The Catholic Thing
Credo Print E-mail
By Brad Miner   
Monday, 06 June 2011

Every Sunday, Catholics recite the Nicene Creed (the wording of which will change slightly on November 27, 2011), and we say things that surely cause secularist eyes to go white, rolling up into thick skulls. For instance:  “He came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit, He was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man.”

Thus described, the Incarnation stands as a central – if not THE central – premise of the faith. And so much follows from this miraculous event: mainly, more miracles.

Most Saturday mornings in winter, my wife and I go to a farmers market at an Episcopal church a few miles north of where we live. Hydroponic and greenhouse veggies and fresh fish caught in the frigid waters of the Atlantic. In a grassy (often snow-covered) area just off the church parking lot is a small statue of St. Francis of Assisi. Episcopalians do have saints, although this church isn’t a “Saint Francis,” which happens to be the twentieth most popular name for Episcopalian churches in the United States. (Christ Church is number one.) The statue shows Francis preaching to birds. By tradition, his confrere, St. Anthony of Padua, sermonized fishes in a river in Rimini, and our secular brethren would surely ask: 

“Do you actually believe medieval Franciscans could preach to starlings and mackerels?” 

      Francis preaches to birds (Giotto)

And the answer – and it ought to be given with a great, glad grin – is “Yes!”

A rationalist might ask: “You’re saying the birds understood Italian and the fishes Portuguese?” (St. Anthony was born in Lisbon.)

And I reply: “Look, have you ever spoken sweet, soothing words to a cat? And did the cat rub against you purring?”

When those early Franciscan saints proclaimed Jesus Christ to various fauna, the animals felt – and understood – the love of their Creator. The homilies of Francis and Anthony vibrated in brute bones and brains, and though the beasts hadn’t a human’s self-awareness (blessed are the beasts!), they could sense in the words of the ragged, shoeless men the very Truth that had made them.

Did Moses part the sea? Did the fig tree wither? Did Lazarus rise? Can I be saved? “For human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”

If you don’t believe that, you don’t believe, period.

I have a good touch with the roses and lavender in my garden. Is it my faith that makes the plants bloom? No. To the extent that I do anything at all, it’s via reason: fertilizing and watering and pruning at the appropriate times. If I wished to plant an orange tree in the front yard of my New York home, would it grow? No. But only, perhaps, because my faith is weak. Because if it were strong, I should be able to make an orchard of oranges and bananas and mangoes and papayas grow right here in Zone Six, although with such faith we might well wonder why I’d be fussing over fruit.

My time would be better spent healing the sick.

“You mean you believe that by laying on of hands or whatever a saint could give sight to the blind? Make a lame man walk? Cast out some poor soul’s pancreatic cancer?”

Yes. Jesus and His Apostles and His saints have often reached right into the genetic code and rewritten it. Crick and Watson may have been the first to “discover” the structure of DNA, but God made those nucleic acids, and they obey His will, as do those Apostles and saints, which is why they’re able to do what the rest of us can’t do.

That farmers-market church is called St. Thomas, after the Apostle who doubted, then saw and believed, and to whom our Lord said: “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” To have faith today in the midst of what science – medicine especially – daily presents to us as rational miracles is harder for us than it ever was for Thomas. That I might reach out my hand to cure somebody sick with something . . . that I might feel an energy I cannot comprehend flow through my soul, out my fingers, and into the disease, there to delete it as easily as I backspace errors when I write. That I might feel such love . . .

         Anthony preaches to the fishes (Veronese)

When the centurion came to Jesus and asked the Lord to heal his suffering servant (and Jesus agreed to come to the Roman’s house), the soldier spoke words we know from Mass (words also changing in November): “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.” And then the centurion said:

For I too am a person subject to authority, with soldiers subject to me. And I say to one, “Go,” and he goes; and to another, “Come here,” and he comes; and to my slave, “Do this,” and he does it.

Matthew writes that Jesus was amazed. Imagine amazing God! Maybe Matthew took Christ’s next words as objectively astonishing: “Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith.”

How did a Roman company commander see what – at that point – even Christ’s closest followers did not? How was a pagan able to acknowledge God’s power over everything? Here was a no-nonsense soldier who wouldn’t have been shocked to see birds swim and fish fly! Or sinners made whole for the glory of God.

Brad Miner
, a former literary editor of National Review, is senior editor of The Catholic Thing and a senior fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute. One of his books, 
The Compleat Gentleman, was recently published in a revised edition.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (8)Add Comment
written by Joe, June 06, 2011
Nicely written, Brad. My dogs have always understand me and I them; more than I can say for communication with humans. If there is a heaven, I hope there's a place for our beloved animals. It seems Scripture is silent on this, but God did make other creatures first before man, which may be a sign that He cared for them.
To Joe
written by Brad Miner, June 06, 2011
Joe: I understand that Aquinas believed our animals will not join us in heaven (if I'm not being too presumptuous), but Peter Kreeft has written that he sees no reason why we can't expect to see them. I have a particular cat in mind . . . -B
written by Joe, June 06, 2011
'Neither ear has heard nor eye has seen what God has prepared for those who love Him.' My Max and Sadie would bring smiles to St. Peter and the rest of the saints.
written by Louise, June 06, 2011
We have had a flock of a primitive-breed sheep for almost 16 years. They are a breed that, in their native islands can (and some still do) live on their own resources. They have not been bred to imbecility to produce meat as many breeds have.

The shepherds who imported the first sheep of this breed said that they would not sell any of their very wary sheep to people whom the sheep didn't like. When we visited their flock, all but one ewe ran off, but she just stood there and looked at us--sizing us up, I guess. We bought her.

Over the years, we have seen our own flock turn their backs on some people and approach others (the grain-in-the-hand factor notwithstanding). Even with us they are never cuddly or even friendly, but we have an agreement and they are not shy about making their wishes and needs known.

I gave one ewe lamb a rather formal name when she was born. One day she looked at me and "told" me, "I'd rather be called Honey." Honey it was. A ewe who had come to visit with our ram had a silly, undignified name. One day she "said" to me, "My real name is Betty." When I relayed the message to the owner, she though that I was the crazy one. I have seen some really incredible behavior with these sheep--and I mean "incredible"in its literal meaning. One can only tell those stories to other shepherds of this breed.

So who knows with animals. All I know is that heaven will be the poorer if they are not there.

written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., June 06, 2011
Alright you charming, innocent, sentimental animlal lovers! I'm not giving up prime rib, lamb, or salmon. Looking into a Blcak Angus's eyes can be just as moving as looking into a socker spaniel's, and neither creature is bound for glory. Let's not confuse our poor kids about the nature of the immortal human soil. This is just the kind of thing that makes young people show up at Thanksgiving as say they just want taters and veggies. Oh, it wouldn't hurt to point out that the supposed changes to the words of the Credo were simply improvements in the English translations.
written by Louise, June 06, 2011
Dear Mr. Coleman,

I agree with you. I often tell those who will not eat meat that, If we didn't eat them, they would not exist at all because no one who is a serious livestock breeder can keep them just because they are cute. I'll admit to not eating lamb chops for a long time, but now I do. Fortunately, my sheep produce beautiful fleeces, but even fleece is not going to support the flock, and when one dies, the carcass goes into a composter that will produce beautiful tomatoes.

I don'' know whether St. Anthony ate the fish he preached to or not, and I don't confuse animal intelligence with human intelligence. But there is a mystery in it that cannot be denied, and it is part of the whole gigantic mystery of God's creation. In the final chapter of "The Great Heresies," Belloc says that Faith defines the limits of Reason and says to Reason that there are some things in life that are beyond your abilities. I think that Mystery also falls into that category. Just a thought.
written by Brad Miner, June 06, 2011
On the subject of meat-eating: How did we get on the subject of meat-eating? I'm no vegetarian, as any number of birds and fishes could tell you. And cows and pigs too.
written by Louise, June 06, 2011
I saw that it was headed that way, Mr. Miner, so i tried to bring it back with the remarks by Belloc about the Mystery of creation and Faith exceeding the limits of Reason. I don't think that St. Francis and St. Anthony would have preached to the birds and the fish if they hadn't had faith that their preaching was understood or if they had not appreciated the Mystery in God's creation. I don't think that they were just being sentimental but that they were acting on their Credo.

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