By James Alexander
On October 4th the Church celebrated the Feast of St. Francis. During the chapel at St. Andrew’s school Abbott shared the story of Francis and the wolf of Gubbio. In the story the village of Gubbio is being terrorized by a lone wolf. The mayor sends word to Francis to see if he can help. When Francis arrives at the village he asks the mayor to tell him everything that had happened. Once Francis hears everything he decides to go to meet the wolf despite what the mayor told him. Francis walks alone to edge of the forest and as the wolf runs towards Francis he makes the sign of the Cross and the wolf stops in front of him and doesn’t attack. The villagers watch in disbelief as Francis seems to start having a conversation with the wolf. After a while Francis turns and walks back with the wolf and tells them that the wolf has made the pledge of peace and will do them no harm.
When I heard this story of Francis two things came to my mind. One, no matter how ferocious the wolf may have been Francis viewed him in the same way he would see a little child: part of God’s beautiful creation. Second, I thought of a story of Francis and the Sultan, a story of a beautiful conversation between this poor monk in tattered robes from Italy and a powerful ruler in fine silks from Egypt.
In his Canticle of the Creatures, Francis praises God through different things in creation. At the end of the canticle he mentions our Sister of our bodily death. In our western modern mindsets, we are programed to demonize death and that we should always try to look as young as possible. Francis however, shows us that death shouldn’t be hated and demonized because we are afraid of it. In the story of Francis and the wolf, the people demonized the wolf because of its behavior. But the wolf says the only reason he attacked was because he was scared and hungry and the villagers attacked first. Francis wouldn’t know the reason why the wolf attacked if he never engaged the wolf in conversation as a fellow part of creation created by God.
While Francis is normally seen as the patron saint of nature and animals, in modern times he is also seen as the patron of interreligious dialogue. He earned this title from the story of his interaction with the sultan. In the story Francis travels by boat with a group of crusaders trying to convince them to not fight the Sultan’s army. The crusaders just laughed at him. When they arrived in Damietta the crusader army suffered heavy losses and was defeated. After the battle Francis and his traveling companion were taken captive and taken before the Sultan, who himself studied philosophy and theology. When Francis was taken to the Sultan we could only imagine what the Sultan thought of Francis. Here is a monk who looks more like a beggar than a priest or bishop who came to talk. The Sultan and Francis recognized the light of God in each other and saw each other as human. So often we want to demonize people for the fact we just do not understand them. Francis shows us that we need to strive to see the humanity in all people and see them as children of our Creator.
Since I have been working at St. Andrew’s School I have been trying to embody Francis’ worldview. Instead of seeing the kids who act out in the middle of class I try to see them as child who bear the image of God. While, it is hard most days I am always trying to act according the Franciscan values I have taken on in my life.