Feast of St. Francis of Assisi Oct 2018
Today we celebrate the Feast day of St. Francis of Assisi who lived in the Italian town of Assisi in the late 12thCentury and early 13thCentury. He was born to wealthy parents and wanted for nothing as a child and had a place waiting for him in the family business after his time as a knight. As a prisoner of war and through a long illness Francis began to look at life through a new set of eyes. Riding his horse on the road to Assisi he came across a man who had leprosy, moved with compassion he gets off his horse and embraces the man and from that time on his life changed for ever. On hearing the Gospel, we heard today, and the local priest preach on the Gospel St. Francis knew he was called to a life of service although still not sure where it all would lead. History tells us where it did lead, and the story I am about to tell you is one of the many attributed to him during his life.
I want to tell you a story about St. Francis the peace maker (very cut down and paraphrased version of the ‘Wolf of Gubbio’). On his travels through the Italian countryside he came to a village called Gubbio (which is about 57 klm’s by road in modern time from Assisi). At that time, the village was being terrorised by fierce wolf that had attacked and eaten livestock and people of the village, it had reached a point where the local villagers were too afraid to stray far from the village. When St. Francis had heard about the wolf from the local mayor he decided he would go out and talk to the wolf to find out why he was the way he was. When the wolf saw St. Francis, he ran toward Francis like he was going to attack him, but Francis put out his hand and wolf calmed down and rolled over for Francis to pat him. St. Francis and the wolf struck up a conversation in wolf speak and Francis asked him why he was attacking the villagers and their livestock. The wolf told St. Francis that he was left behind by his pack when he had hurt his leg and he was too weak and hungry to try and follow them at his own pace, so he began to hunt the livestock and when confronted by the villagers he would attack them through fear, hunger and his need survive on his own.
St. Francis told the wolf that unless he stopped what he was doing the villagers would surely track him down and kill him, so Francis and the wolf came to an arrangement. The wolf said he would stop attacking the livestock and the villagers if they in return would leave out food daily for him and they would not try and track him down to harm him. St. Francis promised the wolf he would go to the mayor and tell him why the wolf was like he was and that he would stop attacking and killing the livestock and people if they promised to feed him. The mayor called a meeting of the villagers and told them about the agreement St. Francis had mediated for them and the villagers and the mayor promised to look after the wolf for the rest of his life. St. Francis went back out to the wolf and brought him back to the village, at first the people were afraid and so was the wolf. As they got closer the wolf and the villagers calmed down and all felt comfortable in each other’s company, so both the wolf and villagers became friends and kept their promises, and the wolf and villagers lived in peace for the rest of the wolfs long and peaceful life.
So, what is the take away from this story for us living here and now in the 21stCentury?
We could say that if we do confront a wild animal without fear the animal will sense this and not attack, but I am not sure if I would try that with an angry Bengal Tiger heading towards me. We could also argue that the point of the story was survival for both the villagers and the wolf.
But I believe Francis’ action within this story goes a lot deeper which we will get back to that in a moment…
Those who knew St. Francis told many stories about how he was so connected to all of Creation. In the Canticle of the Creatures/SunSt. Francis refers to everything as brother or sister. He came to believe by the time he met Sister Death on the evening of the 3rdOctober 1226 that God and all of Creation are in communion and when we have that relationship of peace with all of Creation it is then that we can find peace in ourselves and each other.
So back to the story of St. Francis and the Wolf…
Although the story was probably not intended at its time of writing to be a tutorial on Peace through Conflict Resolution, it has been used as such by many Franciscan theologians and authors for that purpose.
Greg Stone one of the founders of the Taming the Wolf Foundation and author of “Taming the Wolf: Peace through Faith” as the name suggests uses the story of the Wolf of Gubbio to illustrate many of the issues we face today regarding conflict resolution, be it bullying, stopping the next war, working through the issues we find in families, church communities, local bowls club, neighbourhood disputes and personal conflicts within ourselves.
In his book he uses the characters in the story to portray the process of conflict resolution.
The wolf is the Oppressor and the Oppressed:
Left alone to die from his injuries he goes into survival mode and does whatever he needs to do to eat and feel secure. Like the bully whose default reaction to something is attack, or the partner in a domestic dispute whose default reaction is hit out with abusive words or physical abuse. Insert example of oppressor here… But the wolf was also the oppressed because the villagers were out to hunt him down and kill him.
The Mayor and Villagers are the Oppressed and the Oppressors:
The country side around their village was the place where the wolf was left wounded and alone. Simply put their village was in the wrong place at the right time. Similar to events we have seen recently in the news over the past few months. The men walking away from football match and are set upon by disgruntled fans from the opposing team, or those shot because they happened to be in the shop that the gunman decided to take his anger out on. The partner on the receiving end of the abuse in domestic dispute, or the children who are on the other end of bullying in the school yard or the social media application. And on the other side of that they were also oppressors because they were going to hunt the wolf down and kill him.
St. Francis the Mediator:
Feeling compassion for the villagers who had been attacked, had livestock taken, and in fear about leaving the safety of the village alone. Having spoken with the Mayor about what had been happening is moved to go out into the countryside to try and find out why the wolf was being a right pain to have around the area. The mediator today maybe friends, other family members, the local vicar, solicitors in a legal dispute or professional councillors like marriage guidance, anger management.
Stone tells us that as the mediator St. Francis plays the central role in this story he writes:
“The story, in the various forms in which it has been retold, focuses on a neutral third party coming to the aid of two parties in conflict. Jean François Godet-Calogeras describes the legend and its role in Franciscan life:
“The story of the wolf of Gubbio is the story of a conflict between two parties in which Francis gets involved. Through the events and Francis’s intervention, the author elaborates a whole theory of conflict resolution or peacemaking. As Franciscans are friends of peace, we are deeply interested in such theory to inspire our own action.”
To summarise the role of St. Francis in this story:
- He is the listener,
- He listens to both sides of the story from the wolf and the villagers,
- He comes to an arrangement that suits both the wolf and villagers, and
- He then leaves the wolf and villagers to implement both sides of the agreement.
So, what does that mean for us here in 2018 in the Parish of Waterloo Bay and members of the community of The Redlands?
I believe the challenge for us is, can we identify ourselves in any of those roles:
- Have I been an oppressor?
- Have I been one of the oppressed?
- Have I been a mediator?
I can honestly say that in my lifetime I have identified myself with the first two, but I am sad to say I find that third character difficult at times. How do we as a church community put ourselves in a position of mediator within our parish and in our mission district?
As we celebrate this St. Francis Memorial Feast Day let us remember that St. Francis was not just a lover of animals but of all creation, his focus was on following Jesus, his Incarnation, the Gospel, his Sacrifice on the Cross, his Resurrection and the life to come. He showed us throughout his life by example all aspects of the Gospel, and he tells us to go and do what it is ours to do. Amen.
Stone, Greg. Taming the Wold: Peach through Faith. Westlake Village, CA: Taming the Wolf Institute, 2009.
Greg Stone, Taming the Wold: Peach through Faith, (Westlake Village, CA: Taming the Wolf Institute, 2009).(Kindle Locations 336-340).