Written By: Gregory Watson,
Tomorrow is the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, and I have a confession to make: I’m really not that big of a fan of St. Francis. I know, I know, it’s shocking. Next I’ll say I don’t really like Christmas—oh, wait, I did that here. (Incidentally, I’m also not particularly devoted to the the Little Flower, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, whose Feast we celebrated on Wednesday—what kind of lousy Catholic am I, anyway?!) It’s not that I don’t like St. Francis (or St. Thérèse, for that matter). They’re wonderful saints who led amazingly holy lives. For whatever reason, though, despite their tremendous popularity, they’ve simply never appealed to me as patrons. Or, perhaps it’s precisely because of their popularity, or at least the somewhat saccharine popular image of who these saints are often portrayed to be.
Francis, specifically, is often portrayed alternatively as a hippie animal-lover or as a rebel against the repressive institutionalised Church. Neither of these popular portrayals of Francis are particularly appealing to me. Of course, since these portrayals aren’t particularly true (or at least, are rather inadequate), perhaps my aversion to Francis is somewhat prejudicial. After all, he was a solid defender of the faith, a person who loved people—especially the poor, and one who even undertook an arduous journey into Muslim lands in order to preach the Gospel in the hopes of ending the warring between Islam and Christianity! And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of the amazing life he led.
Francis, I think, understands my lack of devotion to him. He doesn’t seem to mind it, either. I like to think he even has a bit of a sense of humour about it. He pops up from time to time in my life when I don’t expect it, and reminds me that the Great Cloud of Witnesses (cf. Hebrews 12:1) are always with us, watching us, and praying for us. The most notable occasion of this comes to mind for me as I approach my ninth anniversary of marriage (on the 8th of October). My wife, Melissa, and I, decided to honeymoon in Haliburton, Ontario, and enjoy the beauty of the fall colours. Nearby where we stayed, there’s the Haliburton Conservation Area, which includes a wolf observation area, and midway through our honeymoon, we paid a visit to the wolves, which have always been my favourite animal. These particular wolves are a semi-wild pack that live in a 15-acre enclosure. The conservation people built a small, sound-proof observation room with one-way mirrors and microphones on the outside that allowed us to hear the wolves through speakers, without the wolves hearing or seeing (or smelling) us. It was amazing to see them lolling about in the clearing and trying to spot them as they curled up in the leaves near the rocks, blending in with their surroundings in ways one would never expect a large dog would be able to do!
But the first thing that caught my wife’s and my attention as we entered this observation room wasn’t the wolves that we had come to see, but St. Francis of Assisi, standing in the middle of the room next to the central pillar supporting the ceiling! The large statue surmounted a plaque that told the story of the Wolf of Gubbio, which had terrorised a small village in Italy during a time of famine, pilfering the people’s livestock. St. Francis brokered a deal with the wolf and the town’s residents, that if they would leave it some food outside the gates, it would stop attacking the farms. Shaking the wolf’s paw, the pact was notarised and the people lived in peace from the wolf. This story from St. Francis’ life is part of where his famed connection to wildlife comes from, and is part of why he’s the patron of nature lovers and conservationists—and why he was present in the wolf park on our honeymoon.
For Melissa and I, though, St. Francis’ presence was a reminder that no matter where we are, or where we go, God is always with us, His loving care always surrounds us, and His saints are always interceding for us.
St. Francis of Assisi, pray for us!