Saint Anthony Preaches to the Fishes
One day, Saint Anthony was in the Italian city of Rimini, where a good number of heretics lived. Saint Anthony preached to them, hoping to win them over to Christ. But they did not care to listen to his words. So Anthony decided to go to the river near the sea. He stood on the bank between the river and the sea. Since the heretics had refused to pay attention to him, Anthony invited the fishes to come near and listen to the word of God.
Suddenly, a great number of large and small fishes came before him and, as they held their heads out of the water, they listened to his sermon. This they did peacefully and meekly. Then Saint Anthony spoke in this way: “My brother and sister fishes, you must thank your Creator with much gratitude because he has given you such a noble element for your dwelling place, as well as many kinds of food to eat. He has given you fins also, so you can roam the waters as you like!”
Some of the fishes began to open their mouths and nod their heads as a way of praising God. On seeing this, Saint Anthony rejoiced and cried out: “How blessed is the Creator! For the fishes give God more honor and praise than the heretics do. The fishes may lack the gift of reason, but these creatures of the sea pay more attention to the words of Anthony than do these faithless heretics.”
Saint Francis Preaches to the Birds
One day, Saint Francis of Assisi walked into a wooded place where a large gathering of birds had assembled. Saint Francis simply strolled among them. He began speaking to them as though they understood what he was saying.
As he walked about, Saint Francis invited them to listen to the word of God. “O birds, my dear brothers and sisters,” he said, “you should always praise your Creator. For God has given you feathers and wings for flying. He provides you with pure air—and cares for you, so that you have no need to worry at all.”
As he spoke, the birds showed their excitement by stretching their necks and extending their wings, opening their beaks, and watching Saint Francis attentively. Saint Francis moved among the birds, brushing against them with his habit. Yet not one of them moved until the man of God gave them his blessing—and permission to leave. Then they all flew happily away!
His companions had been waiting on the road and they saw everything. When he walked back to rejoin them, Saint Francis, simple man that he was, began to accuse himself of negligence because he had never thought to preach to the birds before.
A famous fresco by Giotto, a 13th-century painter, portrays a similar scene. In it, Saint Francis and another friar are standnig by a tree where a number of birds have gathered on the ground and are looking intently at Saint Francis. The saint has his hand raised in gentle blessing as he bends toward the birds in a spirit of reverence and wonder.
Giotto’s whole fresco exudes a sense of the goodness of God and of the sacredness of all God’s creatures.
Banner illustration by Heidi Younger.