Admirably humble, St. Francis often preached to listening animals, and living among the poor, he regarded the sanctity of all humanity, all earthly creatures and even “brother sun” and “sister moon” as sacred integral components of our natural world.
And he believed all of the inhabitants of Earth should be revered and respected and seen as equals, all living together in a harmonious balance.
I was not overly familiar with Francis until, recently, I heard the story of he and the Wolf of Gubbio. It’s a narrative of a second chances, making peace and understanding needs and forgiving. Many ideals we could all strive for in our tumultuous world.
The story takes place in Umbria, the village of Gubbio, where a wolf moves in outside of the village. Now living in proximity to the people of Gubbio and the local shepherds’ flocks, the wolf, as predators do, went after the sheep, because they were abundant and required little skill to hunt and kill.
Obviously, the shepherds were not pleased by the killing of their sheep and vowed to hunt down the wolf. Many brave men left the safety of the walls of Gubbio and went out after the wolf never to return. The wolf was powerful, strong and bold; killing and devouring all who hunted him, even those who merely stepped outside the city walls.
The city elders did not know what to do, the town of Gubbio held hostage. Francis elected himself to go out and deal with the wolf. Though strongly advised against his idea, Francis signed the cross and went out of the gates determined to make peace between the murderous wolf and the people of Gubbio.
The wolf was sleeping when Francis arrived to its lair, but suddenly awoke hearing Francis’ breathing; quickly jumping to his feet,the wolf snarling. Francis said, brother wolf you have killed the sheep of the shepherds and killed many men. You must stop and make peace, what is it that you need, how can I help you? The wolf bowed its head, walked toward Francis, resting at his feet, then placing his head in Francis’ hands.
The wolf told him he needs to eat, but there is no food for him. Francis, extends his hand, the wolf placed his paw in Francis’ hand. I promise you the people of Gubbio will feed you, but you must stop killing them and their livestock. It was then the wolf agreed, the oath made.
Francis walked back to the village, the wolf at his side. People ran, but Francis told them the wolf is now tame. He told the villagers about the pact, the wolf and the villagers will live in peace, Francis said.
Brother wolf kept his word roaming from house to house, where the villagers always kept theirs by feeding him. And when the wolf died, the people of Gubbio gave him a most honorable burial, eventually erecting a church at the site. A 17th century renovation of the church revealed, near an outer wall, a skeleton of a large wolf that was later reburied within the church.
We must know and respect the needs of all humanity, however, we cannot just listen to the needs of only mankind, but listen to the needs of all living creatures. This is where the villagers in the story failed. We must learn to speak to our Earth and ask ourselves and each other are the needs of our natural environment being meet? No? Then we must say to our mother Earth, what can I do to help you, as Francis asked of brother wolf, what do you need?
We must teach each other, teach one another to listen to each other and listen to our Earth. If you are not connected to the ground, the sky and vast seas, then you must be, we must be.
You should smile when you see the sun. Be joyful when it rains. Try and look down at the lowly regarded pigeons at your feet, do they not have a soul, a voice? Just as we believe a woman or man does. Be the connection, because we are one life.
Connectivity, it’s the only way we can respect love, life and soul. We are all one life. And just as Francis brokered a deal of forgiveness between the villagers and the wolf, we can do the same to each other. Disregard the past, be human, be kind, and always be love.