I enjoy reading about the history of faith, especially the spread of Christian faith over the last 2000 years. A spiritual awakening, starting in an obscure area of the Roman Empire, led by a young Jewish provincial preacher and healer, has turned into one of the largest religions in the world and lasted till now. Who were the ones who took up the torch (often becoming torches themselves ultimately) to carry the faith further and further “into all the world” (Mark 16:15), as Jesus commanded His disciples to go?
A name that still resonates in some places till this day is that of Francis of Assisi (1181-1226). Some say he had a similar degree of impact on his nation and his times as did Martin Luther three hundred years later, the famous German reformer who’s considered the father of the Protestant Reformation.
Who were these guys? What did they do? What kind of people were they? Schemers? Political masterminds out to lead radical social change? Charlatans, fakes, phonies, deceivers?
I just read a story from a book called “The Little Flowers of Saint Francis”, a collection of short stories of events in the life of St. Francis. This one struck me as the amazing kind of thing you can read about in the lives of great “saints”, godly men and women of any age who totally gave themselves over to the love and will of God.
For many, this will just be unbelievable. Surely this couldn’t have happened. “Surely, Mark, you don’t mean to tell us you believe this?” The problem with doubting this is that I’ve found, in the study of people of faith, miracles like this seem to have been recorded over and over again through the centuries. Jesus told His disciples, “He that believes on me, the works that I do, shall he do also. And greater works than these shall he do, because I go to My Father.” (John 14:12) Greater works than Jesus did when He was on earth would be done by His followers in the centuries to come. Here’s one of them. I hope you can believe it.
(As taken from “The Little Flowers of Saint Francis”)
In the days when St. Francis lived in the city of Gubbio, a huge wolf, terrible and fierce, appeared in the neighborhood, and not only devoured animals but men also in such a way that all the citizens went in great fear of their lives because often the wolf came close to the city. When the people went out of the city, all the men armed themselves as if they were going to battle and even so, none who encountered the wolf when they were alone could defend themselves. Finally it got to where no man went outside the walls of the city for fear of the wolf.
St. Francis had great compassion on the people of that city and he made plans to go out to the wolf. But all the citizens unitedly advised him not to do this. But St. Francis, making the sign of the cross and putting all his trust in God, went out from the city with his companions.
Then, because St. Francis’s companions feared to go further, St. Francis went on alone towards the place where the wolf was. And, in the sight of many people who had followed behind to see what would happen, the wolf appeared and came menacingly towards Francis with his jaws open.
Marvelously, no sooner had Francis made the sign of the cross than the wolf closed his jaws and stopped in his tracks. Immediately as Francis had given the order to the wolf, he became gentle as a lamb and laid himself at the feet of Francis.
Francis then said to him, “Brother wolf, you’ve worked much evil in these parts, destroying God’s creatures. You’ve not only destroyed the beasts of the field but you’ve dared to kill men, made in the image of God. All people cry out against you and all this city is at enmity with you. But brother wolf, I would make peace between you and them so that you injure them no more and that the people of the city will pursue you no more.”
When Francis had spoken, the wolf moved his body, his tail and ears, bowing his head and made signs that he accepted what had been said and would agree. Then Francis said to the wolf, “Since it is acceptable to observe this peace, I promise to obtain for you as long as you live a continual sustenance from the men of the city so that you will not hunger. But after I obtain this commitment from the people of the city, I want you to promise me you will hurt neither man or beast. Do you promise me this?” The wolf bowed his head and gave a clear sign that he promised.
Francis said to the wolf, “I want you to make a pledge of faith that you will keep this promise.” And when Francis held forth his hand, the wolf lifted up his paw and gentle laid it in the hand of Francis, giving him as good a sign and pledge as he could.
Francis then said to the wolf, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come with me, don’t fear,” and they went off towards Gubbio to confirm the new peace between the wolf and the people. The wolf went by the side of Francis towards the city, like a pet lamb.
When the people of the city saw what had happened and Francis and the wolf coming towards the city, they marveled greatly and very quickly the word spread as to what was happening. Soon almost the whole city had flocked to the marketplace to see the wolf with St. Francis.
Francis then preached to the people of the city, as he often did from place to place. Afterwards he said to the people, “You see here brother wolf, who has promised and pledged to me to not harm or destroy you anymore if you will promise to provide him daily sustenance. I stand as a witness between you and him that he will observe this agreement.” And the people all agreed to the agreement and that they would provide food for the wolf.
Then Francis, in front of all the people of the city, said to the wolf, “Do you, brother wolf, promise to observe these conditions before all these people and hurt neither man nor beast?” And the wolf knelt down and bowed his head and with gentle movements of tail and body and ears, showed by all possible signs that he would observe the agreement of peace. Francis said to the wolf, “I want, brother wolf, that in the same way you did show your pledge of faith outside the city walls, that before all the people you will renew that pledge and never make me, your bondsman, to be found false.”
Then the wolf, lifting up his paw, did place it in the hand of St. Francis. And with that act there was such a marvel and rejoicing among all the people – not only because of the strangeness of the miracle but because of the peace made with the wolf – that they began to cry aloud to God and to praise and bless Him who had sent St. Francis to them.
And the wolf lived two years in Gubbio and would enter like a tame creature into the houses, doing hurt to no one and no one doing hurt to him. He was kindly fed by the people and went about the city without even a dog barking at him. After two years the wolf died of old age and the people mourned because, when they had seen the wolf going about the city they remembered the miracles and words of St. Francis.
“Myth! Fable! Legend! Allegory!” or so many would say. But for those with faith in God and especially those who’ve seen His hand work in their lives, this is yet another, admittedly strange and wonderful testimony of God’s ability to do greater things than even were done in the days of the Apostles. “For with God, nothing shall be impossible.” (Luke 1:37)