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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : OF SAINT FRANCIS

Bible Stories And Religious Classics by Philip P. Wells

OF SAINT FRANCIS

HOW HE RECEIVED THE COUNSEL OF ST. CLARE AND OF BROTHER SILVESTER, AND HOW HE PREACHED UNTO THE BIRDS

The humble servant of Christ, St. Francis, a short while after his conversion, having already gathered together many companions and received them into the order, fell into deep thought and much doubting as to what he ought to do: whether to give himself wholly unto prayer, or some time also unto preaching: and on this matter he much desired to learn the will of God. And for that the holy humility that was in him suffered him not to trust over much in himself nor in his own prayers, he thought to search out the will of God through the prayers of others: wherefore he called Brother Masseo, and bespake him thus: |Go unto Sister Clare and tell her on my behalf, that she with certain of her most spiritual companions, should pray devoutly unto God, that it may please Him to show me which of the twain is the better: whether to give myself to preaching or wholly unto prayer. And then go unto Brother Silvester and tell the like to him.| This was that Brother Silvester who when he was in the world had seen a cross of gold proceeding from the mouth of St. Francis, the which reached even unto heaven and the arms thereof unto the ends of the world, and this Brother Silvester was of so great devotion and so great sanctity, that whatsoe'er he asked of God was granted him, and oftentimes he spake with God; wherefore St. Francis had a great devotion unto him.

So Brother Masseo departed, and according to the bidding of St. Francis carried his message first unto St. Clare and then unto Brother Silvester. Who, when he had heard thereof, forthwith fell on his knees in prayer, and as he prayed received answer from God, and turned to Brother Masseo, and bespake him thus: |Thus saith the Lord: Say unto Brother Francis that God has not called him to this estate for himself alone, but to the end that he may gain fruit of souls, and that many through him may be saved.| With this reply Brother Masseo returned to St. Clare to learn what she had received of God, and she answered that God had sent to her and her companions the same reply as He had given to Brother Silvester. Whereat Brother Masseo hied him back again to St. Francis; and St. Francis received him with exceeding great love, washing his feet and making ready for him the meal, and after he had eaten, St. Francis called Brother Masseo into the wood; and there kneeled down before him and drew back his hood, stretching out his arms in the shape of a cross, and asked him: |What has my Lord Jesu Christ commanded that I should do?| Replied Brother Masseo: |As unto Brother Silvester, so likewise unto Sister Clare and her sisters, has Christ made answer and revealed: that it is His will that thou go throughout the world to preach, since He hath chosen thee not for thyself alone, but also for the salvation of others.| And then St. Francis, when he had heard this answer and known thereby the will of Jesu Christ, rose up with fervor exceeding great, and said: |Let us be going in the name of God|; and he took for his companions Brother Masseo and Brother Agnolo, holy men. And setting forth with fervent zeal of spirit, taking no thought for road or way, they came unto a little town that was called Savurniano, and St. Francis set himself to preach, but first he bade the swallows that were twittering keep silence till such time as he had done the preaching; and the swallows were obedient to his word, and he preached there with such fervor that all the men and women of that town minded through their devotion to come after him and leave the town, but St. Francis suffered them not, saying: |Make not ill haste nor leave your homes; and I will ordain for you what ye should do for the salvation of your souls|: and therewith he resolved to found the third Order, for the salvation of all the world.

And so leaving them much comforted and with minds firm set on penitence, he departed thence and came unto a place between Cannaio and Bevagno. And as with great fervor he was going on the way, he lifted up his eyes and beheld some trees hard by the road whereon sat a great company of birds well-nigh without number; whereat St. Francis marvelled, and said to his companions: |Ye shall wait for me here upon the way and I will go to preach unto my little sisters, the birds.| And he went unto the field and began to preach unto the birds that were on the ground; and immediately those that were on the trees flew down to him, and they all of them remained still and quiet together, until St. Francis made an end of preaching: and not even then did they depart, until he had given them his blessing. And according to what Brother Masseo afterward related unto Robert Jacques da Massa, St. Francis went among them touching them with his cloak, howbeit none moved from out his place. The sermon that St. Francis preached unto them was after this fashion: |My little sisters, the birds, much bounden are ye unto God, your Creator, and always in every place ought ye to praise Him, for that He hath given you liberty to fly about everywhere, and hath also given you double and triple raiment; moreover, He preserved your seed in the ark of Noah, that your race might not perish out of the world; still more are ye beholden to Him for the element of the air which he had appointed for you; beyond all this, ye sow not, neither do you reap; and God feedeth you, and giveth you the streams and fountains for your drink; the mountains and the valleys for your refuge and the high trees whereon to make your nests; and because ye know not how to spin or sew, God clotheth you, you and your children; wherefore your Creator loveth you much, seeing that He hath bestowed on you so many benefits; and therefore, my little sisters, beware of the sin of ingratitude, and study always to give praises unto God.| Whenas St. Francis spake these words to them, those birds began all of them to open their beaks, and stretch their necks, and spread their wings, and reverently bend their heads down to the ground, and by their acts and by their songs to show that the holy Father gave them joy exceeding great. And St. Francis rejoiced with them, and was glad, and marvelled much at so great a company of birds and their most beautiful diversity and their good heed and sweet friendliness, for the which cause he devoutly praised their Creator in them. At the last, having ended the preaching, St. Francis made over them the sign of the cross, and gave them leave to go away; and thereby all the birds with wondrous singing rose up in the air; and then, in the fashion of the cross that St. Francis had made over them, divided themselves into four parts; and the one part flew toward the East, and the other toward the West, and the other toward the South, and the fourth toward the North, and each flight went on its way singing wondrous songs; signifying thereby that even as St. Francis, the standard-bearer of the Cross of Christ, had preached unto them, and made over them the sign of the cross, after the pattern of which they separated themselves unto the four parts of the world: even so the preaching of the Cross of Christ, renewed by St. Francis, would be carried by him and the brothers throughout the world; the which brothers, after the fashion of the birds, possessing nothing of their own in this world, commit their lives wholly unto the providence of God.

HOW ST. FRANCIS CONVERTED THE FIERCE WOLF OF AGOBIO

What time St. Francis abode in the city of Agobio, there appeared in the country of Agobio an exceeding great wolf, terrible and fierce, the which not only devoured animals, but also men, insomuch that all the city folk stood in great fear, sith ofttimes he came near to the city, and all men when they went out arrayed them in arms as it were for the battle, and yet withal they might not avail to defend them against him whensoe'er any chanced on him alone; for fear of this wolf they were come to such a pass that none durst go forth of that place. For the which matter, St. Francis having compassion on the people of that land, wished to go forth unto that wolf, albeit the townsfolk all gave counsel against it: and making the sign of the most holy cross he went forth from that place with his companions, putting all his trust in God. And the others misdoubting to go further, St. Francis took the road to the place where the wolf lay. And lo! in the sight of many of the townsfolk that had come out to see this miracle, the said wolf made at St. Francis with open mouth: and coming up to him, St. Francis made over him the sign of the most holy cross, and called him to him, and bespake him thus: |Come hither, brother wolf: I command thee in the name of Christ that thou do no harm, nor to me nor to any one.| O wondrous thing! Whenas St. Francis had made the sign of the cross, right so the terrible wolf shut his jaws and stayed his running: and when he was bid, came gently as a lamb and lay him down at the feet of St. Francis. Thereat St. Francis thus bespake him: |Brother wolf, much harm hast thou wrought in these parts and done grievous ill, spoiling and slaying the creatures of God, without His leave: and not alone hast thou slain and devoured the brute beasts, but hast dared to slay men, made in the image of God; for the which cause thou art deserving of the gibbet as a thief and a most base murderer; and all men cry out and murmur against thee and all this land is thine enemy. But I would fain, brother wolf, make peace between thee and these; so that thou mayest no more offend them, and they may forgive thee all thy past offences, and nor men nor dogs pursue thee any more.| At these words the wolf with movements of body, tail, and eyes, and by the bending of his head, gave sign of his assent to what St. Francis said, and of his will to abide therby. Then spake St. Francis again: |Brother wolf, sith it pleaseth thee to make and hold this peace, I promise thee that I will see to it that the folk of this place give thee food alway so long as thou shalt live, so that thou suffer not hunger any more; for that I wot well that through hunger hast thou wrought all this ill. But sith I win for thee this grace, I will, brother wolf, that thou promise me to do none hurt to any more, be he man or beast; dost promise me this?| And the wolf gave clear token by the bowing of his head that he promised. Then quoth St. Francis: |Brother wolf, I will that thou plight me troth for this promise, that I may trust thee full well.| And St. Francis stretching forth his hand to take pledge of his troth, the wolf lifted up his right paw before him and laid it gently on the hand of St. Francis, giving thereby such sign of good faith as he was able. Then quoth St. Francis: |Brother wolf, I bid thee in the name of Jesu Christ come now with me, nothing doubting, and let us go stablish this peace in God's name.| And the wolf obedient set forth with him, in fashion as a gentle lamb; whereat the townsfolk made mighty marvel, beholding. And straightway the bruit of it was spread through all the city, so that all the people, men-folk and women-folk, great and small, young and old, gat them to the market place for to see the wolf with St. Francis.

And the people being gathered all together, St. Francis rose up to preach, avizing them among other matters how for their sins God suffered such things to be, and pestilences also: and how far more parlous is the flame of hell, the which must vex the damned eternally, than is the fury of the wolf that can but slay the body; how much then should men fear the jaws of hell, when such a multitude stands sore adread of the jaws of one so small a beast? Then turn ye, beloved, unto God, and work out a fit repentance for your sins; and God will set you free from the wolf in this present time, and in time to come from out the fires of hell. And done the preaching, St. Francis said: |Give ear, my brothers: brother wolf, who standeth here before ye, hath promised me and plighted troth to make his peace with you, and to offend no more in any thing; and do ye promise him to give him every day whate'er he needs: and I am made his surety unto you that he will keep this pact of peace right steadfastly.| Then promised all the folk with one accord to give him food abidingly. Then quoth St. Francis to the wolf before them all: |And thou, brother wolf, dost thou make promise to keep firm this pact of peace, that thou offend not man nor beast nor any creature?| And the wolf knelt him down and bowed his head: and with gentle movements of his body, tail, and eyes, gave sign as best he could that he would keep their pact entire. Quoth St. Francis: |Brother wolf, I wish that as thou hast pledged me thy faith to this promise without the gate, even so shouldest thou pledge me thy faith to thy promise before all the people, and that thou play me not false for my promise, and the surety that I have given for thee.| Then the wolf lifting up his right paw, laid it in the hand of St. Francis. Therewith, this act, and the others set forth above, wrought such great joy and marvel in all the people, both through devotion to the saint, and through the newness of the miracle, and through the peace with the wolf, that all began to lift up their voices unto heaven praising and blessing God, that had sent St. Francis unto them, who by his merits had set them free from the jaws of the cruel beast. And thereafter this same wolf lived two years in Agobio; and went like a tame beast in and out the houses, from door to door, without doing hurt to any or any doing hurt to him, and was courteously nourished by the people; and as he passed thuswise through the country and the houses, never did any dog bark behind him. At length, after a two years' space, brother wolf died of old age: whereat the townsfolk sorely grieved, sith marking him pass so gently through the city, they minded them the better of the virtue and the sanctity of St. Francis.

HOW ST. FRANCIS TAMED THE WILD TURTLE-DOVES

It befell on a day that a certain young man had caught many turtle-doves: and as he was carrying them for sale, St. Francis, who had ever a tender pity for gentle creatures, met him, and looking on those turtle-doves with pitying eyes, said to the youth: |I pray thee give them me, that birds so gentle, unto which the Scripture likeneth chaste and humble and faithful souls, may not fall into the hands of cruel men that would kill them.| Forthwith, inspired of God, he gave them all to St. Francis; and he receiving them into his bosom, began to speak tenderly unto them: |O my sisters, simple-minded turtle-doves, innocent and chaste, why have ye let yourselves be caught? Now would I fain deliver you from death and make you nests, that ye may be fruitful and multiply, according to the commandments of your Creator.| And St. Francis went and made nests for them all: and they abiding therein, began to lay their eggs and hatch them before the eyes of the brothers: and so tame were they, they dwelt with St. Francis and all the other brothers as though they had been fowls that had always fed from their hands, and never did they go away until St. Francis with his blessing gave them leave to go. And to the young man who had given them to him, St. Francis said: |My little son, thou wilt yet be a brother in this Order and do precious service unto Jesu Christ.| And so it came to pass; for the said youth became a brother and lived in the Order in great sanctity.

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