The Other Wolf of Gubbio – The Rev. Michelle Meech
October 02, 2022
In October, we celebrate the life of a holy man who lived in the hills of Italy. This man’s name was Francis and he grew up in a town called Assisi. We call him St. Francis though because as Christians we believe he led a life that was truly inspired by Christ – a life in which every day he lived into what it means to love God and love your neighbor. And this is what it means to be a saint – someone who gives their entire life to Christ.
St. Francis was so taken with the teachings of Jesus Christ that he decided to give up the wealth of his family and live in poverty all his days so that he would really learn what it means to be totally dependent upon God. And, in this way, he also learned how to better help other people. St. Francis knew that in order to truly help other people, it was important to understand them. And so he made it his goal to really listen to people and understand what they needed. This is how he learned to love others.
St. Francis also loved animals because he knew God loved them. He knew that even the scary animals like tigers, and bats, and bears, and wolves were really important to God. Just as important as people. And so, because Francis loved people, he knew that God wanted him to love animals too. Some say he even talked to the animals so that he could better understand them and help them too.
Now, near Assisi, there was a town called Gubbio. Gubbio was also in the hills but it was further away from larger cities, surrounded by woods and closer to the high mountains. Sometimes the people of Gubbio would see wild animals. But these animals always kept their distance from the people of Gubbio. They found their food in the woods and had no need of the people.
Until one day when a big wolf started coming into the town. The people of Gubbio thought the wolf was mean because she ate their chickens and their sheep. They were afraid the wolf might eat their dogs and cats. Or their yaks or horses. Or even them! “What if the wolf ate us?” They exclaimed to each other.
Everyone was scared. The farmers were worried about their animals. The parents worried about their children. And the mayor worried about everyone. It got so bad that no one went outside anymore. Even the hunters were too scared to hunt.
St. Francis heard about this. He felt bad for the people of Gubbio. “Somebody needs to help these people.” He said. So he decided to make a visit to Gubbio. When he got there, he sat down with the people and listened so that he could understand what was happening and how they were feeling. It was clear they thought the wolf was mean and that she scared them.
And St. Francis decided, “I’m going to go and talk to this wolf. I’d like to understand more about why she’s doing this.”
Now, the hunters tried to give him hunting weapons and shields as if he was going into battle. But St. Francis said, “This wolf isn’t my enemy. I don’t want to hurt her. Besides, God will protect me better than any shield could.” So one of the women of the town led St. Francis to the woods and she stood at the edge of a field, pointed across it to a cave under a tree and said, “The wolf lives there. I’ve seen her go in and out.”
St. Francis crossed the field and walked up to the cave. He took a minute and prayed to God. And then he started speaking to the wolf.
At first the wolf was angry when she realized that one of these humans had come to her cave and so she growled when she got up from her nap and bared her teeth. They were always so angry with her, after all, and now they came to her home to shout things at her.
But once she was outside, she realized that this human was speaking to her in a gentle voice, and it was a voice she could understand. You see, she rarely understood what those humans were shouting at her when she went to the town to get dinner. All she knew is that they were angry and so she was scared of them.
“Hello dear wolf,” St. Francis started. And the wolf sat down on her haunches and perked her ears up attentively.
“Hello” she replied. “Who are you?”
“My name is Francis” he replied. “I’ve come to talk to you about the people in the town.”
“You’re talking about the mean people over where the buildings are?”
“Yes, the people of Gubbio. They are good people, you see. And they are very scared of you.”
“Scared? Of me?” Said the wolf. “They are the scary ones. They are always shouting at me.”
“I’m sure they do shout at you.” Said St. Francis. “You see, you eat their chickens and their sheep. And you are the only animal of the forest that does this. It makes them scared and hungry because you’re eating their food. They even think you might eat them!”
“What?” Said the wolf in astonishment. “How ridiculous!”
“Yes. The children don’t go out to play anymore and the people are afraid that all of their food will be eaten by you.”
“What are children?” the wolf asked.
“Children are human youngsters.” St. Francis explained.
“Oh!” she replied. “Like my pups!” And the wolf turned her head and spoke some wolf words towards the cave and out came 4 young wolf pups… bounding around and toppling over one another.
Now St. Francis knew better than to go near the pups because he knew that mother wolves were very protective, just like human parents. And as he watched them snuggle under their mother’s fur, St. Francis suddenly understood.
“Say, Mother wolf, I know it must be hard to keep young pups fed.”
“Yes, it is!” she replied.
“Is that why you’re going into the town to get food, when you never went there before.”
“Well, yes. My pups have to eat.”
“I’m sure you don’t want any harm to come to them, do you?”
“Well, of course not!”
“Perhaps then, you can understand why the humans are scared of you. They don’t want any harm to come to their pups either.”
“Well, I can understand that. But I mean them no harm. It’s just that we have to eat.”
“Of course. I understand.” Said St. Francis. “Would you come back to the town with me? Perhaps we can help the humans understand too.”
So, mother wolf sent her pups back into the cave and came back to Gubbio with St. Francis. They came to the middle of the town and sat down. Then Mother wolf heard St. Francis calling out to the humans and while she couldn’t understand exactly what he was saying, she trusted this human because he had taken the time to understand her.
And the people of Gubbio trusted St. Francis because he had also taken the time to understand them, so they decided to come out to the middle of the town even though the wolf was there.
Once everyone was gathered, St. Francis explained that the mother wolf was just trying to feed her 4 young pups. This is why she had started to come into town recently. And then, the people understood.
So they talked amongst themselves for a bit. Then one of the human mothers came over to the wolf and bowed to her because she knew how hard it can be to take care of children. And the wolf bowed back.
And the woman told St. Francis that they would bring some of their food every day to the edge of the town at the setting of the sun so they could help this wolf raise her pups.
St. Francis turned to the wolf and explained what the woman had said. And the wolf was so grateful that she slowly went up to the woman and nuzzled her hand as a way of accepting such a gracious gift. And the people clapped and exclaimed their relief and their joy.
And so it was. The people of Gubbio came to understand and know the wolf and the wolf came to understand and know the people of Gubbio. So much so that the wolf became their protector and caretaker, just as they had become her protector and caretaker.
I’m so glad we take the time to celebrate the saints, like St. Francis, so we can learn their stories and understand what Jesus means when he tells us to love God and love our neighbor. Isn’t it amazing what we can do when we really take the time to listen to one another and understand them?