The people wouldn't listen to the Gospel, so St. Anthony of Padua preached to the fish and found a more willing audience.
There are many legends and stories from the life of St. Anthony that are meant to highlight his sanctity and union with God.
One such story is the legend of St. Anthony of Padua preaching to the fish.
It is recounted in the book The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi and displays what happens when a saint gets frustrated with people.
St Anthony being at one time at Rimini, where there were a great number of heretics, and wishing to lead them by the light of faith into the way of truth, preached to them for several days, and reasoned with them on the faith of Christ and on the Holy Scriptures. They not only resisted his words, but were hardened and obstinate, refusing to listen to him.
This shows that even a saint’s preaching can fall on deaf ears when the people are not willing to receive the Gospel message.
Fed up with the hard hearts of the people, St. Anthony went to a more willing audience.
At last St Anthony, inspired by God, went down to the sea-shore, where the river runs into the sea, and having placed himself on a bank between the river and the sea, he began to speak to the fishes as if the Lord had sent him to preach to them, and said: “Listen to the word of God, O ye fishes of the sea and of the river, seeing that the faithless heretics refuse to do so.“
No sooner had he spoken these words than suddenly so great a multitude of fishes, both small and great, approached the bank on which he stood, that never before had so many been seen in the sea or the river. All kept their heads out of the water, and seemed to be looking attentively on St Anthony’s face; all were ranged in perfect order and most peacefully, the smaller ones in front near the bank, after them came those a little bigger, and last of all, were the water was deeper, the largest.
A massive amount of fish began to pop up everywhere, and it didn’t take long for word to get out among the people that there was a miracle occurring at the sea.
And the people of the city hearing of the miracle, made haste to go and witness it. With them also came the heretics of whom we have spoken above, who, seeing so wonderful and manifest a miracle, were touched in their hearts; and threw themselves at the feet of St Anthony to hear his words. The saint then began to expound to them the Catholic faith. He preached so eloquently, that all those heretics were converted, and returned to the true faith of Christ; the faithful also were filled with joy, and greatly comforted, being strengthened in the faith.
Sometimes it takes preaching to a different group entirely for others to be attracted to the faith and see the error of their ways.
God certainly works in mysterious ways!