13 June 2024

Pride Month vs. the Hammer of Heretics

St 'Anthony’s feast day ... falls in the midst of pride month. Catholics are bombarded with flags and mottos that stand against biological truths and the true nature of love. ... For guidance on how to respond, we need St. Anthony.'

From Crisis

By Thomas Griffin

Through the life and witness of the saint of Padua, we can learn how to navigate our time of heresies as well.

June 13th is the feast day of St. Anthony of Padua (1195-1231). On this day, in 1231, 36-year-old Anthony, a Franciscan priest, was given last rites and died. Although most people are familiar with St. Anthony because he is the patron saint of lost objects, his nickname during his lifetime was “The Hammer of Heretics.” It is this title, and his true impact, that we need to recover instead of any important material object. 

Anthony’s feast day also falls in the midst of pride month. Catholics are bombarded with flags and mottos that stand against biological truths and the true nature of love. Many of us will be angry and upset. We might be pushed to shake our heads or be brought to absolute confusion concerning how our culture arrived in this place. For guidance on how to respond, we need St. Anthony. 

Like St. Francis of Assisi, who was Anthony’s contemporary, the saint of Padua is also frequently misunderstood. Francis did not simply love animals and recite poetry. He was completely captivated by Christ and gave his entire being over to serving Him. In similar fashion, Anthony was not a human lost and found. Anthony’s most important qualities were his simplicity and his ability to preach the Gospel. 

Originally born in Portugal, Anthony’s birth name was Ferdinand. At the age of 15, he entered the Augustinian order to respond to a calling to dedicate his life to prayer and silence. Years later, Ferdinand was able to see the bodies of the first five Franciscan martyrs, who died preaching in Morocco. These friars had felt called to evangelize in the Muslim territory, and it cost them their lives.

Ferdinand was moved and inspired. He experienced a second call and desired to join the Franciscans and preach in similar territories. Once he was given permission to join the Franciscans, he never made it across the sea due to his own illness. He took the name of Anthony and spent long hours in prayer. He also hid his deep wisdom of theology and the Scriptures. Rather than seeking to be in the spotlight, Anthony spent the time he had outside of chapel humbly serving his brothers in the kitchen.

Everything changed one day when he was invited to give an unprepared speech at a meal following the ordination of some Dominicans and Franciscans in 1222. His words were brilliant and moving. Within a short period of time, even St. Francis heard of his gift for preaching. He made Anthony a theology teacher and commissioned him to go on preaching journeys. 

Over the course of a few years, Anthony embarked on nearly 400 trips all over Italy and France. Many times, he desired to go to the regions that had the most outspoken heretics. Even though his nickname appears to allude to a violent approach to evangelizing, Anthony would preach the vigor and vitality of the Faith rather than verbally attack his opponents. The conversion result was still as effective as using a hammer against the tip of a nail. 

Through the life and witness of the saint of Padua, we can learn how to navigate our time of heresies as well. We ought to use his strategy during pride month because his strategy was that of Jesus Christ. First, Anthony was a man of deep prayer. It was his knowledge of Christ as a real, living person that fed his entire life and ministry. Experiencing the presence of Christ in the Eucharist and in the Sacred Scriptures became his fuel. Intimacy with God was the motivation for his desire to travel and preach. 

While we don’t use the terminology of heresy in our conversations, we all know people who either knowingly or unknowingly teach “truths” against Church teaching. During the month of June, we now see this prominently displayed on television networks, at local shops, on government buildings, and on social media. There are huge numbers of individuals who stand against Church teaching. This is an indisputable fact. Some are inside of the Church and some are outside. Either way, like St. Anthony, we must have the courage to face these false teachings head-on. Before we do so, however, we must be rooted in a life of prayer. 

While many Americans become enraged by the month of June, we can learn from St. Anthony. Let the depth of your relationship with Christ be the true motivator for your response to pride month. Do not allow it to hurt your prayer life. Do not allow false teaching to strip you of the amount of time you spend in prayer each day. Make it an opportunity to double down on your commitment to know Jesus as a real, living person and to pray for those who don’t believe in His teachings. 

Second, Anthony was deeply humble. Rather than bask in attention, he served as a kitchen assistant for years. He did not speak in public. Instead, he desired to take hold of lowly tasks so that he could become more Christ-like. The amazing part of this quality of St. Anthony is that he didn’t commit to this for a short period of time—he did it for years. 

Today, it is so easy to seek the spotlight and look for attention—whether it is trying to be the focal point of a conversation by demeaning others, or through the endless posting of information on social media. Anthony teaches us that committing to the small tasks with our whole heart is a key ingredient to being a disciple. Rather than consuming yourself with the everlasting debates and bickering on social media this month, love your family and serve those closest to you at work or in your community. 

Be a humble servant. Commit to being a “kitchen assistant” like Anthony. Through prayer and sacrificial service, become like Christ so that you are prepared for the time when you are called to defend the Faith. 

Finally, Anthony was a profoundly positive preacher. He converted heretics through his effective hammer; but his tactic was the power of truth. Anthony accomplished this by explaining the Scriptures and showing the beauty of Jesus’ teachings. Through this approach, he did not have to attack the heretic because they would be convicted by the words of God Himself. When we preach the Gospel truth about the nature of love, marriage, and the family, we can be confident of the same impact; but we must preach Jesus. 

This can be seen by viewing one of Anthony’s sermons for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost. He explained the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector at prayer in the Temple (Luke 18:9-14). The tax collector, “conscious of his own wickedness, stood at a distance, reckoning himself unworthy of actually entering the temple. The Pharisee thought he was near, but he was distant; the tax collector thought himself distant, but was near.” 

When we hear the slogans of “free love” and “love is love,” it is Catholics that can appear to be living as the heretics of true love and tolerance. However, we must cling to the faith of the tax collector from the parable. Let us humbly acknowledge our own sins, pray to God for strength, and be consoled by the fact that we are doing our best to actually be near to the truth and to God.

If we do that, slowly but surely, the hammer will fall and conversions will arise.  

St. Anthony of Padua, pray for us.

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