The Franciscan Martyrs Who Converted An Augustinian

We despise everything for the sake of Christ!

The Franciscan Protomartyrs, the first fruits of the Seraphic order to shed their blood for Christ, were martyred on this day in 1220 at the hands of the Sultan of Morocco.  They had travelled to Morocco to preach the Gospel to the Muslims, with the blessing of St. Francis himself.  They first went to Seville to evangelize but were apprehended.  When they began to preach Jesus Christ to the king he was enraged, and ordered them to be beheaded, but after consultation with others he changed his mind and ordered them to be sent on to Morocco as they wished.  In Marrakech they preached in the marketplace and were arrested, imprisoned for 20 days with no food or drink.  When they were brought out of prison, still steadfast in the Faith, they were severely tortured and beaten.  Then, still bloody and with hands bound, stripped and without shoes, they were brought before the Sultan.  He presented them with women, promising to give them to the friars as wives, as well as much money, if they would embrace Islam.  “Be converted to our faith and I will give you these women and much money besides.  You will be held in honor in my realm.”  The friars replied, “The women and your money we do not want; we despise everything for the sake of Christ.”  At this, the Sultan became enraged, took up a sword, and fractured the skull of each friar in turn before finally beheading them.

After their martyrdom King Afonso ransomed their bodies, and they were brought back to Portugal on their way to Assisi.  It was at the monastery of Santa Cruz, which belonged to the Augustinian Canons, that the young guest master, Friar Fernando welcomed the bodies of the Protomartyrs.  His encounter with the relics of the five Franciscans lit within this Augustinian priest a zealous flame to shed his blood for Christ.  He sought permission to leave the Canons Regular and enter the newly founded Friars Minor, which had begun eleven years before.  Fernando had some acquaintance with the life of these mendicants, because some Franciscans had settled in Coimbra and were living in a hermitage dedicated to St. Anthony of the Desert (whose feast day is tomorrow).  It was here that Fernando came when he was first moved by the martyred bodies of Friar Berard and companions, declaring, “Brother, I would gladly put on the habit of your Order if you would promise to send me as soon as possible to the land of the Saracens, that I may gain the crown of the holy martyrs.”   After the permission was granted to leave the Augustinians, he joined the Franciscans at Coimbra, taking the name Anthony after the patron of the hermitage.  He did travel to Morocco, but because of poor health had to board a ship back to Portugal, which was blown off course, landing in Sicily. Eventually he was assigned to a hermitage near Forli, living in a cave immersed in study and prayer.  It was here that he was first recognized, seemingly by chance (when there was no one assigned to preach at an ordination of Franciscan and Dominican priests), as an incredibly skilled preacher.  His Augustinian study and training combined with his simple Franciscan Gospel living made this mendicant’s preaching effective and powerful.

His first inspiration, to shed his blood in preaching the Gospel to the Muslims, was never fulfilled, but God wove that thread into a different tapestry, giving the Franciscans their first teacher, and the world an eloquent preacher, renowned for his knowledge of the scriptures and his miracles.  Although the Franciscan Protomartyrs weren’t successful in converting the Muslims, in a sense they converted an Augustinian, now known to us as St. Anthony of Padua, who lit the world on fire with his prayer and preaching.

Friars Berard, Peter, Adjute, Accurs & Odo, pray for us!

Sardines & Lillies – St. Anthony Customs

Boas festas de Santo Antonio! None of us speak Portuguese, so If that’s not exactly correct you can blame Google translator.  On this blessed feast of our city’s patron saint we learned a few new things.  First off, we heard in the homily today that because he was such an eloquent preacher and drew such large crowds (some 30,000 people gathered to hear his last sermon), people used to sleep overnight in the churches so they would be sure of getting a spot.  Don’t you wish we had that problem today?

In Lisbon they celebrate a sardine festival around his feast day, commemorating the famous miracle where he preached to the fishes and they listened.  There is also a custom in some places of blessing lilies on his feast day, a symbol of his purity, as you often see in paintings or statues of him.  There’s even a blessing for lilies which you can find here.  There are so many customs and traditions we could list that surround St Anthony we could fill a book.  He is one the Church’s most beloved saints, a great preacher and miracle-worker.

There’s a great online source here where you can read many of his sermons.  This is nice because sometimes we know more about the miracles a saint performed than about the words they spoke, and reading his homilies where he unlocks scripture reminds one of the Church Fathers.

Here is an excerpt from a homily he preached on Pentecost.  He compares the poison tongues of Adam, Eve and the serpent to the cleansing tongues of fire on Pentecost.  And of course he had no idea when he was preaching that nearly 800 years after his death his own tongue would be preserved incorrupt, a testament to the holiness of this Franciscan preacher who proclaimed the Truth of Christ to all he encountered.

(A sermon on the three tongues: of the serpent, of Eve and of Adam; and on the four natures of fire, and their meaning: From the four winds there came.)
3. And there appeared to them parted tongues as it were of fire, and it sat upon everyone of them; because it was by tongues (namely those of the serpent, Eve and Adam) that death entered into the world [cf. Wisd 2.24]. The tongue of the serpent was poison to Eve, the tongue of Eve poisoned Adam, and Adam’s tongue tried to turn the blame back on God. The tongue is a cold organ, surrounded by moisture; thus:  It is an unquiet evil, full of deadly poison [Jas 3.8], than which there is nothing colder. Therefore the Holy Spirit appeared in tongues of fire, to apply tongues to tongues, fire to deadly poison.

Note that fire has four natures: it burns, it cleanses, it warms, it gives light. Similarly the Holy Spirit burns away sins, cleanses hearts, shakes off sloth and enlightens ignorance.Fire is by nature incorporeal and invisible, but when it takes on a bodily form it appears in various colours, according to the materials in which it is burning. In the same way, the Holy Spirit cannot be seen except through the creatures in which he operates.
Note that the scattering of tongues came about at the tower of Babel. As pride scattered,so humility gathered together again. In pride is division, in humility concord. See how theLord’s promise was fulfilled:

I will not leave you orphans; but I will send the Spirit, the Paraclete
[cf. Jn 14.18,26]

who speaks for everyone as their Advocate. Coming on behalf of the Word, he came with tongues. The tongue represents knowledge expressed in words, and the two elements cannot be separated. So the Word of the Father (that is, the Son) and the Holy Spirit are inseparable, being indeed of one Nature.
Come, spirit, from the four winds and blow upon these slain and let them live again. [Ezek 37.9]

And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak with divers tongues, according as the Holy Spirit gave them to speak. Behold the sign of fullness. The full vessel overflows, and fire cannot be hidden. They spoke with every tongue; or else,though they spoke with their own (Hebrew) tongue, they were understood by all as if they spoke the proper tongue of each. The Holy Spirit, sharing with each as he will [cf.1Cor 12.11], breathes his grace where, how, how much, when and on whom he will. May he deign to breathe it on us, he who this day breathed his grace on the Apostles in tongues of fire. To him be always praise and glory, through everlasting ages. Amen

An Eloquent Preacher

M&C w Anthony Padua & Roch_Prado

De Maria numquam satis.
Of Mary, never enough!

This famous saying of St. Bernard is fitting also for today’s saint, Anthony of Padua (or St. Anthony of Portugal, as they say in the country of his birth).  St. Anthony, who also quoted the most eloquent St. Bernard quite often in his sermons, was an eloquent preacher himself – in fact, his tongue is incorrupt to this day as a super natural testament to his gift for preaching.  Born on the feast of the Assumption, Anthony would go on to develop a deep devotion to the Mother of God.  Today we begin a community retreat, and so we ask his intercession that these days may be fruitful and grace-filled.

Below is an excerpt from one of his Marian sermons, this one on the Annunciation.  You can find the entire sermon here, as well as many others.  Note how St. Anthony refers to Our Lady as Mediatrix (we’ve talked a little bit about Our Lady as Mediatrix on our recent radio shows)!
There follows:  And his glory shall be as the olive tree. This stands for peace and mercy.The blessed Virgin Mary, our mediatrix, re-established peace between God and the sinner; for which reason God says of her:  I will set my bow in the clouds. The two principal colours of the rainbow are those of water and of fire. Water, which nourishes all things, represents fecundity; fire, whose flame no sword can injure, represents the inviolate virginity of Mary. This is the sign of the covenant of peace between God and the sinner. It is also the olive-tree of mercy. Therefore blessed Bernard says, “You have a sure access to God, O man, where you have the mother standing before the Son, and the Son before the Father. The mother shows her heart and breasts to her Son, and the Son displays his side and wounds to the Father. There will be no refusal where so many signs of charity come together.”  
There follows:  And his smell as that of Libanus. Libanus means ‘whitening’, and it represents the whiteness of blessed Mary’s innocent life, the fragrance of which spreads everywhere, breathing life to the dead, pardon to the despairing, grace to the penitent and glory to the just.  
By her prayers and merits may the dew of the Holy Spirit refresh the fever of our minds, put away our sins, and infuse grace; that we may become fit to attain the glory of eternal and immortal life. May he grant this!

St. Anthony,Glory of the Friars Minor

Our little community here in San Antonio has a great love for the patron saint of our city.  It was St. Anthony’s intercession that brought us to Texas, and he continues to be a helper and a friend.  Below is the novena that we have prayed countless times,  not only as we discerned our calling to move to San Antonio, but also in months afterward, when we needed help from heaven to accomplish all the other tasks associated with beginning a new foundation. Continue reading