Friday, October 9, 2009

Francis and the Wolf

Last week, the Franciscan friars of St. Anthony Shrine, Boston, MA, co-sponsored an art exhibition of the works of Sister Frances Falk. One painting caught my attention; it was a depiction of St. Francis of Assisi’s encounter with the wolf of Gubbio.

Most people, I think, know the story. Gubbio is a town in the Umbrian region of Italy. The story is told in the Little Flowers of St. Francis, how the townspeople were being terrorized by a savage wolf. Francis decided to go out and try to make peace with this wolf. He encounters the wolf, talks to him, negotiates a peace, and the wolf becomes friend and protector of Gubbio. Most pictures of this story show Francis holding one of the front paws of the wolf, who is sitting down, looking like a domesticated German shepherd.

Sister Falk’s painting of that encounter is much different. Francis is shown embracing the wolf; only this wolf is no tame animal. It is a large wild beast, with an open mouth full of large sharp teeth, its red eye staring out at me. One gets the impression, that were it not for Francis, the wolf would be making a meal of me. I have to say though that this picture appeals to me on a Franciscan level. The foundation of Franciscan spirituality is to love as Christ has loved us. It does not matter whether the person is good, or sinful, that person is a brother or sister of us in Christ, and deserves our love and compassion. As Francis lovingly embraced the ravenous wolf, we are to embrace the sinner, the stranger, the outcast also with love.

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