Once upon a time in France lived a rooster. He was a modest rooster, gold in color, with a fine comb on his head. Known throughout the region as “Chanticleer,” he was the king and protector of his farmyard.
Every morning, Chanticleer mounted the rooftop and heralded the morning with his clear crow.
He lived to see the sun rise. Quite naturally, he thought the sun would not rise if he were not there to call it. He had doubts at times but never failed to get up ahead of the sun and crow.
Chanticleer never told anyone about raising the sun. Patou, the old watchdog, was the only one who guessed his secret. Patou’s favorite occupation was basking in the sun and watching it light up the farmyard. Because of their mutual admiration for the light, the old dog and the rooster were best friends.
One day, a frightened pheasant collapsed into the chicken coop in a heap of exhaustion. “Oh!” she cried, “please hide me from the hunters who are seeking to hunt me!” Chanticleer gallantly hid her in Patou’s doghouse until the hunters passed.
Chanticleer was much taken with the beautiful pheasant. She certainly was much more interesting than the hens that only cared about pecking at grain.
However, there were some, within the farmyard and outside, that did not like Chanticleer. The owls especially disliked him, for they disliked the light and dreaded the sun that Chanticleer raised. The cat, the ducks, the turkey and the blackbird all envied him for one reason or another.
And so one starless night, while Chanticleer, Patou, and the golden pheasant slept, a secret meeting was held. Deep in a nearby thicket, the discontented farmyard animals met, and after singly giving their reasons for hating Chanticleer, it was decided that he must die. In the darkness, they hatched a plan.
In the farm over the hill lived a man who raised exotic cocks. Among these, there was an ugly, featherless rooster who was known as the champion of the fighting ring. It was arranged that he would challenge Chanticleer to a fight. “Of course,” the animals sneered, “we know who will win.”
But, the blackbird objected, “The cock won’t come!”
“Oh, yes he will!” responded the cat. “If the pheasant comes, he will come, and she will never miss such a chance to show off her beauty.”
And so, everything was set.
As time approached for the guests to arrive, the blackbird waited at the gate, watching the horizon. Finally, a line of fancy cocks was seen approaching in the distance.
The blackbird began announcing the strange cocks:
“The Cock of Braekel!”
“The Wyandotte Cock!”
“The Cock of India!”
And one after the other, they strutted into the garden with all their airs of great importance.
Finally, Chanticleer appeared.
“But how should I introduce you?” asked the bewildered blackbird.
“Simply as the ‘Cock,’” replied Chanticleer.
“The Cock!” announced the blackbird.
At this, everyone fell silent.
“So, you are the Cock,” the fighting rooster said, pushing his way through the crowd. “I am the great champion of the fighting ring that has defeated many and all.”
“And I am the Cock, the one who protects many and all,” replied Chanticleer.
“Pfuff!!” the gamecock jeered. “I live to kill and trample on those that don’t deserve to live!”
“And I . . .,” hesitated Chanticleer for a moment. Then, in an act of faith, he continued in his clear loud voice, “I live to raise the sun so that its rays may fill the world with its glorious light!”
“Ha, ha, ha, ha!” the gamecock laughed, with everyone joining in. “You think you make the sun rise? That’s too much!”
While all the animals laughed, the gamecock suddenly lunged and struck Chanticleer. A roar went up from the crowd. Chanticleer looked around and saw all the animals gathered with eager faces, their necks stretched out and their eyes gleaming in anticipation. They were hideous.
It was a terrible moment for poor Chanticleer. Sadly he bowed his head. He understood. For the first time, he knew all of them for what they were. He felt entirely alone and deserted.
Savagely, the gamecock struck again, throwing Chanticleer to the ground. A terrible struggle for life and death began but Chanticleer’s disappointment and sadness sapped his spirit. The gamecock attacked harder, quickly drawing blood.
Chanticleer defended himself as best as he could while all around the animals screamed, “Kill him! Kill him!”
At a certain moment, Chanticleer looked up, and saw the rays of the setting sun glistening on the trumpet-like shape of the cock of France atop the cathedral spire. At this sight, his whole being rejoiced, and with renewed strength he flung himself at the gamecock.
At the tremendous impact, the gamecock was hurled into the air and fell upon his own spurs. He fell back, shook, cackled and died.
Chanticleer turned away from the fake applause and walked off. Only the pheasant followed him.
“Come with me to the woods, dear Chanticleer,” she said, “there you can forget the farmyard and we can live happily together.” Chanticleer nodded and followed the beautiful pheasant.
But, as time went on, Chanticleer began to feel restless. The pheasant began to worry. Was not her love enough? Could Chanticleer love the sun and his duty at the farmyard more than he loved her? She had to prove to him that the sun could rise by itself. But how?
One early morning, when the stars could still be seen in their lofty dome, Chanticleer felt especially sad. At the pheasant’s insinuations, his old doubt had returned. Was it really he who raised the sun?
Realizing his state of mind, the pheasant approached him and covered him with her wing. “Dear Chanticleer, you must not be so sad. You have me!” While speaking in these sweet tones, she watched the rising sun.
For Chanticleer, everything was still dark under her warm mantle of feathers.
Slowly the sun rose higher.
Suddenly the pheasant withdrew her wing. “See?” she cried cruelly. “The sun has risen without you!”
At that, Chanticleer started violently. “Oh, no! No! Wait! Not without me!” he cried, rushing toward the light. But the horizon grew ever more golden, and he staggered backward.
She watched him closely. “You see, Chanticleer, loving one another is more than raising a sun that can’t feel or think!”
There was a moment of silence. Then, raising himself, he turned to her with a distant look. “No,” he said, “love is only true love in the light of a greater Light. The sun may rise without me but it will never rise without being heralded by my voice. I see now. I am the servant of the light. I am the one who calls the others to see the light. I am the herald of the light and so I have become a symbol of this great valley, this great France, which has placed me at the top of her cathedrals! May I remain as simple and lofty as that cock! Goodbye, Pheasant.”
With this, he turned and made his way back to his farmyard.
To this day, following his example, every barnyard cock announces the glorious rays of the rising sun.
* Edmund Rostand, The Story of Chanticleer (n.p., n.d.), adapted by P. Sanders.
DAILY QUOTE for May 22, 2019
SAINT OF THE DAY
St. Rita of Cascia
Fatima custodians often meet people who know little or nothing about the Catholic faith. A few years ago I had such an experience in Florida