The story of how Saint Francis of Assisi tamed the Wolf of Gubbio is one of the great legends linked with the life of the saint. I have never been too worried as to whether the story was historically true or not. I am more interested in seeing how the story fits into the pattern of biblical themes and of God’s plans for creation. In this well-known legend, Saint Francis goes to the Italian town of Gubbio, where a fierce wolf had been terrorizing the village and even killing some of the people, including children.
Perhaps the three most well-known Franciscan saints are Francis, of course, Clare of Assisi, and Anthony of Padua. I would like to take this opportunity to highlight the similarities between Francis and his early follower, Anthony.
In his writings and in the early biographies of Saint Francis, he emerges as a person formed and informed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What does that mean? How do we even begin to live the Gospel, as he did, in our own time?
Saint Francis of Assisi’s life is a study in contrasts. He is admired the world over, yet he’s a hard one to neatly categorize. Born into great wealth, the young Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone stripped himself, literally, of all material affluence to embrace “lady poverty.”
Saint Francis had a fear and abhorrence of lepers. One day, however, he met a man afflicted with leprosy while riding his horse near Assisi. Though the sight of the leper filled him with horror and disgust, Francis got off his horse and kissed the leper. Then the leper put out his hand, hoping to receive something. Out of compassion, Francis gave money to the leper.
Since his death, Saint Francis of Assisi has been the subject of some of the world’s most admired works of art. His image is also found quite often in what we call the popular arts: in the form of greeting cards, plastic statues, medallions and plaques. These forms of art often get mixed reviews.
Everybody knows Saint Francis as a pillar of humility, simplicity, and grace. What few realize is that the young Francesco Bernardone was born into privilege, spoiled, and hungry for fame on the battlefield. But that was not to be. God had grander plans for Francis.