Aventine, The Hermit Saint

24 June 09 | Posted in Animals, Saints

Saint Aventine of Troyes, France (c. 538)

Aventine, of Bourges, France, was schooled in the spiritual life by the bishop of Troyes, Saint Loup. Loup’s episcopoal suceessor, Saint Camelianus, selected Aventine to be Troyes’ steward and almoner, in charge of the cathedral’s possessions and the distribution of alms.

Having served the Church thus with humility, purity and charity, Aventine thereafter obtained permission to withdraw into the woods to live as a hermit. He had a particular fondness for animals, never wanting to kill any of the forest creatures except when necessary.

Whenever he found any tiny fish in a pitcher of water drawn from a nearby brook by a monk who assisted him, he made a point of placing the fish unharmed back into the stream.

When on one occasion a deer pursued by hunters rushed into the cave that served as Aventine’s hermitage, Aventine protected the frightened animal by closing the door in order to hide it from the hunters until they had passed.

He habitually feed the small birds of the forest that flocked onto his fingers as he offered them a handful of crumbs. handtamingwildbirds

Water Buffalo Theology

26 April 09 | Posted in Animals, Arts and Letters, Friends, Spirituality

The Rev. Dr. Kosuke Koyama, a Japanese Christian theologian who was a proponent of contextual theologies rooted in the experiences of everyday people, died March 25, 2009 in Springfield, Mass. Koyama, 79, taught at the Union Theological Seminary in New York.

His 1974 book, Water Buffalo Theology, was “one of the first books truly to do theology out of the setting of Asian villages,” said Donald Shriver, president emeritus. kosuke-koyama-2

As a missionary in northern Thailand, Koyama said he was inspired to write the book as he listened to the “fugue of the bullfrogs” while watching farmers working with water buffaloes in the rice fields.

“The water buffaloes tell me that I must preach to these farmers in the simplest sentence structure,” he wrote. “They remind me to discard all the abstract ideas and to use exclusively objects that are immediately tangible. ‘Sticky rice,’ ‘banana,’ ‘pepper,’ ‘dog,’ ‘cat,’ ‘bicycle,”rainy season,”leaking house,’ ‘fishing,’ ‘cockfighting,’ ‘lottery,’ ‘stomachache’–these are meaningful words for them.”  water-buff-3

Directed at the concerns of peasants, the book points out that Christianity and Buddhism do not communicate; rather Christians and Buddhists do. Rev. Dr. Koyama advocated seeing God “in the faces of people” to achieve good neighborliness among religions.  He spoke of trying to “season” the Aristotelian roots of Western theology with Buddhist “salt.”

Besides Water Buffalo Theology, Dr. Koyama wrote 12 other books including Three Mile an Hour God (1980) which reflects his thought that God moves at walking speed through the countryside.

Kosuke Koyama was born on December 10, 1929 in Tokyo.  In 1945, as American bombs rained down on Tokyo, he was baptised as a Christian. He was struck by the courageous words of the presiding pastor, who told him that God called on him to love everybody, “even the Americans.”

Once, in discussing death, Rev. Dr. Koyama recalled the story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. He said Jesus would be with others the same way: “Looking into our eyes and heart, Jesus would say: ‘You’ve had a difficult journey. You must be tired, and dirty.  Let me wash your feet. The banquet’s ready.'”

It’s Groundhog Day!

2 February 09 | Posted in Animals, Events, U.S. Catholic

I love animal holidays. Watching all the little kids (and big kids!) bring their hamsters, dogs, kittens, guinea pigs, bunnies, parakeets, and everything else off to church on the Feast of St. Francis is touching and a delight to watch. On one thing the Catholic Church was wise–to acknowledge our deep ties, love, and mystical bonds with our family pets and livestock.

I think of Groundhog Day as another Catholic holiday since it is associated with Candlemas, also celebrated on February 2nd. Its furry, cute and loveable star is Punxsutawney Phil of Pennsylvania.

Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow this morning, so we can look forward to six more weeks of winter. groundhog-day.jpg

Phil emerged in front of an estimated 13,000 witnesses, many dressed in gold and black to celebrate the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Super Bowl victory the day before.

His annual ritual takes place on Gobbler’s Knob, a tiny hill in Punxsutawney, a town of about 6100 residents 65 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.

The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club announced the forecast (more winter) in a short proclamation, in which Phil acknowledged the Steelers’ 27-23 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

There is a tradition that a sunny Candlemas Day would lead winter to last for another six weeks. In Germany, the belief that an animal frightened when seeing its shadow on Candlemas became another indicator that winter could last for another six weeks.  The hedge-hog was the German animal of choice for the job.

Germans brought this superstition to America during the 18th century. Americans adopted the groundhog as their weather predictor.

Candlemas marks the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, and recognizes the animals’ sensitivity to weather changes. Farmers used to rely on them to help plan spring planting.

Three other groundhogs make predictions on February 2nd: Shubenacadie Sam in Nova Scotia; Wiarton Willie of Wiarton, Ontario, and General Beauregard Lee of Stone Mountain, Georgia.

But this year, the birds may know something the groundhogs don’t.  I saw my first robin on Saturday morning, January 31st.

Saint Corentin and His Friend, The Fish

11 December 08 | Posted in Animals, Saints

St. Corentin lived as a hermit in the French village of Plomodiern, near Cornouaille (Quimper), in Brittany in the 7th or 8th century.

It is said that in a spring near Corentin’s hermitage there lived a remarkable fish that provided the hermit with daily nourishment. Each day, St. Corentin was able to slice off a piece of the flesh of the fish without harming the creature. He would then return the fish to the spring, where its missing flesh would grow back, making the fish whole again.

This marvel continued for several years. On one occasion, St. Corentin was obligated to provide a meal for a ruler named Grallon and his entire retinue after they became lost while hunting.  The single piece of flesh that the hermit took from the fish miraculously multiplied in the frying pan, satisfying the hunger of the entire hunting party.

Unfortunately, one royal attendant out of curiousity poked the fish with a knife, wounding it. St. Corentin healed the wound, and then commanded the fish to swim away permanently, lest it be harmed by anyone else.

St. Corentin became the first bishop of Cornouaille. For centuries, his feast day has been commemorated on December 12th.

Was that the day the fish first fed him; or the day when St. Corentin sent him away to keep him from harm? 

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St. Columba and the Loch Ness Monster

11 November 08 | Posted in Animals, Arts and Letters, Events, Global Catholic, Saints

St. Adamnan, the biographer of St. Columba, recorded an encounter with the Loch Ness Monster in 565 A.D. colm-cille.JPG

St. Columba was on his way to visit with the Pictish king in Inverness, came upon some Picts burying the remains of one of their people. They told Columba that the poor man had been bitten and mauled to death by a water monster.

The dead man’s boat lay on the other side of the water.  Columba ordered one of his followers to swim across and retrieve the boat.

One of his companions, Lugneus Mocumin, stripped down to his tunic and plunged into the water.

The monster saw him swimming, and having tasted blood, broke the surface of the water and made for him. Everyone who was watching was horrified, and hid their eyes in terror.

In the words of St. Adaman: “The monster suddenly rushed out and giving an awful roar, darted after him with its mouth wide open, as the man swam in the middle of the stream.”

St. Columba raised his hand, made the sign of the Cross and “commanded the ferocious monster saying, ‘Thou shalt go no further, nor touch the man; go back with all speed.’ Then at the voice of the saint, the monster was terrified, and feld more quickly than if it had been pulled back with ropes.”