Category Archives: Franciscan saints & blesseds

St Francis of Assisi

Today is the feast of St Francis of Assisi.

One aspect of the saint’s life is his role a as a peacemaker. To illustrate this role is the story of Francis meeting the angry wolf in the town of Gubbio. According to the narrative the wolf terrorized animals and people alike.

According to the Fioretti, the principal collection of stories of the saint’s life,

“Francis placed his hope in the Lord Jesus Christ, master of all creatures. Protected neither by shield or helmet, only arming himself with the sign of the Cross, he bravely set out of the town with his companion, putting his faith in the Lord who makes those who believe in him walk without injury on an asp … and trample not merely on a wolf but even a lion and a dragon.”

Some local peasants followed the two brothers, keeping a safe distance. Finally the wolf saw Francis and came running as if to attack him. The story continues:

“The saint made the sign of the Cross, and the power of God . . . stopped the wolf, making it slow down and close its cruel mouth. Then Francis called to it, ‘Brother Wolf, in the name of Jesus Christ, I order you not to hurt me or anyone.”

The wolf then came close to Francis, lowered its head and then lay down at his feet as though it had become a lamb. Francis then censured the wolf for its former cruelties, especially for killing human beings made in the image of God, thus making a whole town into its deadly enemy.

“But, Brother Wolf, I want to make peace between you and them, so that they will not be harmed by you any more, and after they have forgiven you your past crimes, neither men nor dogs will pursue you anymore.”

The wolf responded with gestures of submission “showing that it willingly accepted what the saint had said and would observe it.”

Francis promised the wolf that the people of Gubbio would henceforth “give you food every day as long as you shall live, so that you will never again suffer hunger.” In return, the wolf had to give up attacking both animal and man. “And as Saint Francis held out his hand to receive the pledge, the wolf also raised its front paw and meekly and gently put it in Saint Francis’s hand as a sign that it had given its pledge.”

Francis led the wolf back into Gubbio, where the people of the town met them in the market square. Here Francis preached a sermon in which he said calamities were permitted by God because of our sins and that the fires of hell are far worse than the jaws of a wolf which can only kill the body. He called on the people to do penance in order to be “free from the wolf in this world and from the devouring fire of hell in the next world.” He assured them that the wolf standing at his side would now live in peace with them, but that they were now obliged to feed him every day. He pledged himself as “bondsman for Brother Wolf.”

After living peacefully within the walls of Gubbio for two years, “the wolf grew old and died, and the people were sorry, because whenever it went through the town, its peaceful kindness and patience reminded them of the virtues and holiness of Saint Francis.”

Is it possible that the story is true? Or is the wolf a storyteller’s metaphor for violent men? While the story works on both levels, there is reason to believe there was indeed a wolf of Gubbio. A Franciscan friend, Sister Rosemary Lynch, told me that during restoration work the bones of a wolf were found buried within the church in Gubbio.

Francis became, in a sense, the soldier he had dreamed of becoming as a boy; he was just as willing as the bravest soldier to lay down his life in defense of others. There was only this crucial difference. His purpose was not the defeat but the conversion of his adversary; this required refusing the use of weapons of war because no one has ever been converted by violence. He always regarded conversion as a realistic goal. After all, if God could convert Francis, anyone might be converted.

“They are truly peacemakers,” Saint Francis wrote in his Admonitions, “who are able to preserve their peace of mind and heart for love of our Lord Jesus Christ, despite all that they suffer in this world.”

— an extract from Ladder of the Beatitudes by Jim Forest

St Maximilian Kolbe

We liturgically honor one of the 20th century’s greatest saints, Maximilian Kolbe, who points out for the meaning of the “the victory that overcomes the world, our faith.”

“Father Maximilian voluntarily offered himself for death in the starvation bunker for a brother, and so won a spiritual victory like that of Christ himself. This brother still lives today in the land of Poland and is here with us” (John Paul II, June 7, 1979).

Saint Maximilian, pray for us.

St Clare of Assisi

The Church honors the memory of St. Clare of Assisi (1193/94-1253), liturgically, today. She is known as the first woman to join St. Francis and his companions in their new form of living the Gospel in a radical way.

Clare met Francis who impressed upon her the virtue –not just a value– of being a part of what he determined to be a life of penance and “life according to the Holy Gospel”. Called by God, Clare decided to abandon her family and social status, like Francis and his companions, in 1211 or 1212 be a part of the new movement. Her “Franciscan” life first was lived in her family home but later moved to a more fitting environment. It was Francis who taught:

“Since by divine inspiration you have made yourselves daughters and servants of the most High King, the heavenly Father, and have taken the Holy Spirit as your spouse, choosing to live according to the perfection of the Holy Gospel, I resolve and promise for myself and for my brothers always to have the same loving care and special solicitude for you as I have for them.”

As she wrote to St. Agnes of Prague: “If so great and good Lord, then, on coming into the Virgin’s womb, chose to appear despised, needy, and poor in this world, so that people who were in utter poverty and want, suffering hunger for heavenly nourishment, might become rich in him by possessing the kingdom of heaven, then rejoice and be glad! . . What a great and praiseworthy exchange: to leave the things of time for those of eternity, to choose the things of heaven for the goods of earth, to receive the hundred-fold in place of one, and to possess a blessed and eternal life!”

The early sisters of Clare lived simply and prayerfully at the Church of San Damiano for over 40 years, sustained by their own work. The her monastic Rule was finally approved by Pope Innocent IV shortly before her death in 1253. She was canonized two years later in 1255.

 

St Bonaventure

“An anonymous papal notary composed a eulogy to Bonaventure which gives us a conclusive portrait of this great Saint and excellent theologian. ‘A good, affable, devout and compassionate man, full of virtue, beloved of God and human beings alike…. God in fact had bestowed upon him such grace that all who saw him were pervaded by a love that their hearts could not conceal.’”

Pope Benedict XVI.

St. Anthony of Padua

 

“In 1946 Venerable Pope Pius XII proclaimed Anthony a Doctor of the Church, attributing to him the title “Doctor Evangelicus”, since the freshness and beauty of the Gospel emerge from these writings. We can still read them today with great spiritual profit.”

– Benedict XVI

St. Anthony of Padua, pray for us.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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