Saint of the Day – 8 August – Venerable Antonio Margil of Jesus OFM (1657-1726) Franciscan Priest and Friar, Missionary, ascetic, mystic, miracle-worker, apostle of prayer and penance, administrator, known as the “Apostle of New Spain and Texas” and the “Flying Father” – born Antonio Margil on 18 August 1657 in Valencia, Spain and died on 6 August 1726 in Mexico City, Mexico aged 68, of natural causes.
Venerable Antonio laboured tirelessly as missionary, miracle-worker, servant of the Lord throughout the Americas. While others gave him such laudable nicknames, ever humble Antonio referred to himself as “La Misma Nada,” translated as “Nothingness Itself.” At his eulogy, it was said of him: “All America was the witness and the scene of his virtues and miracles . To trace his journeys among the pagans, turn your eyes to east and west, to north and south and you will find him in all these places, leading a very austere life, crossing mountains, combating the evil spirits until he had triumphantly planted his foundations. The widely scattered provinces of Nicaragua and Costa Rica, of Honduras and Chol and Panama, of Coahuila and Tejas – all of them heard his apostolic voice.”
Antonio was born in Valencia, Spain and at the young age of 15 joined the Franciscan Order at La Corona de Cristo. Ordained at 25, he was assigned to “New Spain” and made the voyage to Mexico where he was initially stationed at the newly established Mission college of Queretaro. Like other new world missionaries (for example, Junipero Serra in California, twenty-five years later), Antonio encountered difficult living and harsh conditions. Never one to complain, he embraced his challenges as mortifications, offering his sufferings to the Lord for the sake of those he preached to.
Over the course of his life, Antonio would travel throughout Mexico and Central America. His first two missions were to Guatemala and Nicaragua, where he founded colleges. He became known for his fierce preaching, life of penance and prayers, miracle-working and ability to read souls. He survived multiple attacks, including being burned in a pile of flaming wood by the Talamanca Indians. Rather than be injured, he walked unharmed from the pyre as the flames died. Similarly, reports were told of Anthony walking across swollen streams or rivers without getting wet and multiplied small quantities of food so that entire villages could eat for months on end.
While on his mission, Antonio received notice that he had been elected Father Guardian (Superior) of the Holy Cross Monastery in Queretero. Requested to return, he left immediately, covering the 700 mile distance barefoot (without a mule) in only 14 days. Once at the monastery, Father Antonio governed fairly and through his own example of exact observance of the Rule of the Order, penance, mortification, fasting and prayer. His favourite devotion was to that of the Stations of the Cross, which he prayed through the streets each Friday, barefoot, carrying a large cross, with a rope around his neck and a crown of thorns atop his head. In Guatemala alone, he established more than 2,500 Ways of the Cross to encourage this devotion.
Similarly, in a miraculous occurrence, a tree sprouted and grew in the courtyard garden of the monastery where Anthony stuck his walking stick into the ground one afternoon. After a few days, it became clear that the walking stick had sprouted and began growing into a tree. The miraculous tree produces a series of small thorns, each it the form of a cross along its trunk and branches. Each cross, in turn, presents three smaller thorns recognising the spikes of the crucifixion. The tree, which is unlike any other in the world, continues to grow in the monastery courtyard today.
At approximately the age of 60, Antonio was appointed vice-commissary of Missions of New Spain and was granted the right to establish missions wherever he thought the most work for the Lord could be accomplished. Having heard of the Indians of Texas, who lived in horrible conditions, he became intent on journeying to Texas to establish missions on their behalf. The journey was difficult due to weather, hostile animals and Indian tribes, insects, reptiles, hunger and lack of water. He was repeatedly captured and tortured, beaten and left for dead but never gave up. Walking barefoot through the harsh terrain, he established multiple missions throughout the region. Bringing nothing with him, he relied each day on the provisions of the Lord, which were never withheld from him.
Throughout his journeys, Antonio worked further miracles, kept peace between natives and settlers and founded multiple missions—some of which needed to be abandoned during the war between France and Spain in 1719. One of his most famous miracles occurred during a journey from Nacogdoches when his band of travellers found themselves without water and with no hope of finding any. Faint with thirst, Antoniosaid: “Fear not, do not be dismayed. Trust in God, for in a short time you shall have water.” Then striking a rock in the dry creek bed twice with his staff, fresh and clear water gushed forth and continues to flow to this day. The area is named in his honour.
Given Antonio’s great success at missionary work and the unmatched peace-keeping and influence, he had on all he encountered, he was sent on various missions in his elder years including travel to Zacatecas, Guadalajar, and other towns. These rigorous trips took their toll on his declining health and it soon became clear that he would not live much longer. When the people noted this, they began to surround him, cutting pieces from his travel cloak as holy relics. He was sent to Mexico City for medical attention and upon arrival declared to his superior: “Reverend Father Superior, the donkey has come here to deposit its burden.”
Antonio insisted on making a last confession, which due to the nature of his life, was quite short (given that he had few faults to confess). His confessor, having difficulty finding sufficient sin to absolve him of, paused with a look of wonder and confusion. Seeing this, Antonio said, “If Your Reverence should see a ball of gold suspended by a hair, though gold is very heavy, would you think that it was supported by itself? Now, I have been a poor creature, liable to fall at any moment and if God had not kept His omnipotent hand over me, I do not know what I might have done.”
His illness lasted five days, but he never complained of sufferings or asked the least relief, although he suffered greatly. He was heard preaching, singing hymns, invoking the holy names of Jesus and Mary, reprimanding sinners with kindness and charity and reciting the Rosary. On 5 August, a picture of Our Lady of Remedies, the Patroness of Valencia, his hometown in Spain,was brought to him and he greeted her lovingly saying, “Until tomorrow, my dearly beloved Lady.” The following day, on the feast of the Transfiguration, he died peacefully. Just short of his 69th birthday, Antonio had served the Lord with profound humility for nearly 53 years, 43 of which as a missionary in North and Central America.
When notice of his death was given, all the bells of the Mexico City began to ring announcing it. Citizens of all ages and conditions lined up to see the mortal remains of the Servant of God, exposed for three days in the Franciscan church and surrounded by guards to protect it from the multitudes. His face, pallid in life, had now assumed a rosy hue, his limbs remained flexible, his flesh warm. His feet, worn to leather and covered with rough calluses from the thousands of miles he had trod, became soft and supple like those of a child.
Shortly after his death the process for beatification was begun. But because of grave political situation in Europe, the process was interrupted and only in 1836 was he declared Venerable by Pope Gregory XVI.
Why he is not a saint yet? In 1992 the archivist of the Vatican Congregation for Causes of Saints and the Franciscan promoter of the cause, stated as soon as there is an approved miracle attributed to the intercession of Fr Margil, he will be beatified and then after a second miracle, he will be Canonised. Miracles can be reported to The Margil House of Studies, in Houston, Tx.