Thursday, October 04, 2012

Francis and the Wolf

The following is excerpted from Following Francis: The Franciscan Way for Everyone by Susan Pickford. It seems appropriate to share given that today is the feast of St. Francis of Assisi.

Francis had the courage to confront his shadow side and be reconciled to himself, and to God. One of the most famous stories told about Francis concerns the time when the people of the town of Gubbio were being terrorized by a bloodthirsty wolf. The wolf had killed several people, and the townsfolk were afraid to leave their homes. So Francis decided to go meet the wolf; his companions accompanied him part of the way, but finally out of fear left Francis to confront the beast alone. When he found the wolf, it lunged at him open-jawed, but when Francis greeted it as "Brother Wolf" and commanded it not to harm him or anyone else, it stopped and knelt in submission at Francis' feet. Francis and the wolf made a deal: the people of the town would provide food for the wolf for the rest of its life, in exchange for the wolf's ceasing to harm them. The wolf bowed its head and placed its right paw into Francis' hand, and sealed the deal. So the wolf lived in peace with the people of Gubbio for the rest of its life.

This is actually true. Well, it might be. The reason this story has such a central place in Franciscan lore is that it points to Francis' role as a reconciler of enemies. But a deeper reading suggests that Francis was unafraid to go forth alone and confront the beast within himself. This is a very Franciscan approach to penitence: Francis didn't kill the wolf – he tamed it so that he could live with it in peace. Likewise, our wounds – even the scary, shameful, self-inflicted ones – shouldn't become occasions for doing ourselves further violence. They're to be occasions of mercy, of reconciliation, of peace. Can we accept this? Can we see our wounds as places where the divine life can enter into us?

Recommended Off-site Link:
Francis of Assisi’s Queer Side Revealed by Historical Evidence – Kittredge Cherry (Jesus in Love, October 4, 2012).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Francis of Assisi: Dancer, Rebel, Archetype
Francis of Assisi: God's Gift to the Church
No Mere Abstraction
St. Francis of Assisi and Human Sexuality
Francis of Assisi: The Antithesis of Clericalism and Monarchism
Solar Brother

Image: St. Francis taming the wolf of Gubbio, from The Century magazine, 1912.


Kittredge Cherry said...

I love the story of Francis befriending the wolf, and this is a useful way of looking at the symbolic meaning of the wolf as shadow.

Thank you for recommending my piece on the queer side of St. Francis as an off-site link. I am honored that a scholar shared his research with my blog, and it was an amazing journey to read his research on how Francis crossed gender boundaries.

Elizabeth said...

I came across this post by accident and loved it. I just wanted to thank you for writing it - it gave me a new understanding of one of my favorite heroes.