An extract from the homily of Cardinal Rodríguez-Maradiaga, as delivered on Day 4 of the International Eucharistic Congress, on the memorial of St Anthony of Padua.
To counteract the influence of the Patarina Heresy (a reformist movement that began in the North of Italy) and which had disfigured the dogma of the Real Presence, reducing the Eucharist to a simple historical evening meal, ‘just a mere memory’, Saint Anthony, preaching one day in Rimini fully illustrated the reality of the presence of Jesus in the Sacred Host. However, the leaders of the heresy did not accept the reasoning put forward by the Saint, and tried to discredit his arguments. One of the leaders said to him. ‘Fewer words now: if you want me to believe in this mystery, you will have to do the following miracle: I have a mule. I will keep her without food for three consecutive days. When the three days are passed we will come before her together, I with the grass and you with the sacrament. If the mule disregards the grass and goes and kneels and adores ‘your bread’, I will then adore it myself. The Saint accepted the challenge and went away to implore God’s help through prayer, fasting and penances.
For three days, the heretic deprived his mule of all food and then brought her out to the public square. At the same time, Saint Anthony came into the square on the opposite side, carrying in his hands a monstrance with the Body of Christ; all this in the presence of a multitude of people eager to know the result of this extraordinary challenge accepted by the Franciscan saint. Saint Anthony faced the hungry animal, and speaking to her, said: “In the name of that Lord whom I, although unworthy, hold in my hands, I command you to come and show reverence to your Creator, so that the malice of the heretics may be confounded and that all understand the truth of this most holy Sacrament which we the priests handle at the altar and (by which) all creatures are subject to their Creator”.
While the Saint spoke these words, the heretic was throwing barley to the mule so that it would eat, but the mule giving no attention to the food came forward step by step as if it had the use of reason and respectfully genuflected on both knees before the Saint who held elevated the Sacred Host and remained in that position until Saint Anthony gave it permission to get up.
The heretic, Bonvillo by name, fulfilled his promise and converted with all his heart to the catholic faith: The heretics recanted their errors and Saint Anthony, after giving the blessing with the Blessed Sacrament amid great applause and cheers, carried the monstrance in procession to the church where he gave thanks to God for the miracle and the conversion of so many brothers.
Beyond a spectacular miracle, what Saint Anthony taught regarding the Eucharist is the doctrine of the Church. First of all, it is a gift of the Lord, of which the priest is not the owner but the servant. The Eucharist is the most splendid Sacrament of the Presence of Christ; it is inevitable that the Eucharist has a transformative action in the heart of anyone who lives it. The Eucharist is a gift of love which will be only fully understood in eternity.