Tag Archives: fish

11 October: Undeterred; Feast of Saint John XXIII.

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When the future Pope John XXIII was Apostolic Delegate in Istanbul, he and other priests and religious were restricted in the ministries they could live out. This reflection from his retreat in 1939 shows that he was undeterred; a missionary witnessing by his life rather than by preaching to the local people.

Every evening from the window of my room, here in the residence of the Jesuit Fathers, I see an assemblage of boats on the Bosphorus; they come round from the Golden Horn in tens and hundreds; they gather at a given rendezvous and then they light up, some more brilliantly than others, offering a most impressive spectacle of colours and lights. I thought it was a festival on the sea for Bairam1 which occurs just about now. But it is the organised fleet fishing for bonito, large fish which are said to come from far away in the Black Sea. These lights glow all night and one can hear the cheerful voices of the fishermen.

I find the sight very moving. The other night, towards one o’clock, it was pouring with rain but the fishermen were still there, undeterred from their heavy toil.

Oh how ashamed we should feel, we priests, ‘fishers of men’2, before such an example! To pass from the illustration to the lesson illustrated, what a vision of work, zeal and labour for the souls of men to set before our eyes! Very little is left in this land of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. Debris, sand, seeds… We must do as the fishermen of the Bosphorus do, work night and day with our torches lit, each in his own little boat, at the orders of our spiritual leaders: that is our grave and solemn duty.

1Bairam: Turkish name for festival; Eid fell in November in 1939, as did Archbishop Roncalli’s annual retreat.

2Matthew 4:19

I was reminded of this photograph of Porthmadog harbour, a world away from the Bosphorus.

follow this link  to a report on the Apostleship of the Sea’s Mass in Southwark. As Archbishop Roncalli reminded himself, the Church was founded upon boatmen; we owe it to them to support the often forgotten seafarers of today.

John XXIII ‘Journal of a Soul’,  Geoffrey Chapman, 1965, p234.

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6 August, Little Flowers of Saint Francis LVII: Saint Antony and the fish, 3.

anthony and Francis

At these and the like words of Saint Antony, the fishes began to open their mouths and bow their heads, and with these and other signs of reverence in such fashion as best they might, gave praises unto God. Then Saint Antony, beholding this great reverence of the fishes unto God their Creator, rejoiced in spirit, and cried with a loud voice: “Blessed be God eternal, sith the fishes of the waters give Him more honour than do the heretics; and the animals that have no reason pay more heed unto His word than unbelieving men.” And the more Saint Antony preached, the more did the multitude of the fish increase, and no one of them left the place that he had taken. At the which miracle the people of the city began to run together, and among them the heretics aforesaid also drew nigh: the which beholding the miracle so marvellous and so clear, touched to the heart, fell all at the feet of Saint Antony to hear his words.

Thereat Saint Antony began to preach of the catholic faith; and so nobly did he preach that all those heretics were converted, and turned them to the faith of Christ; and all the faithful abode in joy exceeding great, being comforted and strengthened in the faith.

And this done, Saint Antony bade the fishes depart with the blessing of God; and all went thence with marvellous signs of joy, and likewise the people also. And thereafter Saint Antony abode in Rimini many days, preaching and reaping much spiritual fruit of souls.

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4 August, Little Flowers of Saint Francis LV: Saint Antony and the fish, 1.

anthony and FrancisAny teacher or preacher would have to admit to moments when we’d as soon address the fish of the sea or the school pond, than humans who don’t want to be taught. Abel enjoyed a response from the university carp a few weeks ago, but he was tossing lumps of bread, not words of wisdom. 

The blessed Christ, desiring to set forth the great sanctity of his most faithful servant, Saint Antony, with what devotion men should give ear unto his preaching and his holy doctrine, once on a time, amongst others, reproved the folly of the infidel heretics by means of the animals that have no reason, to wit, by the fishes, even as in old time in the Old Testament he had reproved the ignorance of Balaam by the mouth of the ass.

Wherefore on a day Saint Antony being in Rimini, where was great company of heretics, desiring to bring them back to the light of the true faith and to the path of virtue, preached unto them for many days, and disputed of the faith of Christ and of the Holy Scripture; but they not only gave no consent unto his holy words, but therewithal, as men hardened and stiff-necked, would give no ear unto him.

Inspired of God, Saint Antony went one day to the river-side hard by the sea; and standing thus upon the bank betwixt the river and the sea, began to speak after the manner of a preacher sent by God unto the fishes: “Hear the word of God, O ye fishes of the sea and of the river, since the infidel heretics refuse to hear it.” And when he had thus spoken, forthwith there came unto him to the bank a multitude of fishes, great and small and what between, that never in that sea nor in that river had been seen so great a multitude; and they all held up their heads above the water and all stood attentive towards the face of Saint Antony, one and all in much great peace and gentleness and order; for in front and more a-nigh the bank stood the smaller fish, and behind them stood the fish of middle size, further behind where deeper water was the greater fishes stood.

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14 July: The Shepherd girl and the goldfish.

508px-Six_koi[1]
Here’s a Story from France for July 14. A small town girl, delighted by the sights of the big city: here is a letter from St Bernadette of Lourdes to her sisters back home. She is describing her journey to Nevers where she was to enter the noviciate of the Sisters of Charity of Nevers, the sisters who had educated her. On the way they stopped at Bordeaux.

Let me tell you how we made our journey. On Wednesday at six o’clock in the evening we arrived at Bordeaux, and there we stayed till Friday at one o’clock. I beg you to believe that we made good use  of our time there to get around – and in a carriage, if you please.

We were taken to visit all the houses (presumably of her order). I have the honour of telling you that they are not like the house in Lourdes, especially the Imperial Institute for Deaf Girls; you’d think it was more like a palace than a religious house.

We went to see the Carmelite church, and from there made our way to the Garonne to see the ships. Next we went to the Jardin des Plantes: I tell you we saw something quite new: can you guess what? It was fish: golden, black, white and grey. The loveliest thing for me was seeing this little creatures swimming around in front of a crowd of little urchins who were watching them.

Although as a child I liked to see the fish in our local park pool, I perhaps wouldn’t have appreciated that last paragraph as I do now, seeing Bernadette as an excitable young woman. It is always good to see the humanity of the saints.

I wanted to share this with you because Bernadette is revealed as a flesh-and-blood young woman, rather than the unattainably super-holy, superwoman put before us in primary school, at least as I recall. Saints are truly human and enjoy the blessings of this life as well as anyone else. Another Laudato Si! moment.

MMB.

Photo by Stan Shebs.

 

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April 27: What became of Peter?

misericord.boat.st.davids

There were a few more people in the boat that morning than we can see here: Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathaniel, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples; seven of them altogether. I can see how they’d have wanted to get Jerusalem out of their hair, and in any case, the message was to get themselves back to Galilee. And once there, it made sense to go fishing, just as it made sense to the children in yesterday’s picture to go fishing. They preferred the river to the lough, and could charm little trout onto a bent pin dangling from a hazel rod, putting us to admiring shame, but I digress – a little.

We, after all, were amateurs. Peter was a professional, whose livelihood depended on a good catch. Had he lost his touch? He’d lost his brash self-confidence …

The stranger on the shore could see the shoal through the mist, but Peter the professional could bring the fish in.

The story in John 21 is familiar enough: as on Easter morning, John gets the picture before Peter, but it’s Peter who jumps in and staggers ashore; Peter who is challenged three times, three challenges that allow him to accept forgiveness for three denials; Peter who is commissioned three times. And Peter leaves the lorry behind – or at least the aspirations to a better life that Joe’s lorry stands for in yesterday’s story. Peter’s vocation now was not to be a fisherman but a fisher of men, a feeder of the five, ten, hundred thousand sheep and more, even down to us today.

There’s good in the heart of the likes of Joe’s dad, working hard, denying himself to provide for his family with a lorry he could earn more money from. No wonder Joe was proud of him! And then some of us are called to leave our father’s house and spread the love of the risen Lord. Come to think of it, that’s you and me as well. We should all be ready to share the love, even with a  simple smile to a stranger whenever we leave the house (and perhaps at home as well; but that can be a real challenge!)

Happy Easter!

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April 26: What became of the fish?

brocaghschoola[1]

This was Brocagh School in County Leitrim, close to the Irish border, in 1969. A year or so later the little 2 classroom schools would be all closed down and a new school built in Glenfarne village. The assistant teacher was leaving anyway to get married! So this is an historic photo graph! As seminarians (student priests) we went two and two to the little schools and gave the children an RE lesson each week.

It was Mrs McCormack who gave me a valuable lesson, thanks to Joe McHugh, down there in the front row. One week after Easter we had John’s story of the breakfast by the lake after the miraculous catch of fish, and Peter’s final declaration of faith; I felt the lesson went well. I had the ultimate visual aid close at hand in the lake: Lough MacNean.

The children drew some remarkable pictures, but Mrs McCormack drew my attention to Joe’s in particular: come here now, Joe, what’s this in the corner? – It’s Saint Peter’s lorry, Miss, come to carry away the fish. I’d missed the lorry completely; I’d not interpreted the shapes he’d drawn in 20th Century terms.

What she knew, but I did not, was that Joe’s family had recently acquired a lorry which was Joe’s pride and joy, so of course St Peter would have had his lorry ready to take the fish to market. The story made sense to Joe, and has always made more sense to me as a consequence; thank you Joe, wherever you are.

An earlier version of this true story appears in thepelicans.org.uk website, Gallery p356.

MMB

Here, for the record are names of the children as far as their neighbours could remember them. Back Row: ——, Paddy McManus, John McManus, Jimmy Peckanham, ?Junior McHugh, Sean McGivern, Sean Clancy, Thomas Kelly, Ann Keany, Bernadette Clancy; 2nd Row: ?Teacher —— Agnes O’Hara, —— Breege Campbell, Bernadette Kelly, Kitty Cullen, Lily Pechenham, Owen O’Hara, Marie O’Hara, ——, Ann Brady, Ann McHugh, Ann Kelly, ?Mrs McCormack; 3rd Row: Josephine Clancy, —— McPartlin, ——? Gerry Clancy, ———, ———,———, Veronica McHugh, Geraldine McGuire, ?Teresa Keany; Front Row: Bridget McManus, Noel McManus, Ann Kelly, ——, Joe McLoughlin, Joe McHugh, Hugo Clancy, Margaret McGuire, Damien McGuire, Rosaleen McLoughlin (Thanks to Olivia O’Dolan, Mary Brady-Timoney, her sisters Kathleen Brady- Keaney and Bridget Brady – Fitzpatrick; Ben McHugh and Clancy family

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March 1: David in Death Valley

badwater

Dear Friends,

It’s Wales’s National Day: Happy Saint David’s Day! Here is a little celebration piece. I heard recently from David York who in 2015 was getting started in long distance running. Not your average marathon, but as he put it that December 15:

I’m gathering together my things and heading off to Death Valley where I plan to run from Nevada, over the mountain range, down into the valley basin and continue on for 45 miles across the desert.  Please don’t ask “why?” Long story …. I’m facing the reality that I have become an increasingly penitent man (who is having one heck of a mid-life crisis!)  But the desert is a pretty good place to go and bond with the Creator, and I have a lot to offer up.  I swear I’m not insane, I’m just doing what I feel called to do.

And, if I could humbly ask of you, please pray for me and perhaps reflect upon Psalms 23 and 26. 

death valley1

A month later he wrote: 

Death Valley was amazing.  Apparently, I was meant to be there, as something was clearly waiting for me in the middle of Badwater.

I have one hell of a story to tell. Countless things went wrong. But if I had a chance to do it all over again, I would in a heartbeat.  45 Miles across mountains and deserts: for the highlight of my (short) ultra-running life, Death Valley is the pinnacle.

 Death Valley is not about death, but life.  Death Valley is almost always the opposite of what it seems.

Regarding “Badwater”: keep in mind, this was part of the “Old West”. I’ll paraphrase the story:

One day an old man was passing across the desert and he took his horse up to some water.  The horse wouldn’t drink!  So… the old man put up a sign that said, “Bad Water”.  It never changed.

There are actually some tiny fish that live in the Badwater basin pools.  But the entire basin is salt.  For as far as you can see.  You can look a few hundred feet up a mountain wall and see a sign letting you know where Sea Level is located.  In pictures, the salt looks like snow.  When driving alongside it, you experience the illusion of water in a lake.  Again…. Death Valley is not what it seems.

Wishing you peace and all good things,

 bro. dave, ofs 

I don’t remember why this never became a blog post back then, but tomorrow will reveal why it has done now.

Appendix

The following is from Pope Francis’s first address to the young people gathered in Panama on January 24.

With you, we want to rediscover and reawaken the Church’s constant freshness and youth, opening ourselves to a new Pentecost (cf. SYNOD ON YOUNG PEOPLE, Final Document, 60). As we experienced at the Synod, this can only happen if, by our listening and sharing, we encourage each other to keep walking and to bear witness by proclaiming the Lord through service to our brothers and sisters, and concrete service at that.

I know getting here was not easy. I know how much effort and sacrifice was required for you to participate in this Day. Many weeks of work and commitment, and encounters of reflection and prayer, have made the journey itself largely its own reward. A disciple is not merely someone who arrives at a certain place, but one who sets out decisively, who is not afraid to take risks and keeps walking. This is the great joy: to keep walking. You have not been afraid to take risks and to keep journeying. Today we were all able to “get here” because for some time now, in our various communities, we have all been “on the road” together.

WT

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January 5: Aberdaron IV. Work of Human Hands

aberdaron jug

Laurie Lee1 once wrote of craftsmanship that handmade objects keep us human; the Liturgy enshrines a similar thought when, following an ancient Jewish prayer, it describes the bread and wine as ‘work of human hands’. ‘We are a starved society,’ says Lee, ‘living in the midst of plenty. Our possessions are many, our serenities few.’

Lee would have recognised that feeling of serenity about the Church at Aberdaron, a lightening of the shoulders on crossing the threshold. Put that down to imagination if you will, but I was happy to accept the gift.

As in most churches there were beautiful handmade objects around: the very building itself, the doors, the clear glass windows, banners, icons; and much more. Take a pilgrimage to the edge of Wales to see for yourself.

I was glad to find in the church shop this jug, decorated with fish, made by a local potter, at a far from expensive price. Giving it to my mother, I know it will not become a possession so much as something to be shared – something that will let her share the pilgrimage, for she loves Wales and RS Thomas; her treasure for a while that may be given to a grandchild who comes and admires it.

aberdaron fish

Janet found there these little fish which now swim beneath our bathroom mirror. ‘Fishers of men’? Bait for memory, reflection, and prayer.

1On Craftsmen, in Village Christmas and other notes on the English year, London, Penguin Classics, 2015, pp 135-6.

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September 20: L is for Lindisfarne

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A modern coble captured by Nigel Coates

Let’s go almost as far north as we can in England, to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. There are many stories of the early saints of Holy Island, and we can come back to Cuthbert, Aidan and their companions again. But today I’m retelling a cautionary tale of the last two centuries, from Richard Perry’s 1946 book A Naturalist on Lindisfarne. It is worth the telling because we need to take care of our earth and the seas that surround it.

The morning I wrote this piece there were fishermen on the radio convinced that Brexit would lead to greater catches for themselves with the European nations excluded from their grounds.

Perry suggests this is unlikely to happen.

He tells how over-fishing at the end of the nineteenth century led to the end of the herring industry. The fishermen took to catching white fish inshore, but

‘light trawling during the war of 1914-18 brought relief to over-trawled fishing and spawning grounds and allowed the white fish to increase to their immemorial millions at a time when inshore fishermen were beginning to suffer from the effects of this over-fishing. But within a few years of the end of the war the trawler fleets were again cleaning up the inshore grounds of both lobsters and white fish; just as the drifters had destroyed the inshore  herring fishing. By 1931 the catches of the ten Island cobles were only ten or twenty per cent of those taken before or after the war…

‘With the year 1945 at an end …events will no doubt conform to the post 1914-18 pattern, with seven  or ten good years inshore fishing, before the trawlers have swept the grounds clean of all marketable fish.’

Let us pray for wisdom all round as Britain and Europe’s leaders negotiate every aspect of their new relationship. May God’s earth, sea and air not be forgotten! And let us pray for all fishermen and all at peril on the Sea.

Laudato Si’.

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21 April, Easter Friday: “Who are you?”

Easter Friday
Image from: http://fatherkevinestabrook.blogspot.co.uk/2016/04/homily-easter-friday-2016.html

Jn 21:1-14

‘None of the disciples was bold enough to ask, “Who are you?”

I was wondering why such a question would even arise? Didn’t the disciples know what Jesus looked like after going around with him for three years?

Then it occurred to me that perhaps Jesus’ appearance was different after the Resurrection. After all, the disciples on the road to Emmaus did not recognise Him either. It was only Jesus’ familiar actions – breaking bread, feeding and caring for them, creating miracles of abundance that gave Him away.

The lesson from this for the disciples is that, from now on, the Christ will be recognised not by an individual physical appearance but by what he does. That is why He asks Peter to feed and care for the people of God, continuing His ministry. It applies to us, His followers, who continue His mission today. People should be able to recognise Christ in us by our actions: breaking bread in the Eucharist, feeding and caring for people, trusting in the Father’s providence for our needs.

I ask God to keep reminding me that my actions should always be those of Jesus, to witness that He is alive in the world today.

Amen – alleluia!

FMSL

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