The boy, Fernando, who would, one day, be known to us as St Anthony of Padua, was visiting the family villa with his father, Don Martin. It was harvest time and the plants were ripening under the amber rays of the sun.
As he looked happily across them, Don Martin’s face suddenly clouded. He saw that a great flock of sparrows was circling overhead. This meant disaster to the crops, for the birds would assuredly swoop down and destroy the harvest as soon as its owner had left the field.
Turning to the boy at his side, Don Martin said to him:
“Fernando! You are old enough to have some care, now. See those sparrows overhead! They are a threat to our crops, for they have come to feed here. I must leave you for a while. You must stay here, and, whenever you see the sparrows preparing to descend, you must drive them off! Later, I will provide some means of safe-guarding our harvest.”
Now, Fernando had been thinking of other business that he wished to carry out. This business was a visit to the nearby chapel. He was always happy when he was in the church.
Don Martin left, leaving Fernando alone in the field.
Looking up, Fernando saw that the sparrows were patiently waiting for their opportunity to come down and feed, and they would probably not be afraid of a little boy.
But Donna Teresa, his mother, had instructed him in many lovely ways of communicating with the heavenly hosts. So, now, Fernando was ready with an improvised prayer.
“Brother Angels, my father has told me to stay here and guard our field against the sparrows. But I want to visit my sweet Jesus in the chapel! Please, Angels, help me to obey my father and go to the chapel too.”
Innocently and trustingly, Fernando waited for the answer to his prayer.
It came. He seemed to hear soft voices addressing him. They told him to call the sparrows, lead them to the villa, open the front door, and allow them to fly in, then close the door upon them. Fernando immediately followed out his instructions.
Then, he ran off to the chapel.
When Don Martin returned to the field shortly after, he found Fernando missing, and the sparrows, as well. This seemed strange. Knowing where to find his son, he went to the chapel. There was Fernando, kneeling before the tabernacle. Don Martin waited until the boy came outside. Then he confronted him.
“My son, why did you disobey my orders?
What about our harvest? The birds must have eaten their fill before flying away.”
Fernando smiled brightly as he replied:
“Don’t bother about it, Father. The birds didn’t touch anything. When you open the door of the villa, you will find them inside. I locked them up there.”
Don Martin now had a new cause for anxiety. The birds could do grave damage to the house, as well as, to the fields. He hurried to the villa and swung open the door. There were the sparrows, clustered inside, perfectly quiet. Don Martin observed with gratitude that nothing in the place had suffered the least damage.