Franciscans from around the world celebrate both the Transitus of St. Francis of Assisi (October 3rd) and his Feast Day (October 4th). The definition of “transitus” is the “transit of a person or property en route from one place to another.” For Franciscans, TRANSITUS marks the night Francis left his earthly life, to move onto a life in heaven with Our Lord Jesus. He died, on the evening of October 3, 1226, a small man in his forties who had wanted to live a simple life in service to God. Traditionally Saints’ Feast Days mark the date of death and are remembered with special mention, prayers, and scripture readings. For us the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi on October 4th is so much more. It is a day filled with celebration and joy; blessing animals (often on the closest weekend), gathering for meals and enjoying the fellowship of our brothers and those we serve. Just as with all of the saints, it is the day Francis obtained Eternal Life.
In his time the message of St. Francis of Assisi attracted many followers across Europe. Francis could have led a life of luxury and earthly power. He was born into a wealthy cloth merchant family in Assisi, Italy around 1181 or 1182. As a young man he spent his days admiring Troubadours who traveled across Europe and performed their poetic songs to audiences. He also partook in raucous celebrations and planned on becoming a knight. His forays as a warrior against nearby Perugia ended in capture and imprisonment. The time in isolation allowed Francis to reflect on what God really wanted him to do in life.
Today, in the 21st century, there are three Franciscan First Orders (Friars Minor aka O.F.M with brown habits and short hoods, Capuchin Franciscans aka O.F.M. Cap. with dark brown habits and long hoods, and the Conventual Franciscans aka O.F.M Conv. with grey/black habits). The Conventual Franciscans, the Order to which our friars belong, span the globe. We are recognized by our grey (often almost black) habits, the three knotted cord representing the Vows of Poverty, Chastity & Obedience, and with “O.F.M. Conv.” following printed names of the members. The friars of Our Lady of the Angels Province serve up and down the East Coast of North America, as well as in several other countries and many celebrations took place in our friaries, shrines & ministries throughout our province commemorating these days; so important to all Franciscans.
This weekend, at many of our ministry locations, the faithful will gather for a Blessing of the Animals. Please join us at a ministry nearest to you as we celebrate St. Francis’ love for all of God’s creatures. He called animals “brother” or “sister,” and he exhorted them to praise God. This tradition is a strong one in many sects, beliefs and denominations, but for Franciscans it is a part of one of our most beloved celebrations of the year.
Lord God King of heaven and earth,
Thou the Word of the Father by whom all creatures were given us for our support: look down, we beseech Thee, on our lowliness. As Thou hast given us these animals to assist us in our labors and needs so mayest Thou in Thy great goodness and mercy bless them from above, guard and preserve them; and, while Thou givest Thy servants temporal benefits, mayest Thou grant us thy continual grace so that we may praise Thy holy name with thanksgiving. Amen
In the Italian town of Gubbio, a wolf was eating livestock, and attacking people. After the fierce predator killed a shepherd, his brother and his father, who had tried to defend the town, the mayor sent three of his best guards to find and slay the wolf. Only one guard and the wolf survived the encounter. The mayor asked Francis to help them, as they had heard that he could talk to animals and that God talked to him.
Francis wanted to help but first prayed with his companions for a solution and rested with great hope. When Francis met the mayor, he knew there was a great hatred for the wolf, and the people of the town wanted revenge. Francis was asked to kill it or send it to their enemies. A compassionate and peace loving many, Francis listened but wanted to meet the wolf and hear his story. That night he prayed for the wisdom to find a solution that would benefit everyone.
When Francis found the wolf, he made the sign of the cross and called the wolf to meet him in peace under the grace of the Lord. “Come Brother Wolf, I will not hurt you. Let us talk in peace.” The wolf froze, then walked to Francis and sat on his haunches, to listen as Francis described the pain of the town, “Why did you kill the livestock and people?”
The wolf told Francis he had been injured and could not keep up with his pack. He would rather eat deer and rabbits, but he was hungry and could only catch the slow livestock of the town. The wolf also told Francis that he only killed the men while fighting back, but left their bodies alone. The wolf felt remorse for the pain he had caused, but he needed to eat.
Francis prayed as the wolf watched closely, then he proposed to the wolf that the townspeople could feed the wolf and then the wolf would stop killing the people and their livestock. Francis knew the townspeople could let go of their fear and hate if the wolf asked for forgiveness.
As they entered the town square, Francis called out, “Come countrymen, the wolf will not hurt you. Let us talk in peace. I have spoken with the wolf and he apologizes for his actions and wants to make amends. This will be your wolf. He can’t be killed or passed off to Spoletto or Perugia. He will serve the town as a defender as long as he will live.” Relatives of the dead harbored a hard place in their hearts for the wolf and found it hard to accept the proposal or grant forgiveness, but through the help of Francis, they found compassion for the wolf and all began to address him as Brother Wolf. Word spread and soon the people of Gubbio were proud of Brother Wolf. He lived under the care for the town for two years, until he died.