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The Lessons of Gubbio

For there appeared in the territory of Gubbio a fearfully large and fierce wolf which was so
rabid with hunger that it devoured not only animals but even human beings1. All the people in
the town considered it such a great scourge and terror — because it often came near the town —
that they took weapons with them when they went into the country, as if they were going to war.
But even with their weapons they were not able to escape the sharp teeth and raging hunger of the
wolf when they were so unfortunate as to meet it. Consequently everyone in the town was so ter-
rified that hardly anyone dared to go outside the city gate.

t times it seems our world is full of wolves. We see war and armed conflict around the world, we

A hear terrifying tales of “ethnic cleansing,” and we watch the plight of the vast majority of humans
who live in desperate poverty. At home we read daily about the violence on our streets, we see the
tragedy resulting from the lack of a concern about human life, and we watch in horror as people divided
by race or politics do violence to one another. These problems can seem overwhelming and — when faced
with the enormity of the problem — we’re not sure how to act.
Jesus told us, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God2.” In the
Second Vatican Council the Council Fathers told us “all Christians are urgently summoned to do in
love what truth requires, and to join with all true peacemakers in pleading for peace and bringing it
about.3” The US Bishops have said: “Peacemaking is not an optional commitment. It is a requirement
of our faith. We are called to be peacemakers, not by some movement of the moment, but by our Lord
Jesus4.” If we desire to live the Gospels, then, and help bring about the Kingdom of God, we are required
to work for peace and bring justice to our world.
The Secular Franciscan Rule says: “Let them individually and collectively be in the forefront in
promoting justice by the testimony of their human lives and their courageous initiatives. Especially in
the field of public life, they should make definite choices in harmony with their faith5.” The Rule goes
on to say: “Mindful that they are bearers of peace which must be built up unceasingly, they should seek
out ways of unity and fraternal harmony through dialogue, trusting in the divine seed in everyone and
in the transforming power of love and pardon6.” The General Constitutions of the Order of Friars Mi-
nor say, “The brothers should be aware of the horrendous dangers that threaten the human race. They
should speak out courageously against the arms race and every kind of warlike activity as a most seri-
ous curse on the world and the gravest injury to the poor. The brothers should spare themselves neither
toil nor hardship in building up the reign of the God of peace.7” As Franciscans, we are called to be
peacemakers, but our peacemaking has a very distinctive character.
To discover the special nature of Franciscan peacemaking we need to look to our founder, St. Fran-
cis of Assisi, for guidance. Throughout his life one can find many examples of Francis’s desire to bring
about peace. One story that brings together many of the essential elements of Franciscan peacemaking is
the story of the Wolf of Gubbio:

For while the Saint was there at that time, he had pity on the people and decided to go out
and meet the wolf. But on hearing this the citizens said to him: “Look out, Brother Francis.
Don’t go outside the gate, because the wolf which has already devoured many people will cer-
tainly attack you and kill you!”
But St. Francis put his hope in the Lord Jesus Christ who is master of all creatures. Pro-
tected not by a shield or a helmet, but arming himself with the Sign of the Cross...St. Francis
bravely went out to meet the wolf.

Here we see the first two essential elements of Franciscan peacemaking. First, just as Francis went
out to meet the wolf, we must take positive steps to bring about peace. Peacemaking is something actively
done; we cannot simply wait for it to happen. We cannot sit idly by waiting for peacemaking opportuni-
ties, but rather we must respond when we hear about conflicts and disturbances. These are the opportu-
nities for the “courageous initiatives” spoken about in the SFO Rule. One sees this over and over in the
life of St. Francis. When visiting the Crusades, Francis went out to speak to the Sultan8. When Francis
heard about problems between the Bishop and Mayor of Assisi, he sent his brothers out to speak to
them9. Peacemaking is something one does actively, despite the possible risks.
The second element of Franciscan peacemaking here is that Francis went out unarmed . The origi-
nal Secular Franciscan Rule instructed Secular Franciscans: “They are not to take up lethal weapons or
bear them about against anybody10.” Franciscans are to bring about peace through nonviolence. Using
violence to bring about peace is unacceptable.

Then, in the sight of many people who had come out and climbed onto places to see this
wonderful event, the fierce wolf came running with its mouth open toward St. Francis and his
companion.
The Saint made the Sign of the Cross toward it. And the power of God, proceeding as much
from himself as from his companion, checked the wolf and made it slow down and close its cruel
mouth.

The third essential aspect of Franciscan peacemaking is the realization that peace is God-centered.
All peace flows from God and we work merely to be God’s instruments and bring about that peace. We
cannot bring about a peace that does not come from God.

Then, calling to it, St. Francis said: “Come to me, Brother Wolf. In the name of Christ, I
order you not to hurt me or anyone.”
It is marvelous to relate that as soon as he had made the Sign of the Cross, the wolf closed its
terrible jaws and stopped running, and as soon as he gave it that order, it lowered its head and
lay down at the Saint’s feet, as though it became a lamb.

This passage demonstrates the fourth element of Franciscan peacemaking, to treat all others as
brothers and sisters. It can be tempting to demonize those who oppose us or those who would wish to do
us harm. It is essential, however, that Franciscans take care to always remember “the presence of the di-
vine seed in everyone” and take care to love those who are themselves deeply loved by God.

And St. Francis said to it as it lay in front of him: “Brother Wolf, you have done great harm
in this region, and you have committed horrible crimes by destroying God’s creatures without
any mercy. You have been destroying not only irrational animals, but you have even had the
more detestable brazenness to kill and devour human beings made in the image of God. You
therefore deserve to be put to death just like the worst robber and murderer. Consequently every-
one is right in crying out against you and complaining, and this whole town is your enemy.
But, Brother Wolf, I want to make peace between you and them, so that they will not be harmed
by you any more, and after they have forgiven you all your past crimes, neither men nor dogs
will pursue you any more.”
The wolf showed by moving its body and tail and ears and by nodding its head that it will-
ingly accepted what the Saint had said and would observe it.

Here is the fifth element of Franciscan peacemaking: peacemaking requires reconciliation. It


means bringing people together to find a common agreement. It means calling on people to forgive one
another and move ahead together. Franciscans are, by their very nature, reconcilers.

So St. Francis spoke again: “Brother Wolf, since you are willing to make and keep this peace
pact, I promise you that I will have the people of this town give you food every day as long as
you live, so that you will never again suffer from hunger, for I know that whatever evil you
have been doing was done because of the urge of hunger. But, my Brother Wolf, once I am ob-
taining such a favor for you, I want you to promise me that you will never harm any animal or
person. Will you promise me that?
The wolf gave a clear sign, by nodding its head, that it promised to do what the Saint had
asked.

A sixth element of Franciscan peacemaking demonstrated here is the realization that often conflict
comes about because of an unjust situation. The townspeople had enough to eat, while the wolf outside
their walls was starving. Although the townspeople probably thought of themselves as victims of unpro-
voked violence and while there certainly can be no excuse for the wolf’s behavior, it was the townspeo-
ple’s unwillingness to share their food that was in part the cause for the conflict. Peaceful resolution of-
ten calls for both sides to make changes. The townspeople gave up some of their food and the wolf gave up
his murderous attacks.

And the wolf immediately began to walk along beside St. Francis, just like a gentle lamb.
When the people saw this they were greatly amazed and the news spread quickly throughout the
whole town, so that all of them, men as well as women, great and small, assembled on the mar-
ket place, because St. Francis was there with the wolf.
“Listen, dear people,” he said. “Brother Wolf, who is standing here before you, has prom-
ised me and has given me a pledge that he will make peace with you and will never hurt you if
you promise also to feed him every day. And I pledge myself as bondsman for Brother Wolf that
he will faithfully keep this peace pact.”
Then all the people who were assembled there promised in a loud voice to feed the wolf
regularly.
And St. Francis said: “Brother Wolf, I want you to give me a pledge here and before all these
people that you will keep the pact and will never betray me for having pledged myself as your
bondsman.”
Then in the presence of all the people the wolf raised its right paw and put it in St. Francis’
hand as a pledge.
And the crowd was so filled with amazement and joy, out of devotion for the Saint as well as
over the novelty of the miracle and over the peace pact between the wolf and the people, that they
all shouted to the sky, praising and blessing the Lord Jesus Christ who had sent St. Francis to
them, by whose merits they had been freed from such a fierce wolf and saved from such a terrible
scourge and had recovered peace and quiet.

The essential elements of Franciscan peacemaking, then, are these: (1) peacemaking is not an in-
tellectual exercise — we must do it; (2) we must at all times be nonviolent; (3) we must remember true
peace flows from God; (4) we must meet all as brother and sister; (5) we must be reconcilers; and (6) the
peace for which we work must be a just one.
It is integral to the Franciscan call to live the gospel, “going from gospel to life and life to the gos-
pel11.” So too it is integral to the Franciscan call to be peacemakers. We need to find the wolves in today’s
society. We need to find ways to feed the hungry wolves before they resort to violence. There are many
towns of Gubbio in today’s world, and many opportunities for us, collectively and individually, to help
bring about peace.

ometimes the scale of the problems of our community and our world can overwhelm us. We think:

S “How can I implement a new economic order or bring about a settlement in war-torn lands? How
can I eliminate nuclear weapons or stop the violence in our inner cities?” Every journey starts with
a single step, and there are many concrete steps we can begin to take as peacemakers.
The first step, of course, must be Prayer. Just as St. Francis started his journey towards the wolf
with a Sign of the Cross, so too we need to root our peacemaking in prayer. Prayer is our most powerful
weapon, as true peace comes from God and can only be brought about with God’s assistance.
Another good step is to work with our brother and sister Franciscans. We sometimes forget the
power of an organization with over a million members world-wide. The SFO Rule tells us to act both
individually and collectively. We can speak out for justice as individual Franciscans, as a Fraternity, as a
Region, as a Province, as an Order and as the Franciscan Family. Our international nature benefits us in
two ways. We can help those elsewhere in the world needing our assistance, and we can also open our
ears to hear the authentic voices coming back to us from other places. We should consider joining with
other Franciscans as part of Franciscans International, the Franciscan Non-Governmental Organiza-
tion at the United Nations.
Another critical step is Formation, both initial formation and on-going formation. We can use
initial formation to instruct ourselves as to the integral role peacemaking plays in our Franciscan life.
We can use on-going formation to keep abreast of the needs of our world, and to coordinate our peace-
making work.
Finally, in our apostolates we can work at bringing about reconciliation and peace. We can look
for the hungry and feed them before they become wolves. We can look for the alienated and the hurting,
and strive to reintegrate them into our human society.
From that day, the wolf and the people kept the pact which St. Francis made. The wolf lived
two years more, and it went from door to door for food. It hurt no one, and no one hurt it. The
people fed it courteously. And it is a striking fact that not a single dog ever barked at it.
Then the wolf grew old and died. And the people were sorry, because whenever it went
through the town, its peaceful kindness and patience reminded them of the virtues and holiness
of St. Francis.
Praise be Our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1
Fioretti, #21. (O1348)
2
Mt 5:9.
3
Gaudium et Spes, Documents of Vatican II, 1965, #78.
4
The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response, A Pastoral Letter on War and Peace, Na-
tional Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1983, #333.
5
SFO 1978 Rule, #15.
6
SFO 1978 Rule, #19a.
7
General Constitutions of the OFM, 1987, #69, 2.
8
Celano, First Life, #57a. (O276)
9
Legend of Perugia #44. (O1022)
10
SFO Original Rule, V. 16.
11
SFO 1978 Rule, #1.

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