Happy World Animal Day! It's also, not coincidentally, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. In honor of animals everywhere and of that gentle man who asked that we all take thought for our furred, feathered and finned siblings, I want to share a bit of a particularly good Francis story. Here's how he befriended the terrible Wolf that terrorized the city of Gubbio.
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To the astonishment and horror of everybody, Francis declared that he would himself go out and meet the wolf.
Though all the crowd begged him not to venture, and filled his ears with accounts of the cruelty of the beast, the Little Poor Man, followed by one or two Brothers, went out from the city gate and down the road toward the spot where the wolf was thought to lurk. Behind the Brothers came the citizens of Gubbio, still frightened, but curious to see what would happen, and, it may be, quieted by the coolness and fearlessness of Francis. Close at the heels of the Brothers marched certain venturesome boys, and at the very end of the procession dangled a group of smaller, timider children, round-eyed and open-mouthed, who clutched each others' hands, and were always ready to scamper home at a moment's warning.
About a quarter of a mile beyond the gate, where a wood of tall oaks and walnuts shadowed the road, those who were nearest turned pale at the sight of the wolf, coming swiftly along, with his great jaws open, eager to spring upon Brother Francis, who walked ahead and alone. He went, not as a soldier goes to meet an enemy, but as one might go out to meet a welcome friend.
As the unarmed man and the wild beast neared each other, Francis called, cheerily: "Come hither, Brother Wolf! I ask you, for Christ's sake, to do no harm to me nor to any one." Then the crowd saw, with wonder, that the terrible wolf stopped running, and that the great, wicked jaws closed; and, presently, the creature came softly up to Brother Francis and, meek as a lamb, lay down at his feet.
And Francis spoke to him as one man might reason with another: "Brother Wolf, you do much harm in all this countryside, and you have committed many crimes, hurting and killing God's creatures. Not only have you killed and eaten beasts, but you have dared to kill men, made in God's image, and, therefore, you deserve to be punished like the worst of thieves and murderers; and all the people cry out and murmur against you; and everybody is your enemy." The wolf lay perfectly still, with his head flat in the dust of the road, and his red tongue lolled out like that of a winded hound. The people forgot their fright, and spread themselves in a circle that all might see and hear; the children tiptoed closer, to look at the monster who had filled all their dreams with terror.
"But I wish, Brother Wolf," went on the voice of Francis, "to make peace between you and this folk, so that you shall not harm them any more; and they shall forgive you all your misdeeds, and neither the men nor the dogs shall trouble you any longer." Then, with body and head and tail, the great wolf seemed to agree to all that Brother Francis said. Perhaps the wolf somewhat wondered what he should do for dinner, if he could not kill a sheep nor a child; perhaps he was so charmed by this strange, gentle voice that he forgot all about his dinner.
Brother Francis did not forget, as his next words showed. "Brother Wolf," said he, "since you are honestly willing to make and keep this peace, I promise you that, as long as you live, the men of this place shall give you food, so that you shall never go hungry; for I know well that it is hunger that has made you do all this evil. But I want you to promise me, in return, that you will never harm any human being, nor any animal. Will you promise me this?" And the wolf nodded his head, as if he said: "Yes, I promise." And Francis said: " Brother Wolf, I want you to make me so sure of your promise that I cannot doubt it." The man held out his hand, and the beast lifted his paw and laid it clumsily on Brother Francis's palm, as much as to say: "Here is my hand. I will keep my part of the treaty." "And now," said Francis, " I wish you, Brother Wolf, to come with me, and not to be afraid, and we will finish this business."
Francis turned back toward the city, and the wolf walked beside him like a pet lamb. . .
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-- from Sophie Jewett, God's Troubadour: the story of Saint Francis of Assisi (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell & Company, 1910), pps. 104-108.