As St. Francis of Assisi, the Founder of the Order of Friars Minor, was ever a devout client of the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar, so were also the Sainted members of the three branches of the Seraphic Order, among them Saint Anthony of Padua, the Wonder-Worker, ever glowing lovers and defenders of the Eucharistic God-Man.
Various chronicles, foremost that of Wadding, relate an occurrence of the year 1225, which was frequently reproduced in art paintings, in the Middle Ages, by renowned artists, such as Botticelli and others.
Amongst the Saints, who with the sword of the living word never ceased to struggle for Catholic truth and Christian virtue, and continually waged a relentless warfare against untruth and error, against sin and vice, St. Anthony of Padua ever occupied a prominent place. He traveled through Italy, France, and Spain, went from village to village, and the conversion of innumerable sinners and heretics was the fruit of his sermons and of the miracles, which the Almighty wrought by his hand.
In the city of Rimini in Italy there lived a notorious heretic, Benipiglio by name. Because of his reputation he exercised a very great, though baneful, influence over the people, and by his seductive language had already induced the majority to deny the doctrine of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Eucharist. St. Anthony of Padua, on his apostolic journeys, also came to Rimini, and the great mystery of the Blessed Eucharist there formed the main burden of his sermons to the people. The mystery was denied by the greater portion of his audience, as they were mostly heretics. According to appearance, his persuasive argument had completely removed all opposition and contradiction, on the part of his audience, to the Eucharistic doctrine.
He had also entered upon a discussion with the notorious heretic Benipiglio, and strove by an increasing flow of Scripture arguments to press the heretic so unmercifully as to compel him to admit that he had been vanquished, and was unable for the moment to make any reply to the Saint’s powerful arguments.
But as heresy is generally linked with great obstinacy, Benipiglio continued in his heretical attack and thus accosted the Saint: “Cease your arguments and let us come to facts. if you are able to prove to me by a miracle that your doctrine is true, I will renounce my error and subject myself to the doctrine of your faith. You, indeed, refute me by words because you are a learned man, but I demand of you unassailable deeds that appeal to the eye, before I promise you that I shall believe what you teach.” The Saint entered upon the stipulated condition and permitted him to select the manner of proof for demonstration. After several moments of reflection, the heretic surmised he could greatly embarrass the Saint and expose him to shame and utter confusion by a peculiar challenge, wherefore he said to the Saint: “I have a mule at home and I shall not feed him for three days, and then I will lead him to the public market place, and in the sight of all the assembled people, I will place a pail of oats before the mule. At the same time you may approach the mule with your Blessed Sacrament. If, then, the hungry beast will leave the oats untouched, and instead turn to that which you style the Blessed Sacrament, to your host, and give sign and proof of his veneration and adoration for the same, I shall deem myself conquered, and I shall embrace the Catholic faith and accept the doctrine of the Real Presence.”
“I accept your challenge,” said St. Anthony, confiding in the power and the mercy of God, resting assured that Divine Providence would not suffer him and the faith in the Blessed Sacrament to be confounded. Benipiglio and his associates publicly ridiculed the Saint, for they were even now confident of a glorious victory.
During the three days the news of the Saint’s intention and proposition had been noised abroad throughout the whole territory, and on the third day immense throngs of people had gathered in the market place. The Catholics occupied one side of the public square, and the heretics the other.
On the appointed day, St. Anthony, with greatest devotion, celebrated Mass in a chapel near by. As he arrived at Holy Communion, he took the large Host, the Body of the Lord, in his right hand and accompanied by the officials and noblemen of the city bearing lighted torches, he walked to the public square, where a great multitude of people were eagerly expecting him. The heretic had already brought his mule, and when the Saint arrived with the Blessed Sacrament, the heretic, Benipiglio, placed before his mule a large pail of oats. The beast looked about, scented the oats, and was about to rush for the pail of oats, when St. Anthony, filled with a burning zeal and an unfaltering faith in the great mystery, approached the mule and said: “In the name of the Lord, whom, notwithstancIing my utter unworthiness, I hold in my hands, in this host, I command you instantly to halt, and then step forward and cast yourself down upon your knees to the earth before your Creator, that the malice of heretics be put to shame and all may know and profess the truth of this great mystery.” Whilst the Saint was thus speaking, the heretic began to spread oats before the mule, and strove to entice him in coaxing tones. But the mule, without even turning aside to look upon the oats, bowed his head down towards the Saint, then stepped forward and cast himself down upon his knees before the Blessed Sacrament as if to make his act of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
The people, aroused by this stupendous occurrence, burst forth into great jubilation, whilst the heretic withdrew full of shame and confusion.
A great number of heretics, above all Benipiglio, who had instigated the challenge, gave thanks to the Almighty for this wondrous miracle, publicly confessed the truth of the glorious Mystery of the Altar and the Real Presence, and truly repented, returned to the bosom of Holy Church.
Again St. Anthony, the hammer of heretics, had by a stupendous miracle given proof against the most stubborn heretics of the truth of the Most Sublime Mystery of the Catholic Church, the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar.
St. Anthony of Padua, ora pro nobis!
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