The Library Stack III:  The Little Flowers of St. Francis

Brother Ugolino (13th - 14th century)

Chapter VIII

HOW ST FRANCIS, WALKING ONE DAY WITH BROTHER LEO, EXPLAINED TO HIM WHAT THINGS ARE PERFECT JOY

... if we bear all these injuries with patience and joy, thinking of the sufferings of our Blessed Lord, which we would share out of love for him, write, O Brother Leo, that here, finally, is perfect joy. And now, brother, listen to the conclusion. Above all the graces and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit which Christ grants to his friends, is the grace of overcoming oneself, and accepting willingly, out of love for Christ, all suffering, injury, discomfort and contempt; for in all other gifts of God we cannot glory, seeing they proceed not from ourselves but from God, according to the words of the Apostle, ‘What hast thou that thou hast not received from God? and if thou hast received it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it?’

But in the cross of tribulation and affliction we may glory, because, as the Apostle says again, ‘I will not glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.’  Amen.

Chapter XXI

OF THE MOST HOLY MIRACLE OF ST FRANCIS IN TAMING THE FIERCE WOLF OF GUBBIO

At the time when St Francis was living in the city of Gubbio, a large wolf appeared in the neighbourhood, so terrible and so fierce, that he not only devoured other animals, but made a prey of men also; and since he often approached the town, all the people were in great alarm, and used to go about armed, as if going to battle. Notwithstanding these precautions, if any of the inhabitants ever met him alone, he was sure to be devoured, as all defence was useless: and, through fear of the wolf, they dared not go beyond the city walls. St Francis, feeling great compassion for the people of Gubbio, resolved to go and meet the wolf, though all advised him not to do so. Making the sign of the holy cross, and putting all his confidence in God, he went forth from the city, taking his brethren with him; but these fearing to go any further, St Francis bent his steps alone toward the spot where the wolf was known to be, while many people followed at a distance, and witnessed the miracle. The wolf, seeing all this multitude, ran towards St Francis with his jaws wide open. As he approached, the saint, making the sign of the cross, cried out: “Come hither, brother wolf; I command thee, in the name of Christ, neither to harm me nor anybody else.”

 

Marvellous to tell, no sooner had St Francis made the sign of the cross, than the terrible wolf, closing his jaws, stopped running, and coming up to St Francis, lay down at his feet as meekly as a lamb. And the saint thus addressed him: “Brother wolf, thou hast done much evil in this land, destroying and killing the creatures of God without his permission; yea, not animals only hast thou destroyed, but thou hast even dared to devour men, made after the image of God; for which thing thou art worthy of being hanged like a robber and a murderer. All men cry out against thee, the dogs pursue thee, and all the inhabitants of this city are thy enemies; but I will make peace between them and thee, O brother wolf, is so be thou no more offend them, and they shall forgive thee all thy past offences, and neither men nor dogs shall pursue thee any more.”

 

Having listened to these words, the wolf bowed his head, and, by the movements of his body, his tail, and his eyes, made signs that he agreed to what St Francis said. On this St Francis added: “As thou art willing to make this peace, I promise thee that thou shalt be fed every day by the inhabitants of this land so long as thou shalt live among them; thou shalt no longer suffer hunger, as it is hunger which has made thee do so much evil; but if I obtain all this for thee, thou must promise, on thy side, never again to attack any animal or any human being; dost thou make this promise?” Then the wolf, bowing his head, made a sign that he consented. Said St Francis again: “Brother wolf, wilt thou pledge thy faith that I may trust to this thy promise?” and putting out his hand he received the pledge of the wolf; for the latter lifted up his paw and placed it familiarly in the hand of St Francis, giving him thereby the only pledge which was in his power. Then said St Francis, addressing him again: “Brother wolf, I command thee, in the name of Christ, to follow me immediately, without hesitation or doubting, that we may go together to ratify this peace which we have concluded in the name of God”; and the wolf, obeying him, walked by his side as meekly as a lamb, to the great astonishment of all the people.

 

Now, the news of this most wonderful miracle spreading quickly through the town, all the inhabitants, both men and women, small and great, young and old, flocked to the market-place to see St Francis and the wolf. All the people being assembled, the saint got up to preach, saying, amongst other things, how for our sins God permits such calamities, and how much greater and more dangerous are the flames of hell, which last for ever, than the rage of a wolf, which can kill the body only; and how much we ought to dread the jaws of hell, if the jaws of so small an animal as a wolf can make a whole city tremble through fear. The sermon being ended, St Francis added these words: “Listen my brethren: the wolf who is here before you has promised and pledged his faith that he consents to make peace with you all, and no more to offend you in aught, and you must promise to give him each day his necessary food; to which, if you consent, I promise in his name that he will most faithfully observe the compact.” Then all the people promised with one voice to feed the wolf to the end of his days; and St Francis, addressing the latter, said again: “And thou, brother wolf, dost thou promise to keep the compact, and never again to offend either man or beast, or any other creature?” And the wolf knelt down, bowing his head, and, by the motions of his tail and of his ears, endeavoured to show that he was willing, so far as was in his power, to hold to the compact. Then St Francis continued: “Brother wolf, as thou gavest me a pledge of this thy promise when we were outside the town, so now I will that thou renew it in the sight of all this people, and assure me that I have done well to promise in thy name”; and the wolf lifting up his paw placed it in the hand of St Francis.

 

Now this event caused great joy in all the people, and a great devotion towards St Francis, both because of the novelty of the miracle, and because of the peace which had been concluded with the wolf; and they lifted up their voices to heaven, praising and blessing God, who had sent them St Francis, through whose merits they had been delivered from such a savage beast. The wolf lived two years at Gubbio; he went familiarly from door to door without harming anyone, and all the people received him courteously, feeding him with great pleasure, and no dog barked at him as he went about. At last, after two years, he died of old age, and the people of Gubbio mourned his loss greatly; for when they saw him going about so gently amongst them all, he reminded them of the virtue and sanctity of St Francis.

Certain Instructions and Notable Sayings of Brother Giles

CHAPTER II:  OF FAITH

All those things which can be thought with the heart, or spoken with the tongue, or seen with the eyes, or felt with the hands, are as nothing in comparison with those which we can neither think, nor see, nor touch. All the saints and wise men who have passed away, and all those who are now in this present life, and all those who shall come after us, - all those who have spoken or written, or shall speak or write of God, - shall never be able to show forth so much of him as a grain of millet in comparison with the whole extent of heaven and earth; nay, a thousand thousand times less. For all that is written of God is but as the lisping prattle of a mother to her babe, who could not understand her words did she speak after any other manner.

 

Brother Giles said once to a secular judge: “Dost thou believe that the gifts of God are great?” And the judge said: “I believe it.” To which Brother Giles replied: “I will show thee that thou dost not truly believe it.” And then he said to him: “What is the value of thy worldly possessions?” The judge answered: “Perhaps about a thousand pounds.” Then Brother Giles said: “Wouldst thou give this property to thine for ten thousand pounds?” The judge answered, with hesitation: “Assuredly, I would do so willingly.” Then Brother Giles said: “It is a thing most certain that all the possessions of this world are nothing worth in comparison with heavenly things; wherefore, then, givest thou not these possessions of thine to Christ, that thou mayst purchase riches celestial and eternal?”

 

Then the judge, being wise with the foolish wisdom of the world, made answer to the pure and simple Brother Giles: “Dost thou believe, Brother Giles, that there is any man whose outward acts accord perfectly with the measure of his internal belief?” Brother Giles replied: “Listen, my beloved: it is most certain that all the saints have truly striven to carry into effect, to the utmost extent of their power, all that they knew and understood to be the will of God; and those things which they were unable to effect in external act, they fulfilled by the holy desire of their will, which supplied their defect of power to perform the action.” Said Brother Giles again: “If any man had perfect faith, he would soon arrive at perfection, and attain to a full assurance of his salvation. What harm or what injury could any temporal adversity in this present life do to the man who, with firm faith, looketh forward to that eternal and supreme and most perfect blessedness? And what can any prosperity, or temporal good in this world avail the wretched man who looketh forward to eternal woe!

 

Nevertheless, let no man, how sinful soever he be, despair, so long as he liveth, of the infinite mercy of God; inasmuch as there is not a tree in the world so twisted and knotted and gnarled but may be fashioned and polished and beautiful by the hand of man; so likewise there is no man in this world so wicked and so sinful but God can convert him, and adorn him with singular graces and many gifts of virtue.”

CHAPTER VII:  OF THE CONTEMPT OF TEMPORAL THINGS

Many sorrows and troubles shall befall the miserable man who sets his heart and desires upon earthly things, for which he forsakes and loses the things of heaven, and at last those of earth also. The eagle flieth very high; but if a weight be laid upon his wings, he can no longer soar aloft; and so by the weight of earthly things man is hindered from soaring on high, to wit, from attaining to perfection; but the wise man, who lays the weight of the remembrance of death and judgment on the wings of his heart, cannot fly and range freely amid the vanities of this world, lest they prove to him occasion of damnation.

 

We see daily how men of the world toil and labour hard, placing themselves in many bodily dangers, to acquire its false riches; and then, after they have thus laboured and acquired, in a moment they die, and leave behind them all that they have gathered together in their lifetime. Therefore there is no dependence to be placed on this deceitful world, which deceiveth every man who trusteth in it, for it is a liar. But he who desires to be truly great and rich indeed, let him love and seek the true and eternal riches, which never satiate or weary or grow less.

 

Let us take example from the beasts and birds, who, when they receive their food are content, and seek only what they need from hour to hour: and so also ought man to be content with what is barely sufficient temperately to supply his needs, asking no more. Brother Giles said that St Francis loved the ants less than any other animal, because of the great care they take in the summer to gather and lay up a store of grain against the winter, but that he said that he loved the birds far better, because they gathered nothing one day for another.

 

But the ant giveth us an example that we should not remain idle in the summer-time of this present life, lest we be found empty and without fruit in the winter of the last and final judgment.

CHAPTER XIII:  OF KNOWLEDGE USEFUL AND USELESS

The man who would know much, must labour much and humble himself much, abasing himself and bowing his head until his mouth be in the dust; and then will the Lord bestow on him great wisdom and knowledge. The highest wisdom is to do always that which is good, acting virtuously, and guarding carefully against every sin and every occasion of sin, and ever keeping in mind the judgments of God.

 

Brother Giles said once to a man who desired to go to a school to learn secular knowledge: “My brother, wherefore wouldst thou go to this school? I would have thee to learn that the sum of all knowledge is to fear and to love, and these two things are sufficient for thee; for so much knowledge as he can use, and no more, is sufficient for a man. Busy not thyself in learning those things which may be useful to others, but study always and seek to use those which are profitable to thyself. For we often greatly desire knowledge by which we may aid others, and think little of that by which we may profit ourselves; and I say to thee, that the word of God dwelleth not with the speaker, nor with the hearer, but with the faithful doer thereof. Some men who cannot swim cast themselves in the water to save others from drowning, and so all of them are lost together. If thou dost not work out thine own salvation, how shalt thou work out that of thy neighbour? And if thou doest not thine own work well how shalt thou do the work of another man? for it is not credible that thou shouldest love the soul of another better than thine own.

 

“The preachers of God’s word ought to be standard-bearers, lights and mirrors to the people. Blessed is the man who so guideth others in the way of salvation, that he ceaseth not to walk therein himself. Blessed is the man who so teacheth others to run therein, that he ceaseth not to run himself. More blessed is he who so helps others to become rich that he fails not also to enrich himself. I believe that a good preacher admonishes and preaches to himself far more than to other men. It seems to me that he who would convert and draw the soul of sinners into the way of God, ought to stand in continual fear lest he should be perverted by them, and drawn by the way of sin and the devil’s road to hell.”

Read The Little Flowers of St. Francis in full at ccel.org.

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If we have died with him, we will also live with him. If we endure, we will also reign with him. If we deny him, he will also deny us. If we are faithless, he remains faithful--for he cannot deny himself.
Timothy 2:11-13