Sunday, June 13, 2010

The miracle worker

Today is the Feast of St. Anthony so in his honor I was listening to one of my favorite songs by Gustav Mahler, "St. Anthony of Padua's Sermon to the Fishes."

I even posted it on Facebook. I know... Geek! Nerd! But it is a great song and a great performance. This video even has a translation. It is a funny story about how St. Anthony preaches to the fishes and they enjoy the sermon but they stay the way they always were. It is just like people! That is the point of the story.

The story, by the way, is true and it is one of the documented miracles of St. Anthony. He went out and preached to the fishes and they stuck their heads out of the water and listened to him. That is a picture of the event above and here is another.

St. Anthony has special powers and he had them even when he was alive. I love the description of him in the missal I take to church. "One of the greatest Franciscan Saints, St. Anthony was a profound theologian, a brilliant preacher, a formidable foe to heresy and a terror to heretics, through the supernatural forces which seemed always at his command."

I love that line about the supernatural forces at his command. It is the truth!

I was thinking of all the times St. Anthony has come through for me. One of the greatest times I do not think I ever got around to writing. After it happened I was just too stunned and then I kept saving the story for a rainy day.

Today is a rainy day! So, here goes.

This was a couple of months ago. And it had been weighing on my mind for a few weeks how I was missing this CD. I mean, I am always losing CDs, but this one was special. It had been sent to me by a friend at the International Piano Archives who has been very helpful to me and it is of Leonard Pennario playing Mozart's "Coronation" Concerto. And there is also an interview with Pennario.

And this CD had gone missing. I kept thinking about it. I mean, I could get in touch with my buddy at the Archives and I am sure he would send me another one. But it was so nice of him the first time and I did not want him to think me careless. I did not know how I could have misplaced this thing. I even had Howard bring home my old laptop which was over at his office. I was hoping maybe I had loaded the CD onto the laptop. No such luck!

I searched the office, meanwhile. And this box where I keep a lot of Leonard stuff. It was not anywhere!

Finally, one morning, I was downstairs getting my coffee and I asked St. Anthony about it. I say prayers a lot in the morning, I am realizing, because I am the only one up and I can pray out loud without sounding like an idiot.

I explained the business to St. Anthony about this CD and I remember I said it was not exactly an emergency, but if St. Anthony could get around to finding this CD for me, I would be grateful.

Then I went upstairs to the computer and was working on the book and to be honest, I forget about my prayer.

All of a sudden it was as if I heard this little voice. I mean, I did not actually hear a voice, I am not that nuts. But something intruded on my thoughts, this voice.

"Don't you want to find your CD?" it said.

And I looked up and kind of shook my head and laughed. There was no way I was going to start looking for this CD, not now. I had looked everywhere. I was not going to waste my morning looking again. St. Anthony would find it for me whenever.

"Just look," I heard. And I kind of shrugged. I am not moving, I thought. And I did not move. But to humor the voice, I kind of glanced at the floor.

And there was this CD, under the desk, face down.

"No way," I said out loud. I mean, I had looked all over the office. But just for the heck of it, I reached down and picked it up. I seem to remember I rolled my eyes as I did that.

It was it. It was that CD.

I actually got a shiver. You know the way you get when you see something you cannot explain. I had to kind of sit there for a while and get my head together. Because in that minute I just knew that there was this power out there, and I was very close to it. When St. Anthony finds something for you I do not think it is just a favor he is doing for you. I think it is his way of reminding you that what you believe is real.

I think that is my greatest St. Anthony story. There is a funny postscript. I went to church and told Father Secondo over at St. Anthony's about it and he was laughing. He reminded me of that other time when St. Anthony found that Mozart record I was looking for.

"I think St. Anthony likes Mozart," he said.


Larry said...

Mary said: "I think it is his way of reminding you that what you believe is real."

How profound. That hits me harder than the St. Anthony story!

Bill said...

That's not how I understand the story of the fishes at all.

"St Anthony being at one time at Rimini, where there were a great number of heretics, and wishing to lead them by the light of faith into the way of truth, preached to them for several days....They not only resisted his words, but were hardened and obstinate, refusing to listen to him.

"At last St Anthony, inspired by God, went down to the sea-shore, where the river runs into the sea, and ... said: "Listen to the word of God, O ye fishes of the sea and of the river, seeing that the faithless heretics refuse to do so."

"No sooner had he spoken these words than suddenly so great a multitude of fishes, both small and great, approached the bank on which he stood, that never before had so many been seen in the sea or the river. All kept their heads out of the water, and seemed to be looking attentively on St Anthony's face; all were ranged in perfect order and most peacefully....

"St Anthony began to preach to them most solemnly, saying: "My brothers the fishes, you are bound, as much as is in your power, to return thanks to your Creator, who has given you so noble an element for your dwelling; for you have at your choice both sweet water and salt; you have many places of refuge from the tempest; you have likewise a pure and transparent element for your nourishment. God, your bountiful and kind Creator, when he made you, ordered you to increase and multiply, and gave you his blessing. In the universal deluge, all other creatures perished; you alone did God preserve from all harm. He has given you fins to enable you to go where you will. To you was it granted, according to the commandment of God, to keep the prophet Jonas, and after three days to throw him safe and sound on dry land. You it was who gave the tribute-money to our Savior Jesus Christ, when, through his poverty, he had not wherewith to pay. By a singular mystery you were the nourishment of the eternal King, Jesus Christ, before and after his resurrection. Because of all these things you are bound to praise and bless the Lord, who has given you blessings so many and so much greater than to other creatures."

"At these words the fish began to open their mouths, and bow their heads, endeavouring as much as was in their power to express their reverence and show forth their praise."

St Anthony, seeing the reverence of the fish towards their Creator, rejoiced greatly in spirit, and said with a loud voice: "Blessed be the eternal God; for the fishes of the sea honour him more than men without faith, and animals without reason listen to his word with greater attention than sinful heretics."

And whilst St Anthony was preaching, the number of fishes increased, and none of them left the place that he had chosen. And the people of the city hearing of the miracle, made haste to go and witness it. With them also came the heretics of whom we have spoken above, who, seeing so wonderful and manifest a miracle, were touched in their hearts; and threw themselves at the feet of St Anthony to hear his words. The saint then began to expound to them the Catholic faith. He preached so eloquently, that all those heretics were converted, and returned to the true faith of Christ; the faithful also were filled with joy, and greatly comforted, being strengthened in the faith.

"After this St Anthony sent away the fishes, with the blessing of God; and they all departed, rejoicing as they went....

Granted, your way is funnier, but it is also inconsistent with the fundamental optimism which is at the core of Catholic teaching. The point of the story-- as with most stories of this sort-- is that redemption is always possible.

I also like the idea of a friar preaching to fishes.

Mary Kunz Goldman said...

Bill, thanks for that beautiful explanation! I love your telling of that fish story.

I think our discrepancy lies in how the song is different from the actual story. I should have gone into more detail about it -- it was a German folk poem that Mahler set to music. The song ends with the fish being unchanged. It goes into big detail of the fish and their various moral issues and how they are struck by the beauty of St. Anthony's words but in the end they shrug and stay the way they always were.

I guess you could call that pessimistic but I am always struck by the song's tender approach to both the fishes and to St. Anthony. It always strikes me as so affectionate, the wry words and Mahler's gently humorous kind of klezmer melody.

Continuing to philosophize, I think there have to be some people who, no matter how inspired and brilliant St. Anthony was, turned a deaf ear to his words. There always are people like that and I do not think it is against Catholic teaching to say so. Plus the fact that St. Anthony has been so good to me makes me hope he does not mind ...

Again though it is great to set the record straight as to the actual story of what really happened. Thank you!!

Mary Kunz Goldman said...

I have to modify what I said before... instead of that there are people who turned a deaf ear to St. Anthony's words, there were people who, what he was saying just went over their heads. Or it made no ultimate change in their lives. That happens! OK, back to work with me now.