There is a legend told in the “Little Flowers of St. Francis”—often referenced by its Italian name, “Fioretti”—of the town of Gubbio in Umbria in Italy and a wolf. As the story goes this wolf was a menace to the community, terrifying to all, going about eating not only the citizen’s flocks and herds, but the citizens themselves. Then one day Francis of Assisi came to this town, had compassion for its people and animals, and took it upon himself to go have a talking to this big bad wolf. The legend tells that the people were so fearful of the wolf that even as Francis and his companions went up into the hills to confront it, the companions were so filled with dread that they abandoned Francis leaving him to encounter the wolf by himself. But when he did encounter the wolf Francis made the sign of the cross and spoke to the wolf, “Brother Wolf, you do much harm in these parts and you have done great evil. All these people accuse you and curse you…But brother wolf, I would like to make peace between you and the people.” So Francis and the wolf went to the town and there a covenant was made between the people of the city and the wolf: the wolf would no longer attack its citizens or flocks and the people would in return keep the wolf regularly fed. Francis even blessed the wolf.
Obviously, what is suppose to come across in this story is how cool Francis was. He did become a capital-s Saint after all. But I think it also speaks to—mysterious and complicated as it may be—the genuineness of the wolf.
Many other stories have been told of Francis and his beautiful and uncanny ability to preach to the animals, so much so, that he almost comes across like Snow White or Cinderella does in the Disney movies, birds singing around his head, woodland creatures scampering about his feet. That’s too bad because it can make the holiness of his witness to the Gospel too easily dismissible, cartoonized and unreal. But Francis got what a lot of people get, but far too many can miss, that there is a holiness in God’s creation and creatures.
Today is the Feast day of St. Francis of Assisi. What this will mean in some Roman Catholic churches is a Blessing of the Animals. As well many Anglican congregations, some Lutheran, and even some Methodist and Reformed churches will join in the Blessing this Sunday. I believe it is a fitting way to celebrate St. Francis and at least in part, honour some of God’s creation and creatures.
I shared here at the Twelve back in June about how one of my dogs, Sarii, had recently had a confirmed diagnosis of cancer. He died in late August, and as I believe, went on to the nearer presence of the Lord. I really do think all dogs—or at least certainly most—go to heaven.
I continue to grieve him. He was a good friend. On this Feast Day of St. Francis when some will participate in the Blessing of the Animals, I remember him particularly and bless God for him. Part of the process of grieving that I found helpful (almost necessary?) for me to do was to write his obituary. Maybe that’s silly, but it was important too. I shared it on my facebook page and got more responses to it than to anything else I’ve ever posted. I’d like to share its closing:
Sarii was just a dog; that is true. But it is said that the dog is man’s best friend, and that is also true, at least for Sarii’s human. He was indeed my best friend. And the blessing of his friendship, dog that he might have been, was profound and immense and the loss I feel is in measure. In the Bible it is said that Job says, “But ask the animals, and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you; ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?” (Job12:7-9) Job is speaking about his particular circumstances but I believe the truth of his words far surpass his own particular situation. Ask the animals, and they will teach you. In not a small way, I have learned much of God by the gentle and endearing friendship I have had with Sarii; faithfulness and presence, which in my hopes and experience are essential characteristics of God. Therefore, I am thankful to God for Sarii, for the friend that he has been to me and for the hope of the peace and comfort that he may now experience as part of God’s wondrous creation redeemed in Christ. So, I end this with gratitude, to God. And to Sarii.
Reformed people generally don’t pay much attention to the Saints. But on this day, I’m grateful for saints like St. Francis who taught and demonstrated in his life the wonder and mystery of God’s beautiful universe. I end by sharing his song, the Canticle of the Sun,
Most high, all powerful, all good Lord!
All praise is yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing.
To you, alone, Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.
Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and you give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.
Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
in the heavens you have made them bright, precious and beautiful.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
and clouds and storms, and all the weather,
through which you give your creatures sustenance.
Be praised, My Lord, through Sister Water;
she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you brighten the night.
He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.
Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,
who feeds us and rules us,
and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of you;
through those who endure sickness and trial.
Happy those who endure in peace,
for by you, Most High, they will be crowned.
Be praised, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death,
from whose embrace no living person can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Happy those she finds doing your most holy will.
The second death can do no harm to them.
Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks,
and serve him with great humility.