By Jeanette Arnquist
The feast of St. Francis of Assisi is October 4.
You may have heard the story of St. Francis of Assisi and the Wolf of Gubbio. I will abbreviate it here.
The village of Gubbio was being terrorized by a most ferocious wolf. Not only was the wolf killing and eating the livestock, but he had begun to kill and devour people. The villagers were living in mortal fear.
They called upon St. Francis to do something. He arrived at the village, listened to the stories of the suffering and then he went outside the walls unarmed and alone, something that the villagers were afraid to do.
The villagers had tried to find a violent solution to the aggression of the wolf, but it didn’t work. They tried to get even by killing the wolf. But when three armed guardsmen went out to do battle with the wolf, only one came back, and he had been badly mauled. (This is not in all of the versions of this story.)
After a short time, the wolf began to stalk Francis. He turned to face the wolf, made the sign of the cross and began to speak to the animal. The wolf came up to him and laid down at his feet with his head on his paws. Francis explained to the wolf how much sorrow and suffering he was causing. The wolf expressed remorse, but also raised the question of how he was going to eat.
St. Francis then negotiated a deal between the wolf and the villagers. They would provide the wolf with food in return for his peaceful presence. Eventually everyone trusted the wolf and he trusted everyone. He wandered around the village peacefully, going into people’s homes and harming nothing.
The wolf lived for two more years and then died of old age. According to tradition, the village gave the wolf an honorable burial and later built a church on his grave site.
During renovations in 1872, the skeleton of a wolf was found under the altar. It was later carbon dated to about 1200.
There are many things we can learn from this story. We can learn about restorative justice, non-violence, and the common good. (They are interrelated.)
Francis found a solution that promoted the common good. It was good for the wolf and it was good for the people of the village. When the wolf became a member of the community, just like a pet dog, everyone benefited.
When we begin to believe that our generous God has provided enough good things for everyone, we can get out of our competitive mindset that paints the world in terms of “Us versus Them.” We can put away the idea that a win for our side implies a loss for the other. We can even put away the idea of different sides. At first we might only find ways to co-exist. Then we might be moved to try communication and therefore understand the “other.” If we keep on this path we might find some common goals and move to cooperation. When we begin to experience win-win outcomes we might even move on to collaboration and formation of community. That is God’s dream for us.
Our eyes can be open to solutions to problems that promote the life and dignity of all and the common good. Isn’t this God’s dream?
Jeanette Arnquist is a former Director of the Department of Life, Dignity & Justice for the Diocese of San Bernardino. She is retired and living in Tuscon, Arizona where she remains active in social concerns ministries.