"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

"Listening without hearing"

ast month of May, I was in Davao City to take part in an Eco-Summit with members from different Jesuit schools. One memorable activity we had was snorkeling to see the coral reefs of Samal Island.

The ongoing construction of the bridge across the gulf threatens to destroy the delicate ecosystem that has thrived there for thousands of years. The creatures that call these reefs home face suffocation from the debris unearthed from the sea bed.

Before I went there, I had already prepared myself to mourn. I have always loved going to the seashore to relax and enjoy. It is my favorite pastime. But this time, my purpose was different. I went to a place I have considered my safe haven, now facing a looming tragedy. As I floated, and relaxed, over the sea surface and above the reefs, I experienced, for the first time, the joy of seeing countless colorful fish swimming alongside me.

Exhilarating! I even had the most awe-inspiring experience of encountering a sea snake, the most venomous of reptiles, capable of killing 1,000 people with just a teaspoon of its venom. They call it "walo-walo" because that is the longest you will survive if bitten—eight minutes. I froze at the sight of the creature, which gently looked me in the eye before slithering away into its burrow.

It did not bite me, but it seemed I was touched by its gaze. Suddenly, I became more aware of every fish swimming with me. This is so beautiful, I kept telling myself. I started to shed tears. You can still feel your tears flowing out from your tear ducts even in water. I began to have a colloquy with myself and I asked, 'Why? How can I, in my right mind, kill these harmless and beautiful creatures?'

At that moment, I remembered St Anthony of Padua. One of the most well-known anecdotes about St Anthony involves him preaching to the fishes. He followed the example of his predecessor St Francis of Assisi who communed with all of creation, even preaching to the flowers, inviting them “to praise the Lord, just as if they were endowed with reason."

According to legend, St Anthony was preaching in the town of Rimini, Italy, during a time when many people were resistant to his message. Frustrated by their lack of response, he went to the shore and began preaching to the fishes instead.

As St Anthony spoke, a remarkable thing happened. The fishes gathered near the shore, lifting their heads out of the water and attentively listening to his sermon. Witnesses were astonished by this miraculous sight, and many who had previously ignored St Anthony's message were moved by the event. These people experienced a conversion of heart and began to listen to his words.

As I floated and reconnected with the vibrant life in the water, I began to bless the creatures. "I bless you and thank you for everything in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." As I did this, hope filled my heart. I silently encouraged the creatures to find somewhere safe, sending them off with my priestly blessing.

I shared this story with my companions at the Eco-Summit. It became a powerful message of resilience. All of creation is resilient, and life persists even in the face of great danger. I cling to that Christian hope, no matter what. Ironically, I found this deep sense of hope from the creatures themselves. It came from them. I learned at that moment that we are not the only ones who can preach to every creature as we have been commanded by the Lord: “Preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15-18). He sent them “forth to preach” (Mark 3:14). This is the same task He has given us today—but we must learn its hidden meaning, especially these days. Every creature out there is also capable of the art of preaching to us in its unique and natural way. Every creature is communicating to us something through its silent voice. It is listening without hearing anything. The water or the air can preach to us about true strength. I remember the lyrics of the song "Buildings and Bridges" by Ani DiFranco, I quote, “Buildings and bridges are no match for the air my friend. What doesn’t bend, breaks.” Where did she learn that? Where else but from listening to the silent voice of creation. May we not be deaf to their preaching while there is still a little time. St Anthony of Padua, pray for us. Amen. Fr JM Manzano SJ