and the monks let him go, although they were grieved to part with him. Hastening to the Franciscan convent, Ferdinand received their rough, coarse habit, and his name was changed to Anthony, in honour of the abbot to whom the chapel was dedicated. Now he found that he was in the place God called him to, which was to prepare him to work for the salvation of souls.
His great wish had been to go to Morocco, and after learning his new rule he was allowed to start upon the voyage to Africa. But directly he landed he became ill from fever, and during the winter which followed, he was never able to leave his bed. It was a hard trial, just when he seemed to have gained all he hoped for, but it was made known to him in prayer that his work was not to be done in Morocco, but amongst the Christians of Europe.
Anthony was only anxious to do what God desired, so he began at once to prepare to re- turn to Portugal, and started on his voyage. But a contrary wind drove the ship out of its course to the island of Sicily, so that they had to anchor at Messina. There were some Franciscans dwelling in the city, and Anthony hastened to them; but when he heard that nearly all the friars had gone to Assisi to meet their Father Francis, he set out also to that place, taking a young companion with him.
By the time Anthony arrived, the meeting was over, and the Franciscans were forming themselves into little companies to settle in different places; so he obtained leave to join one of them, who were going to the neighbourhood of Bologna, and there he was made cook for the others.
Anthony began his humble duties gladly, and would have been willing to remain always thus, leading a severe life, and keeping strict silence. On the mountain a cell had been hollowed out, which was so exposed to the heat of summer and the cold of winter that none could dwell there without great suffering of body, and here Anthony got leave to stay, receiving such graces from God, that he cared nothing for the hardness of his life.
But he was now twenty-seven years of age, and an order came for him to go with some other friars to Forli, to receive holy orders. Some young Dominican brothers were also there, and it happened after supper one night that some one proposed one of them should give an instruction to the rest. They all refused, saying they had made no preparation. The Franciscans were asked, and they also excused themselves, until the superior turned to Anthony – “You shall preach the word of God to us, then, since the others will not,” he said.
The Saint was very much distressed. He pleaded his ignorance, he said that he had no learning, and could only sweep and wash dishes; but in vain – he was forced to obey, and God gave him such eloquence and earnestness, as he spoke of the dignity of being called to the life of a priest, that every one present was astonished and delighted. His superiors were now sure that God intended Anthony to gain souls by his preaching, so they set him to study hard, that he might be ready for this duty, and also able to teach in the schools; and from this time Anthony became known by the power he gained over the hearts of others.
One day, when preaching at Bourges, so many people flocked to hear him that no building in the town was large enough to admit them, so a pulpit was formed in an open space outside the gates, to which the crowd followed him. Scarcely had Anthony begun his sermon than the bright summer day clouded over, and a flash of lightning was seen, which so terrified the people that they began to move off for shelter in the approaching storm; but the Saint cried out, “Christians, do not go away. Remain where you are, and I promise, in “the Name of our Lord that not a drop of rain shall fall on you.” The people remained still there as the holy preacher continued speaking to them, and though the rain fell heavily all round, and the crops in the fields were beaten down by hail-stones, the sky was bright and clear above the heads of the congregation, as a mark of the favour with which God regarded the words of Anthony.
A wonderful answer was once given to the Saint’s prayer, which has led to the great faith all Catholics have in his power with God, in finding for them things which they have missed or lost, and in helping them in every difficulty. A novice had been received into the house, who, unfortunately, gave way to the temptations of the evil one, and was led to turn from the good course he had begun, so that at length he ran away secretly from his brothers one night, carrying with him a psalter he had stolen from Saint Anthony. In those times books were far more difficult to obtain than they are nowadays, and the Saint being much grieved at his loss, knelt down before a crucifix to implore God to restore him his missing volume. Just then the thief was crossing a bridge, and some terrible monster rose up before him armed with a battle-axe; threatening to strike him if he did not at once return the psalter to his master.
The terrified youth hurried back to the monastery, and throwing himself at the feet of Saint Anthony, acknowledged his sin, and begged permission return to the communicty, which, being very penitent, he was allowed to do. Thus the Saint’s simplicity and confidence were rewarded by Heaven.
Part of his work was the giving of missions, and during one of these he was staying at the house of a gentleman who was very glad to have one so holy under his roof. But he felt some curiosity to know whter a man who preached so wonderfully gave any time in the night to study, instead of resting, so he rose up once and went noiselessly to the door of his guest’s chamber. A wondrous vision met his gaze, for through a chink of the door he saw that the room was glowing with light, and there was a most lovely child, whom Saint Anthony was embracing in a rapture of love. It was, indeed, the Lord Jesus in the form of an infant, and as this gentleman gazed with awe and reverence, he saw the Saint bow before his Infant Saviour again and again, then rise once more to lavish upon Him the most tender caresses. In the morning Anthony sent for his host, beseeching him never in his lifetime to reveal what he had seen, for God had made it known to the Saint that he had been secretly watched; the promise was given and faithfully kept.
In this way Anthony pursued his course through the countries of Italy and Sicily; preaching the faith, teaching the simple and ignorant, encouraging those who needed help, but he was always closely united to God, and no cares or anxieties caused him to lose the thought of the Divine Presence.
Wonderful success attended his preaching, for his fervent love drew souls to God, and many miracles were permitted to be worked by him; yet, like his Lord, he was hated and falsely accused by many who wished to injure him. Once a party of heretics asked him to dine, in the hope of getting him to eat some poisoned meats, which would end his life, but God showed Saint Anthony what had been done, and he spoke to these unhappy men very lovingly and earnestly of the sin they had tried to commit. Then one of them promised for himself and the others, that if the Saint would show them the power of God, by eating of these dishes without being hurt by them, they would all be baptized. By himself Anthony could not have done this, but by the power of the Almighty, he knew that it was possible, and lifting up his heart to Heaven in prayer, he accepted their offer, and eat the poisoned food without being hurt by it in the least way. The heretics were so struck by .this proof of God’s protecting care, that they kept their word, and giving up their errors, were received into the Church of Christ.
Anthony now had worked hard in preaching and teaching, he began to long for a quiet time alone with God, so he went to Mount Alvernia (where Saint Francis had received the marks of Christ’s sacred Passion), that he might give himself wholly to prayer and penance. For some while he dwelt there in a little hut, which was miserable to look at, but in his eyes a happy, blessed spot, because God gave him so many helps and graces there; but when Lent came he left it to go and preach his last mission in the city of Padua.
People had always flocked round him, but never so many followed him as at that time, even from the villages and towns round about; and in order to secure good places, they thought nothing of collecting near his pulpit over-night, so that they might be ready to hear him preach God’s Word next morning.
The town itself looked almost deserted, the shops were closed, for scarce any one thought of buying and selling – the people were listening eagerly to the earnest words of Anthony, and they even pressed near him when he passed to his dwelling, trying to touch his habit or to cut morsels from it, which they Preserved aa relics.
During this mission God allowed the devil to visit His servant one night when he had gone to rest very weary with the day’s toil, and Anthony was nearly strangled by him; but making the sign of the Cross, he began to sing a little Latin hymn to the Blessed Virgin, and at the mention of her name the tempter vanished and appeared to him no more, whilst the cell was illumined with a golden light which filled his soul with joy.
At length the mission ended, and Anthony being aware that he would not live long, obtained leave to go to a quiet little convent about four miles from the city, where he might prepare his soul to meet God.
Close by in the forest, there was a little cave, to which he went for greater retirement, but feeling his weakness greater, he set out for Padua, that he might die there.
However, it was at Ara Coeli that he passed away, at a convent just outside the city, where he had every care which could be given him in the hope that his useful life might last yet a little longer; but God’s Will was that Anthony should die, and he grew quickly worse. On the 13th of June, after receiving Holy Communion, his face was raised to heaven, glowing with such an unearthly light that some one by his bed-side asked at what he was gazing. “Dear brothers,” he answered, “I behold my Lord.”
Then a priest hastened to anoint him, with the brothers kneeling round, mingling tears with their prayers, and his soul passed peacefully away, without a struggle or sign of pain being visible.
The gates of Ara Coeli were crowded when the news spread; men and women flocked there questioning and weeping, little children ran about the streets saying, “Alas! the Saint is dead,” and it was only with difficulty that the town could be kept in peace, so afraid were the inhabitants that the sacred body might be removed from Padua.
Five days after his death the Saint was buried in the church of Saint Mary’s, and upon the first day miracles were worked by touching the stone which covered his body. Lords and ladies knelt there with choice offerings, the poor whom he had loved, the sinful whom he had reconciled to God, all flocked to the spot, and it very soon became a place of pilgrimage for all Europe. Saint Anthony did not live to a great age, he died when he was but thirty-six years old; but it was a wonderful life of acts done for God, of days and years given to His service, of faithfulness to every inspiration of the Holy Spirit, which won for him the reward in this world of leading many souls to the feet of Christ crucified, and in heaven a place amongst the saints for ever.
– from , by Mary F Seymour