What follows is my extended script for a BBC Radio Devon Pause for Thought planned for Sunday 19th April 2020. It is a fascinating truth-containing fable of the 13th century involving a famous Saint and an infamous Wolf:
St Francis of Assisi and the Wolf
During the early 13th century, we meet an extraordinary figure:
A determined pleasure seeker in his youth, loving the good and fast life of high society.
But he had an experience of Jesus Christ
that transformed this classic sinner into a most radical saint.
His name is Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, but we know him as St. Francis of Assisi.
One day as he traveled about, near the Italian Town of Gubbio.
Francis was warned that the town was locked down and everyone terrified to leave,
lest they be devoured by a massive wolf,
as cattle and people had been,
even the towns guards stayed within the walls.
Francis, already with the reputation of a Radical disciple of Jesus Christ vowed against all the advice – to go and meet the wolf: face-to-face. Some of his confused followers went with him.
The townsfolk watched as they perched atop the buildings and looked out – seeing Francis walk into the wolf’s territory.
As the wolf lunged, Francis raised his hand, making the sign of the Cross.
At which, the wolf became passive and submissive.
Legend has it, a conversation ensued, Francis saying to the wolf:
“These people really hate you.
You have terrified & killed them.
But I want you to be at peace with them.
It is clear to me that hunger has driven you to these terrible acts.”
The wolf placed his paw on Francis in submission, and so Francis lead the wolf to the town, to the sheer horror of the town’s inhabitants, and the probable surprise of his followers.
The townsfolk agreed to feed the wolf; and in turn,
he would not eat them but guard them himself.
The wolf died two years later and was given a dignified burial.
In 1872, the skeleton of a large wolf was discovered during church building renovations.
This story is fascinating.
Just as Gubbio was in lock down; our world is in lock down.
The people then were deeply afraid and uncertain, living lives of deep anxiety and fear.
The same is true for many today.
The wolf today is called ‘Covid-19’ – and we fear it may devour us.
Now, we are just one week after Easter.
The great event when the church remembers the historical fact, theological truth and Divine power of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
The whole point of the Crucifixion of Jesus was, in his own death,
to go out and meet the wolf that represents all the chaotic powers of sin, death and evil.
When Jesus rose from the dead, to declared his victory over them.
This is what the church preaches, proclaims and lives out when at her glorious best.
One wolf can hold sway over a whole town.
One virus can hold sway over the whole world.
Jesus declared himself to be the Light of the World.
So it is no wonder Francis would say:
“All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.”
The transformation wrought by the Cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ does still transform today. The Light consumes the Darkness.
The wolf story (whether real or not) exposes what is common to all:
deep anxiety and the fear of death: Covid-19 is doing precisely this for many people.
But it also reveals what a person who does not fear death can achieve with a life that is rightly ordered to God: Not fear and anxious timidity but radical freedom of being.
Everyone is made in the image of God.
But to what or to whom do we turn to when there’s a wolf on the rampage?
Humanity is made for far more than just surviving the wolf at the door!
And will we, like St. Francis, be so transformed by the power of God’s redeeming love,
walk out and face the wolf of all our fears?
It is by walking in the Light,
that we will no longer be afraid of the dark.