St. Francis and the Animals

sheep eating hay

It’s hard to separate Francis of Assisi and animals. Stories abound of how this great saint could communicate with animals and felt at one with all creation.

St. Francis Preaches to the Birds

Francis was no stranger to walking great distances to share the Good news. One story tells us that Father Francis and his companions were making a trip through the Spoleto Valley near the town of Bevagna. Suddenly, Francis spotted a great number of birds of all varieties. There were doves, crows and all sorts of birds. Swept up in the moment, Francis left his friends in the road and ran after the birds, who patiently waited for him.

He greeted them in his usual way, expecting them to scurry off into the air as he spoke. But they did not move.

Filled with awe, he asked them if they would stay awhile and listen to the Word of God. He said to them: “My brother and sister birds, you should praise your Creator and always love him: He gave you feathers for clothes, wings to fly and all other things that you need. It is God who made you noble among all creatures, making your home in thin, pure air. Without sowing or reaping, you receive God’s guidance and protection.”

At this, the birds began to spread their wings, stretch their necks and gaze at Francis, rejoicing and praising God in a wonderful way according to their nature. Francis then walked right through the middle of them, turned around and came back, touching their heads and bodies with his tunic.

It has been said that the brothers who journeyed with him stood in amazement. Then he gave them his blessing, making the sign of the cross over them. At that they flew off and Francis, rejoicing and giving thanks to God, went on his way.

Later, Francis wondered aloud to his companions why he had never preached to birds before. And from that day on, Francis made it his habit to solicitously invoke all birds, all animals and reptiles to praise and love their Creator. And many times during Francis’ life there were remarkable events of Francis speaking to the animals.

There was even a time when Francis quieted a flock of noisy birds that were interrupting a religious ceremony! Much to the wonder of all present, the birds remained quiet until Francis’ sermon was complete.

St. Francis, Rabbits, and Fish

One day a brother brought a rabbit who had been caught in a trap to Francis. Francis advised the rabbit to be more alert in the future, then released the rabbit from the trap and set it on the ground to go its way. But the rabbit hopped back up onto Francis’ lap, desiring to be close to the saint.

Francis took the rabbit a few steps into the woods and set it down. But it followed Francis back to his seat and hopped on his lap again! Finally Francis asked one of his fellow friars to take the rabbit far into the woods and let it go. That worked.

This type of thing happened repeatedly to Francis—which he saw as an opportunity to praise the glory of God. If the simplest creatures could be so endowed with God’s wonder, how much the more so we humans!

Fish were also known to obey Francis. Whenever a fish was caught and Francis was nearby, he would return the fish to the water, warning it not to be caught again. On several occasions the fish would linger awhile near the boat, listening to Francis preach, until he gave them permission to leave. Then they would swim off. In every work of art, as Francis called all creation, he would praise the artist, our loving Creator.

St. Francis and the Wolf

Perhaps the most famous story of St. Francis is when he tamed the wolf that was terrorizing the people of Gubbio. While Francis was staying in that town he learned of a wolf so ravenous that it was not only killing and eating animals, but people, too. The people took up arms and went after it, but those who encountered the wolf perished at its sharp teeth. Villagers became afraid to leave the city walls.

Francis had pity on the people and decided to go out and meet the wolf. He was desperately warned by the people, but he insisted that God would take care of him. A brave friar and several peasants accompanied Francis outside the city gate. But soon the peasants lost heart and said they would go no farther.

Francis and his companion began to walk on. Suddenly the wolf, jaws agape, charged out of the woods at the couple. Francis made the Sign of the Cross toward it. The power of God caused the wolf to slow down and to close its mouth.

Then Francis called out to the creature: “Come to me, Brother Wolf. In the name of Christ, I order you not to hurt anyone.” At that moment the wolf lowered its head and lay down at Francis’ feet, meek as a lamb.

Francis explained to the wolf that he had been terrorizing the people, killing not only animals, but humans who are made in the image of God. “Brother Wolf,” said Francis, “I want to make peace between you and the people of Gubbio. They will harm you no more and you must no longer harm them. All past crimes are to be forgiven.”

The wolf showed its assent by moving its body and nodding its head. Then to the absolute surprise of the gathering crowd, Francis asked the wolf to make a pledge. As Francis extended his hand to receive the pledge, so the wolf extended its front paw and placed it into the saint’s hand. Then Francis commanded the wolf to follow him into town to make a peace pact with the townspeople. The wolf meekly followed St. Francis.

By the time they got to the town square, everyone was there to witness the miracle. With the wolf at his side, Francis gave the town a sermon on the wondrous and fearful love of God, calling them to repent from all their sins. Then he offered the townspeople peace, on behalf of the wolf. The townspeople promised in a loud voice to feed the wolf. Then Francis asked the wolf if he would live in peace under those terms. He bowed his head and twisted his body in a way that convinced everyone he accepted the pact. Then once again the wolf placed its paw in Francis’ hand as a sign of the pact.

From that day on the people kept the pact they had made. The wolf lived for two years among the townspeople, going from door to door for food. It hurt no one and no one hurt it. Even the dogs did not bark at it. When the wolf finally died of old age, the people of Gubbio were sad. The wolf’s peaceful ways had been a living reminder to them of the wonders, patience, virtues and holiness of St. Francis. It had been a living symbol of the power and providence of the living God.

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17 thoughts on “St. Francis and the Animals”

    1. animals do not have an eternal soul and therefore cannot be baptized. only human beings- made in the image and likeness of God- may be baptized.

      1. I don’t agree. All spirits are eternal, and the function of a spirit is to perform the I/O of a nervous system. And I don’t agree that spirits bind to flesh only once. If the causes remain that caused your spirit to bind to one body, they will cause another binding to another body.

      2. hello
        how do you know this? who told you this nonsense? if any creature has eternal soul it is the innocence, the creatures of mother earth that ask for nothing but to live in peace and not to be abused and captured by the creature human. don’t speak of things you do not know.

  1. Is it a sin, in the Catholic faith to withold food and water to a stray cat??!!,I began to feed her, and was asked not to eventually a sign was put on the front door “do no feed the kitty” yet because I fed her she no longer tried to get in the bldg…I live in a national church residence in Findlay Ohio.

  2. I don’t identify as Christian, and I know in my heart that it is cruel to ask people not to feed a poor little kitty…..and no water also!! I cannot watch her suffer!! &Feel very sorry that many christians only so on Sundays, they don’t live their beliefs, their closed off, and do nothing to further their faith, or encourage others to do so.

    1. I have a mother cat and her kitten which are living in my home but all are against me because they say that the cat’s fur will cause health problems. I want to relocate her without traumatising her but I just don’t know how to do it If there are any suggestions please let me know. Maureen

      1. Feed the cat
        Who says humans are the only species to be fed
        Not feeding an animal is cruel and you will create bad karma for yourself so don’t listen to selfish people

    2. to quote Homer
      “Of all creatures that breathe and move upon the earth, nothing is bred that is weaker than man.”

      Ecclesiastes 3:19 ESV / 7
      For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity.

      there are about 30 or so
      Never hesitate to help a innocent and blessed animal in need. They never forget your kindness.

      Proverbs 23:20 ESV / 2 helpful votes
      Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat,

      Psalm 145:9 ESV / 2 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful
      The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.

    3. Psalm 104:31 affirms that God rejoices in all his works, in everything he has created.
      Proverbs 12:10 which says that a “righteous man cares about his animal’s health”.
      Matthew 10:29 in which Jesus identifies sparrows as animals which are not valued by humans, but which God still knows and remembers.

      even the insects of the earth

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