I am sure that everyone has heard the story of St. Francis and
the wolf of Gubio. It was reported that the villagers of Gubio
were very unhappy with one very enterprising wolf who was eating their livestock. As the account goes, they appealed to St. Francis to do something to stop the carnage. And whether you want to believe it or not, St. Francis did. He approached the wolf and told him if he would stop killing their animals, the villagers
would keep him fed. And the wolf agreed, and from then on things were so much better in the village of Gubio -thanks to the
intervention of St. Francis.
You may think this is a fairy tale. I don't because I love
St. Francis and believe that he was capable of doing extraordinary things. In fact, because of my great admiration for him, I wanted to become a Third Order Franciscan. Well, around the turn of the century, I did take classes and became a Third Order Franciscan. Sadly today, I am no longer a Third Order Secular Francican.
What happened? My chapter was not involved at all in animal concerns. However, they were a very spiritual and praying group who tried to involve themselves in human needs and concerns. That is certainly commendable, but there never was anything about helping suffering animals. I was quite disappointed and I obviously did not do my homework well. I just believed that Franciscans would have a mission and concern for the animals, but I was wrong.
I tried to bring the topic of animal concerns to them, but it was an
effort in futility. I wish them well, but I knew that this is not
what I had expected when I became a Third Order Franciscan.
WOLF ON FACEBOOK. This morning- Barbara's link asked us to write the governor of Montana to outlaw trapping. The picture accompanying her request showed a very self-satisfied and smug trapper standing next to the emaciated body of a poor wolf caught in his trap. He obviously wasn't the least bit concerned or saddened that this poor wolf lingered long and starved to death in his trap because he failed to check it in a timely fashion and put him out of his misery.
So, I sent an e-mail to the Governor of Montana:
"To see this innocent creature of God in a horrible trap and starved to death is a hauntimg portrayal of our cruelty to our fellow living creatures. No living being should be tortured because he is what God made him.
I hope you believe that we should be responsible and caring to other beings -human or animal. If so, trapping should be a thing of the ignorant past. Shouldn't a compassionate people see this?
Thank you for whatever you can do in this regard."
VASU MURTI ON ST. FRANCIS
I have Vasu Murti's well written book "They Shall Not Hurt or Destroy" and when I saw him remark about St. Francis on the Catholic Vegetarian Facebook site, I knew it would be something worthwhile to read and share, and I was right.
He begins by quoting Steven Rosen re the schools of Christian thought: The Aristotelian-Thomistic school and the Augustinian-Franciscan school.
"The Aristotelian-Thomistic school has, as its fundamental basis, the premise that ANIMALS ARE HERE FOR OUR PLEASURE--THEY HAVE NO PURPOSE OF THEIR OWN. We can eat them, torture them in laboratories --anything.... Unfortunately, modern Christianity embraces this form of their religion.
The Augustinian-Franciscan school, however, teaches that WE ARE ALL BROTHERS AND SISTERS UNDER GOD'S THERHOOD. Based largely on the world view of St. Francis and being platonic in nature, this school fits in very neatly with the vegetarian perspective."
MORE ON ST. FRANCIS. Murti reflects on some of St. Francis' life re the animals:
"It is said that St. Francis of Assisi bought two lambs from a
butcher and gave them the coat on his back to keep them warm; and that he bought two fish from a fishwoman and threw them back into the water. He even paid to ransom lambs that were being taken to their death, recalling the gentle Lamb who willingly went to slaughter to pay the ransom of sinners."
In his "Admonitions" St. Francis said: "Be conscious, O man, of the wondrous state in which the Lord God has placed you, for He created and formed you to the image of His beloved Son -and (yet) all the creatures under heaven, each according to its nature, SERVE, KNOW, AND OBEY THEIR CREATOR BETTER THAN YOU" (Sadly, this admonition has basically fallen on deaf ears.)
And, of course, we have St. Francis to thank for the Christmas
creche. And he doesn't forget the importance of the animals when he said: "And on Christmas Eve, out of reverence for the Son of God, whom on that night the Virgin Mary placed in a manger beween the ox and the ass, anyone having an ox or an ass is to feed it a generous portion of choice fodder. And on Christmas Day, the rich are to give the poor the finest food in abundance." (Notice how beautifully St. Francis remembers BOTH the animals and humans. Certainly that shows a well balanced approach which we unfortunately generally lack.)
And I loved St. Francis for removing worms from a busy road and placing them on the roadside so they would not be crushed under human traffic. I don't know if I learned this practice from him or not, but I too remove any worms I find on the sidewalk who might be crushed by thoughtless passerbys. One priest remarked one time in a sermon that as a boy he loved to squish worms after a rain. I was horrified at his lack of compassion.
Among reflections re St. Francis: "...his love of creatures was not
simply the offspring of a soft sentimental disposition. It arose from that deep and abiding sense of the presence of God. To him all are from one Father and all are real kin...hence, his deep sense of personal responsibility towards fellow creatures: the loving friend of all God's creatures."
On the subject of mercy, Francis notes that a lack of mercy towards animals leads to a lack of mercy towards men. And St. Bonaventure, a noted scholar and theologian who joined the Franciscan order in 1243 echos St. Francis when he taught that all creatures come from God and RETURN TO HIM, and that the light of God shines through His different creatures in different ways: "...For every creature is by its nature a kind of effigy and likeness of the eternal Wisdom. Therefore, open you eyes, alert the ears of your spirit, open your lips and apply your heart so that in all creatures you may see, hear, praise, love and worship, glorify and honor your God." (To that- I say Amen.)
St. Francis was certainly a very special saint. I am so glad that he followed his own drummer and taught the world that animals come from God and thus deserve kind and compassionate treatment. Sadly, looking at the world at large - looking at how our farm animals are treated in CAFOs and lab animals in research, it seems that his wonderful lessons on compassion
have fallen on deaf ears.
But thank God, we do find people of compassion the world over trying to make the lives of animals better. Dear St. Francis, please help them and the animals you so loved.